Was it the farmhouse smelling of wood smoke and pumpkin pies? Was it the sound of the pump organ or guitar; piano or harmonica? Was it the crunch of snow underfoot or the corn shocks leaning into each other in the fields? Was it the candles in the windows or the happy voices of the whole clan playing dominos, Rook, or Pit around the kitchen table after supper?
Was it using mother’s best sewing scissors to cut pink, red, and white hearts out of construction paper or snowflakes out of tissue? Was it carving jack-o-lanterns, stringing cranberries and popcorn, cutting bunny-shaped cookies out of fresh sugar dough, or sitting around a bonfire, giggling at wisecracks and singing songs, silly and serious, to the strum of a guitar? What made home the place to which your heart needed to return? What made Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving? Or maybe, for you, all the seasons and holidays are just a hungry longing for something you had only heard about in other people’s songs and other children’s stories.
Memories have to be made good and precious on purpose. The holidays may be printed on the calendar but you have to make them meaningful and sacred by being truly reverent and actually present and intentionally joyful. “Meaningful” can't be printed in calendar ink. Treasured memories don’t necessarily result from declaring a national holiday and they can’t be abolished by eradicating them, either.
“Going on holiday” isn’t the same thing as celebrating Christmas. Having “turkey day” is not the same as truly celebrating our national heritage and giving thanks. Easter is not the same as spring break. Symbols are symbolic of something. Easter eggs, Christmas trees, Seder candles, the American “stars and stripes,” the Thanksgiving pilgrims and turkey are only meaningful if we parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles make them so and keep them so by never tiring of “telling the story.” It’s all about the story and your special telling of it. Without that, sacred moments will crumble into, well, merely trinkets and a day off.
To tell the story of both the history of our country and the faith that shaped it, I can’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving evening together as an extended family of all ages than to watch the DVD of Circuit Rider. This historical musical pays tribute to the early carriers of the gospel across the rugged territories of what would become America’s states. Lyrics and narration were written by Suzanne Jennings to music mainly by Woody Wright, and acted and sung by many of the favorite Homecoming artists.
For our family, Thanksgiving is the holiday for everyone to come home. This gathering becomes dearer as our family grows and spreads to other parts of the country and even abroad. It is also the time to bring around our table those who may not have their families close. This often includes college students who can’t go home and those who have lost family through death or separation.
After the food is displayed on the big island in our farm kitchen, we all pull chairs into a big circle around the room. The youngest child is chosen to pass a small basket of Indian corn kernels around the circle. Someone tells once more the story of that first Thanksgiving and the winter that preceded it when many died and those who survived were given, finally, just a ration of a few kernels of corn and some water. We tell of the natives who, when spring finally came, taught the immigrants to plant seeds that would survive in this adopted land and how that year at harvest, the pilgrims and the natives brought their crops and wild game like turkeys and venison to eat together and to give thanks for survival in this new land. Often, we then read the Felicia Dorothea Hermons poem, “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers” and Abraham Lincoln’s original declaration of Thanksgiving.
Still holding our kernel in our hand, the tiny basket is passed again, and returning our corn, now with new meaning, we each take our turn at telling what we are most thankful for since we were last in this special circle. Laughter and tears always punctuate this Thanksgiving ritual, which ends with a prayer of gratitude from one of the older generation—now, usually Bill or me, since our parents are all gone now.
I’m sure there have been times over the years when a teen-ager in the circle has thought, “Do we have to do this again?” The answer is, of course, “Yes, we do, because the reason we do anything is as important as the doing of it in all of life. Being certain of the “why” will take us through the hard times.”
We all need a ground zero, a true North, when the world seems to be shifting beneath our feet like sand sucked away by the receding tide. For us, here are some things we can hold to:
--There is a God who is way bigger than we can comprehend whose love spoke everything into existence
--You can always go home, home to God, home to family, home to your true identity
--Always ask why before asking what and how. What and how must always be in service to why.
--Guard your heart and keep your joy!
This Thanksgiving let’s tell the story—our national one and our personal ones. This Christmas let’s tell the Story. Be sure even the smallest child knows what every symbol stands for and every practice means. And let’s live the story together, for the telling of it brings us home—to each other, to God, and to our true selves.