One Holiday, and Countless Ways to Say Thanks
If you happen by Stacy Christopher’s home in Santa Barbara, Calif., early on Thanksgiving Day, you may think that her husband, her son and their guests chose an odd time for yard work. They rummage through the greenery. They cart away branches.
It’s no cleanup, though. It’s the first small step in a big show of gratitude.
The branches go into a vase inside. Nearby are leaf-shaped pieces of paper in yellow, orange, red: the archetypal colors of the season if not the actual ones on the Southern California coast, where autumn isn’t such a fiery showboat. People write concise missives on the leaves, then affix them to the branches, and what Ms. Christopher calls the Thankful Tree takes blazing form. It claims the center of the table, a reminder of what this holiday is really about.
“People will pick off the leaves and read them,” said Ms. Christopher, a chef and writer whose blog, Earth to Salt, celebrates the bounty of California. “That’s how we start our meal.”
“人们会摘下树叶看上面的东西，”克里斯托弗夫人说。“这是我们开始吃感恩节大餐的方式。”她是一名厨师、作家，她的博客Earth to Salt颂扬了加州的丰富出产。
There will be a thank-you for someone’s professional opportunity. A thank-you for someone else’s recovery from illness. A thank-you for the comfort of kin, not just on this day, but on the many days surrounding it.
And, possibly, a thank-you for this tradition itself. “It focuses us,” she told me, adding that her family needs that. “We’re kind of a rowdy group.”
I nodded and smiled. My family, too. And in her Thanksgiving, I recognized ours — and, really, everyone else’s, because while the rituals vary, the attachment to them doesn’t, and all of them follow the set of instructions spelled out bluntly in the holiday’s very name. They express gratitude. It turns out that there are infinite ways — succinct and expansive, subtle and fanciful — for turkey-minded Americans to do that.
My relatives would never consider a Thankful Tree, for one simple, unimpeachable reason: It would take precious real estate on the table away from booze, condiments and other items integral to our gorging.
But we, too, insist on the moment of calm that Ms. Christopher described. Someone, usually my Uncle Jim, says a grace of greater length and intensity than the ones at other holidays. He speaks of God and gratitude, demonstrating that if we look at our lives through the right lens, we see blessings everywhere, and they outnumber obstacles.
Gratitude is a feat of perspective. When I talked with other people recently about their ways and whys of giving thanks, I was most struck by how often their rituals arose from travails, not triumphs. Hardship was handmaiden to an examination of all that remained good, all that they should cling tight to.
Tim Shiley, a manufacturing-plant manager in Buffalo, mentioned a profound loss when I asked him about the origins of his family’s habit of making everyone at the Thanksgiving table talk about what he or she is grateful for. His parents, he said, both died before their 50th birthdays, and that has encouraged him, his siblings and his own children to huddle tight and not overlook — or take for granted — the importance of their solidarity.
“It’s not religious,” he said. “It’s about the bonding of family.”
Meg Cox, the author of “The Book of New Family Traditions,” told me about a family whose most cherished ritual pays homage to the perseverance of their ancestors, who made it through the Depression and the Dust Bowl on a diet of turnips from their parched land. Decades later, the dish at the center of the family’s Thanksgiving table is mashed turnips, though lavish with the butter that a more affluent generation can afford.
《新家庭传统之书》(The Book of New Family Traditions)的作者梅格·考克斯(Meg Cox)给我讲了一个故事，是关于一个家族的。这个家族最宝贵的仪式是向他们的先辈致敬。后者以干枯的土地上长出的萝卜为食，度过了大萧条和沙尘暴。几十年后，萝卜泥成了这个家族感恩节餐桌上的中心菜肴，不过是奢华版的，因为添加了更富裕的一代人才享用得起的黄油。
Those turnips, she noted, are more than a companion to turkey, stuffing and such. They’re thanks for the sacrifice and suffering that paved the way to better times.
The commingling of generations is central to Matthew Gertzog’s Thanksgiving, one detail of which especially amuses him. Every year, his father, Sonny, surveys his grandchildren and tells them what they should be grateful to him for.
“He makes these goofy comments about how fortunate we are to be descendants of his gene pool,” said Mr. Gertzog, a senior executive for a nonprofit medical society.
One grandchild has red hair, like her granddad’s, and he solicits thanks for it. Another has an especially nimble mind: He wants credit for that, too, and for another’s athleticism. He does this with more humor than arrogance, Mr. Gertzog said, and it’s infused, in the end, with his own gratitude for having them in his life.
So many kinds of rituals, so many offers of thanks: Jean Vintinner, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, shows her gratitude for how much she has by giving some away. She, her husband and their daughter have turned Thanksgiving into a pre-Christmas pruning: Before they get new stuff for that holiday, they give away old stuff on this one, dropping off toys, clothing, art supplies and more to local charities.
仪式的种类很多，表示感谢的方式也很多：在北卡罗来纳大学夏洛特分校(University of North Carolina at Charlotte)任教的琼·文廷纳(Jean Vintinner)通过把一些物品捐赠出去，来表示对自己所拥有的一切的感谢。她和丈夫及两人的女儿已经把感恩节变成了一场圣诞前的清理：在为感恩节置办新物品之前，他们会把和感恩节有关的旧物品送出去，把玩具、衣服、美术用品等送到当地的慈善机构去。
The actor Dan Bucatinsky, who starred in the television show “Scandal” and is currently shooting “24: Legacy,” said it was always important to him to encourage displays of gratitude from his husband, Don Roos, their two children and their guests on Thanksgiving Day. But it took him a while to find a method he really liked.
曾在电视剧《丑闻》(Scandal)中出演并且目前正在拍摄《24小时：遗产》(34: Legacy)的演员丹·布卡廷斯基(Dan Bucatinsky)称，对他来说鼓励他丈夫唐·鲁斯(Don Roos)、他们的两个孩子以及他们的客人在感恩节这一天表达感激向来很重要。但他花了一段时间才找到了一种自己真正喜欢的方式。
He noticed that the children and guests could become stiff and shy if they were expected, one after another, to make some profession of what they were thankful for. So, a few years ago, he bought tiny, empty journals and put one at each person’s place.
“They’re gratitude notebooks,” he explained. “They take away the performance anxiety.”
Guests write in them and keep them, but Mr. Bucatinsky always finds that a few notebooks, including his children’s, are left on the table.
“I collect them to make sure the right person gets them back,” he said, “and — it’s terrible to say — I look!” What does he find in the notebooks of his children, now 11 and 9 years old?
“I have not seen ‘world peace,’” he sighed. “I have not seen ‘my freedom to speak, and my ability to be who I am.’ I’m grateful if my kids remember anything that cannot be purchased on Amazon: ‘my sister,’ ‘my dog.’ And then I put that in my own gratitude notebook.”
My family says everything through food, and on Thanksgiving, our tendency toward excess takes exaggerated, almost satirical form: four kinds of pie along with three kinds of cookies, not to mention several kinds of cake and various kinds of ice cream.
But that overflow exists partly because everyone who walks through the door wants to emphasize his or her thanks for being there, and does so in calories.
And when I reach for yet one more sweet, I’m not just revealing my gluttony. I swear. I’m showing my gratitude — that my Thanksgiving is an occasion of plenty, with an abundance of everything that matters most: wine, whipped cream, love.