In my attempt to maintain some authenticity in my daily life, I have been searching to find new ways to celebrate special occasions. Although I often question the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday, I have always enjoyed the traditional meal, especially as a child as it was prepared each year by my mother. As an adult it has been a source of pride that I can take all that my mother taught me about being in the kitchen, and make a meal that friends and family will enjoy. I have loved taking her recipes, and tweaking them slightly, given that many of them included red meat, which is not a part of my daily diet. Throughout the years I have also included various religions into my winter holidays, knowing that various friends and chosen family members come from different traditions. For my children that meant celebrating both Christmas and Hanukah. This year the winter holidays will begin in my home on December 8th as I honor the Buddha’s enlightenment, decorating an indoor Ficus tree to represent the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat.
During the past couple of weeks my mail box, and email box, have been flooded with advertisements for the big sales retailers were preparing for Black Friday. Never having been one to take my kids shopping on this mad sprint of a shopping day, my two teenage sons were questioning what exactly this holiday was. I found it kind of amusing that the day after Thanksgiving had become it own special event, almost taking on holiday status. My younger son kept telling me that the local Game Stop was offering a new game he was wanting for half price. Having just taken him to this, his favorite “gamer store” a couple of days prior, it wasn’t on my radar to find myself back there on such an all consuming and hectic day. Yet as Friday morning came upon us, the pleading began. “Dad, it’s only twenty five dollars. I’ll never be able to buy it at that price again. Think of how much money I will be saving…” Okay, enough. Let’s get in the car and get this over with. Little did he know that I had other plans that included Black Friday consumption, but I would give him more details later in the day.
This year Thanksgiving included three all inclusive turkey meals, all made with love and care. The first was a meal in my father’s home last Sunday, where each of my brothers’ families and I arrived with various parts of the traditional meal. I loved that each brought something prepared in their own home, and with pride, shared it at the table my mother served all of her Thanksgiving meals prior to leaving this world a little over a year ago. It was a day filled with great food, much laughter, and quiet acknowledgement of those that were no longer at our Thanksgiving table. The next meal was in my own home, where myself, my husband, my two sons and a couple of friends, gathered on the holiday to share in a smaller intimate meal. The house was lit mostly by candle light, which gave the evening Thanksgiving meal a cozy feel, and allowed us to experience this celebration in the warm glow of the good will being shared. The third Thanksgiving meal was slightly different, and one that took us out of our comfy home, and onto the streets.
Often time when we hear the word consumption, especially this time of year, we think of it in terms of economics. We hear on the news almost daily about how much money this year’s consumer is expected to spend on this day of all sales days, Black Friday. Sometimes when we hear the word consumption we think of horrific events, such as a wild fire consuming miles and miles of beautiful forest or family homes. Other times, such as in the hours after our own Thanksgiving meal, we might lay back on the couch, unbutton the top button on our pants, and begin lamenting on how might have consumed a bit too much. Yet how often do we have the opportunity to experience Black Friday consumption, yet take away no food or products whatsoever? How often are we able to watch other people consume, maybe while our own stomachs are growling from a lack of the evening meal, and experience such joy at the same time?
This Black Friday my family was offered the opportunity to join many others at the local Buddhist temple in preparing yet another Thanksgiving meal. The environment was a bit more intense than that of my own kitchen, as there were some twenty-plus people squeezed into a very small space, cleaning and chopping donated organic vegetables to make salads, and packing deliciously warmed turkey and stuffing into individual meal containers, all while others were carrying boxes of meals from the temple kitchen out into the back of the several cars parked along the street. We broke into groups and caravanned across the city to go where the meals were most needed, out on the streets. The night prior was a very wet one, so we knew that the hundreds of folks that slept along our city streets would have endured a less than comfy one known to the rest of us. With a smile on our face, and a respectful offer of a warm day after Thanksgiving meal, we met each individual where life had brought them, sharing what we had.
It was a joy to experience this with my husband and two sons. It was lovely to interact with new people, some I recognized from my weekly meditation class, and others whose path I had yet to cross. There is something that is both powerful and simplistic in the act of giving. It both feeds our being, and nurtures those that are in need. It’s also an act of humility, as throughout our own journey in this life, we both suffer and have need for such kind gestures.
It is my hope that I will continue to be blessed with such opportunities. Opportunities to give, and opportunities to observe others consume, that which they have need for us to share.