Section: Opinion

Thanksgiving, and the forgotten spirit beyond the holiday

Thanksgiving, in the imagination: I conjure an image resembling “Freedom from Want” — that classic portrait of the American holiday — by Norman Rockwell. At the head of the table, the hardworking matriarch presents her turkey to the jubilant eyes of her kin. The patriarch, a head above her, looks down with approval. The family is well-ordered and white and obedient.

Despite its lasting popularity, the Rockwell image is one of contradictions. Gratitude fills the dining room — though the feeling is made possible only by material abundance. The title speaks of “freedom” — but this “freedom” manifests itself as an impulse to conform, to follow the script of a holiday written for someone else.

For many of us, there is a gap between the picture we image and the holiday we experience. But this does not mean that the spirit of Thanksgiving must be dismissed.

I, for one, find it difficult to be grateful for my blessings; I would much rather complain. It is my family’s tradition to play the “Thanksgiving Game” after the holiday dinner. Each round of the game focuses on a particular individual in the room, and the other players will write down something about that person for which they are thankful on anonymous slips of paper. The slips are gathered up and read by a single player, at which point the individual described must guess who wrote what. The game is wholesome, perhaps, but I never enjoyed it. It is too hard to think about your blessings; too easy to instead think of your complaints.

This Thanksgiving season, I am trying to write a script for myself, to express gratefulness fully and genuinely. I give thanks for Kenyon faculty and staff, who have invested so much in me. I give thanks for the books I’ve read and the lessons I’ve learned. I give thanks for the opportunity to write for this newspaper, and the many other opportunities this campus has given me. I give thanks for the new friendships I’ve made and the old ones I’ve kept — especially when I see them tonight, gathered around a table for Peircegiving.

I’ve found that, as of late, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I know the actual holiday never goes as desired, and that will probably never  change. The long awkward pauses over the dinner table will continue, as will the burnt turkeys and brussels sprouts. But the spirit of Thanksgiving transcends the one day, and the holiday can serve as a gentle reminder to us all.

The Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” rings through my head this time of year. It reminds us all to pause and enjoy what it means to be alive: “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free / ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.” ’Tis indeed a simple gift to be.

Cameron Austin ’20 is a mathematics and philosophy major from Chattanooga, Tenn. You can contact him at austin1@kenyon.edu.

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