This weekend – the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, whatever days it actually falls on – always reminds me of how cycles begin to stack, once you’ve gone through enough of them.
Thanksgiving has never been a big family holiday. First, my parents were English and raised in the UK, respectively (Christmas was always the big holiday). Second, my father generally took advantage of the long weekend in the US to lecture and perform in Canada without missing classes. And third, we just didn’t have extended family.
(My parents are both only children: from the time I was born until my father’s death when I was 15, the people in the world I knew I was related to were my parents, my sister and brother, and my mother’s mother in England. My sister married shortly after that, but it was a while longer before there was a nephew, sister-in-law, or nieces.)
But in my adult life, it’s picked up a lot of associations. It’s almost the time my ex-husband and I got married. And it’s the weekend he fully moved out when we separated.
However, it’s also the weekend of my 2nd and 3rd degree initiations (which is what happens when you work for a school that gives you almost no discretionary vacation time, and you want a couple of days of preparation and recovery, and waiting for spring break is not desireable for various reasons.)
And of course, there are lots of memories of good times with friends, at various tables over the years.
So, one little span of time stands there, holding a whole lot of different memories and ideas – and yet, simultaneously, not holding the weight and history and complicated stuff it does for most people I know, who have much larger families, long-term traditions, etc. (I am very aware of the originating history, mind you – I grew up close enough to Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation that it was a regular school trip, and Mom and I went every year or three.)
And I’ve got my own harvest cycles to celebrate, too, of course.
When I start talking about cycles in ritual practice, this is one of the things I’ve made vague handwaving gestures about for years, though.
You can stand there and say “Thanksgiving” to the end of days.
And yet, unless you get a lot more specific, you will have some people for whom that word evokes family (for good or bad), specific tastes and smells. But you’ll have people who have a dread of it because they had to deal with a difficult family situation. Or the people who come from places that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like that. And the people for whom the word evokes a painful period in history of appropriation and loss.
When you can build a harvest gathering that brings everyone in that room to the same place about what you’re celebrating, then you’ve got a good ritual.
(This, by the way, is why I’ve preferred to celebrate with friends in an ‘orphans Thanksgiving’ mode, rather than tag along to a friend’s family: there’s a lot more conscious discussion about how this meal, this approach, this ritual serves the people who will be there this year, both physically and emotionally.
With family traditions, that doesn’t always happen so well. People and families change over time, so what worked 20 years ago or 10 or even 5 may no longer create a space of thankfulness and grace and community in the ways you want. Doesn’t mean you throw out the traditions – but that all good ritual should look at what those practices serve.)
So, what I wish this Thanksgiving, is that you have one (if you celebrate it) that leaves you and everyone there feeling included, well-fed, and grateful for the wonderful things in your world. There are lots of ways to answer those questions, and you don’t need to get there by the same roads as anyone else.
And if for some reason that doesn’t happen this year – well, the good thing about cycles is that we get another one next year.