Gimme a smile: Thankful for Thanksgiving

This is the season of giving thanks. I am thankful for Thanksgiving. In the pantheon of American holidays, this one stands alone. It is the only holiday that I can celebrate without stressing out.


Thanksgiving is great because it’s a holiday dedicated to saying thank you. “What are you thankful for?” is the refrain. I can come up with lots of things to be thankful for. One year I decided to make a “Thankful Chain” with the kids — a paper chain with each link representing something one of us was thankful for. I expected each kid to write four or five things and then move on. A pack of construction paper later, the chain stretched across the room, filled with blessings like “books,” “roller coasters,” “ice cream,” “baseball,” “homes,” and “J.K. Rowling.” It still hangs from the rail of our loft, as a sweet reminder that we have much to be thankful for.

Another thing I like about Thanksgiving is the fact that I don’t have to buy stuff in order to celebrate. I don’t need to decorate for Thanksgiving, there are no presents to buy, no candy to distribute, and, Hallmark notwithstanding, there are no Thanksgiving cards to send or to feel guilty about not sending. All I need is a turkey and I’m all set.

Let’s face it, Thanksgiving is all about food. It’s our national holiday to stuff ourselves on food that we normally don’t eat. It’s also a time of remarkable culinary homogeneity — most everyone in the United States is eating the same thing on the same day. Turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy — did you eat that on Thanksgiving? I did. I’ll bet the president did too. I had the same thing for dinner as the president — how many times can we say that in this lifetime?

True confessions — I have never cooked a turkey. I am a middle-aged woman who celebrates a traditional Thanksgiving every year, and I have never cooked a turkey. That’s because I have discovered the secret of Thanksgiving — the true reason that it’s such a joyful, stress-free celebration for me. Along with my family, I participate in a community Thanksgiving dinner at the Methodist camp. Potluck Thanksgiving dinner — what could be better than that? We don’t have extended family living in town, so we join with our church family for this yearly gathering. For the first 15 years or so, we managed to sign up for stuffing, cranberry sauce, pies and breads, and relied on someone else to bring the turkey. Someone always does. Then my husband got a tabletop rotisserie and became the King of Rotiss, and we’ve started stepping up to the plate with our turkey. But he’s the chef — I make the cornbread stuffing and keep my turkey-free cooking record intact.

And the best thing of all: I don’t have to clean my house! Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings takes place somewhere other than my house. In preparation for dinner I can focus on baking cornbread and ... and there’s really nothing else I have to focus on. I can arrive fresh and energetic, not exhausted from rushing about the house getting everything cleaned up.

Part of the Thanksgiving at camp tradition is the annual walk after dinner — a great chance to walk off a heavy meal. This year, rain on top of snow left the fields and roadsides filled with patches of ice. The kids loved the chance to slip and slide, while the adults walked with the carefulness of experience. We tramped through the wetlands by Eagle River as the sun set and twilight fell, until we encountered a stream across our path. We followed the stream to a place where we could cross on a mass of ice. Come to find out, the ice wasn’t fixed. I have never stood on a floating block of ice before — I felt like I was in the magical land of Narnia. In truth, I was in the magical land of Alaska, nourished by good food and the warmth of loving friends and family, enjoying a new experience on the best holiday of the year. I am thankful for Thanksgiving!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.


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