My earliest memories of Thanksgiving have to do with my morning routine as much as they do the turkey.
As a young child in the 1960s, Thanksgiving morning meant watching (and re-watching every year) Captain Kangaroo’s Thanksgiving episode.
For those of you who are younger than I, which unfortunately is a rapidly growing category, Captain Kangaroo was a children’s television show that involved a whole cast of characters, including puppets named Bunny Rabbit, who never spoke, and Mr. Moose, who liked playing tricks on the Captain, who hosted the show.
Captain Kangaroo came on early, before the lineup of Thanksgiving Day parades. In fact, for many years, the Captain hosted the parades. But on Thanksgiving, the show took on a more somber tone as the Captain talked about the pilgrims and their struggles which gave birth to the first Thanksgiving.
As I recall it, the show ended with all of the characters gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table, bowing their heads in prayer. As the hymn We Gather Together played, there was a montage of American art depicting the early American settlers, native Americans, and always, the Norman Rockwell portrait Freedom From Want, which features an American Thanksgiving table.
A grand finale of prayer and American art, in a show whose grand finale was typically a shower of pingpong balls, was serious stuff for the average 5-year-old and sent the message that there was a greater meaning behind this feast.
It is about appreciating the freedoms we have, appreciating those who struggled to bring us those freedoms, and giving thanks for all of it, particularly the bounty of food that exists in America.
I’m sure today such a program would never make it on television. Too boring, too serious, not enough action. But it’s a message I am happy to deliver.
The main reason I love writing about food is because the dinner table has always been the center of all that is good in my life — family, friends, and of course, the food. Thanksgiving Day was the day to showcase and appreciate the food, friends and family.
In our hurried lives, it’s easy to forget that the best way to express our humanity is to gather with others around the table and share a meal with them. Food is the medium, the vehicle, that allows that to happen so naturally and often, so deliciously.
I’m never surprised when folks tell me how much they love Thanksgiving, because it’s just about getting together and sharing a meal. I know it’s the reason why so many of us put so much effort into preparing that dinner.
This year in particular, with so many stores opening on the holiday at just the time we all should be gathering together, I am feeling a little sad.
I’m proud to say I have never shopped on Thanksgiving Day, (of course, I don’t count the year I was forced to buy eggs at the gas station because I ran out.) This year will be no exception.
But I know that I’ll sit at the table and watch as one or two younger relatives leave to hit the Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving afternoon and evening. Part of me will want to shout, “Don’t go! Don’t do it!”
But I’ll remind myself that they didn’t have the Captain to teach them that Thanksgiving is about taking a time out for the important business of giving thanks. The turkey and stuffing are just a bonus.
For my part, I will continue to gather together.
I’ll sit back and have another piece of pumpkin pie, indulging in more whipped cream on top than I really should, and give thanks for more time and conversation with the people I love.
That’s the best deal on Thanksgiving Day.