The last Thursday in November in the United States is proclaimed Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow, my wife and I will gather at our daughter’s house with her and her family. Our son-in-law’s family will join us to celebrate the day, too.
We will have all of the usual Thanksgiving meal trimmings: roasted turkey and dressing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade pies. It will be scrumptious.
We are grateful for this bounteous meal and warm home where we will feast. But more importantly, we will be most grateful to share it with family. Loving family relations can never be taken for granted.
We will also remember those who have passed on and those who aren’t as fortunate. Gratitude must come with the recognition, responsibility, and desire to help the least, the last, and the lost.
My wife and I wanted to wrap up our 50th anniversary year with the entire family in someplace warm. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Since our son’s career is in hospitality, we let him make the reservations. He found a family-friendly, eco-friendly resort south of Cancun, Mexico. However, it ended up that he and his wife couldn’t join us after all. Their doctor wouldn’t let her travel out of the country due to her high-risk pregnancy.
So, our daughter and her family, and my wife and I headed to Cancun without them with their blessings. We left Christmas Eve and returned on New Year’s Eve.
It was great to lounge in 85-degree weather on the beach with our three grandchildren and their mother and father. They enjoyed the waterpark, too, since the shoreline was rocky and uneven. We relaxed with them, chatting and teaching them card games.
Our reservations were made in early October, well before the omicron variant reared its ugly head. We double-checked with the airlines and the resort regarding their COVID-19 protocols. We were assured that all precautions would be taken, and that is what we experienced. We always felt very safe.
Here are some representative photos of our week-long experience at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Palm trees provided plenty of shade for us, non-sun worshipers. The beach was lovely, but there were more rocks than sand under the water, which required water shoes to be worn to stay safe.
We spent Christmas Day getting acquainted with the resort. One of our grandsons and I explored the Mayan ruins on the resort property. We saw several giant iguanas, enjoyed a meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, saw the sunset, and watched a reenactment of a Mayan fire ceremony.
Of course, our oldest grandson and his dad had to try the jet skis while the rest of us watched from the shore. We also enjoyed the beautiful flowers and greenery that were all around us.
Because the resort is built in a jungle, we didn’t have to go far to find wildlife. Often, the critters came to us, mainly because people ignored the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs. So, it was prudent to not leave anything on your balcony or your sliding door open. As a birder, I was pleased to see a variety of bird species. Some were life birds for me.
We enjoyed our time at the resort. Patience was paramount given that, like most everyplace else, the resort was short-staffed due to COVID-19. Being flexible enhanced our overall enjoyment of the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.
December has always given me plenty of reasons to embrace the 12th month despite its sometimes wicked weather.
Though not the most important, I’ll confess that the first reason is personal, perhaps even selfish. My birthday is in December. It’s always precisely three weeks before Christmas, which I believe has propelled me through to the holidays over my many years.
Like it or not, the holidays of December take center stage. Marketing gurus ensure we get their messages.
I always look forward to the four Sundays of Advent. Our lives would be a lot more pleasant if we carried the message of peace, hope, joy, and love far beyond the holidays.
A byproduct of those cherished qualities is joyous holiday music. Some of it, of course, has been absconded by the Scrooges of the world. Their tunes can be a bit corny. That aside, the musical sounds of Christmas somehow still warm the coldest day.
I also love the various stories and films created around the holiday season. Charles Dickens’ novelette “A Christmas Carol” tops my annual December reading list. When I taught elementary school, I read it every year to the delight of my students before Christmas break.
I’ll also admit that I’m a sucker for the movie “Home Alone.” In a somewhat ridiculous manner, the classic film brings home the joy and spirit of the season. Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still laugh as the left-behind youngster gets the best of the buffooning burglars.
Even though the holiday decorating seems to happen earlier each year, I still enjoy seeing the many displays of holiday cheer. It catapults me back to the 1960s when our hyperactive father piled his obedient children into the family sedan after dark. We would drive miles and miles, finding a wide variety of holiday light displays.
Of course, Dad had to join in the illuminating competition. He decorated the big pine on the corner of our suburban lot with hundreds of multi-colored lights. He kept at it for years and years, constantly adding to the glowing ostentation.
Those were the days when sending Christmas cards was in vogue. Hallmark loved our dear mother. She addressed and signed the cards in her lovely cursive while her children licked the glue of the stamps and the envelopes to seal them. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.
I always enjoyed a white Christmas. A fluffy layer of snow made it seem warmer than the actual air temperature. We would dust off our sleds and slicken the blades with paraffin to ensure good sledding.
Off we would head to a nearby hill or a local park where others had built snow-packed ramps. One teeth-shattering jump was enough for me.
Of course, we loved when it snowed well before December 25. But snow on Christmas just made that day all the more special.
The holidays always seemed to make December go too fast. In reality, it was and still is all of the activities we pack into preparing for the holidays.
Still, December awakens all of our senses. The fragrant pine wreaths, the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, the twinkling of the light displays, the yummy Christmas cookies, and especially the hugs of appreciative grandchildren fill my spirit to overflowing.
Lastly, it’s humankind’s general geniality that stitches December’s colorful quilt together. I still believe that even amid today’s global health and humanitarian crises.
I hope I am right. Only time and our intentional daily interactions with others can determine that answer. If that happens, that’s the only birthday gift I’ll need.
In the U.S., Thanksgiving Day is always the fourth Thursday in November.
Do we truly understand the breadth of what Thanksgiving means, though? Yes, we have our childhood memories of loving, familiar faces gathered around a dining room table ladened with savory food.
For me, and perhaps for you, I cherish those thoughts of the soothing fragrance of a steaming, hot turkey fresh out of the oven, tasty mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, flavorful stuffing, and of course, homemade pumpkin pie. That mental picture never gets old.
In my case, it was usually Grandma Frith’s three daughters and their families who somehow found room to squeeze into one space to enjoy the feast and one another’s company. I hang on to those precious recollections, knowing that it was a different era then.
Times have changed as they should. We’ve all grown up. Our grandmother and all our parents have passed on. Even the oldest of the 17 baby boomer grandchildren died too young.
We are scattered all across the country now, still related but disconnected. We each have created new traditions with our own families. In effect, we are replicating what we knew, what we loved, only altered to fit our situations.
As our adult children married and have children of their own, holidays like Thanksgiving naturally take on new approaches. In our mobile age, families learn to share their loved ones. It’s the prudent thing to do.
So, one year we gather together on Thanksgiving Day with as many immediate family members as possible. The following year, Nana and Poppy find alternative ways to celebrate.
We gather with our grandchildren and their parents when it is convenient. It’s still Thanksgiving, just not on the designated day. We are thankful nonetheless.
To me, the date and day are insignificant. I am thrilled to assemble with our intimate troupe wherever and whenever we can. While my stomach rumbles full of turkey, my soul is full of joy. The latter is the preferred nourisher.
For that, I am most grateful. I am also aware that all peoples are not equally blessed, and that thought alone humbles me. It stirs me to be more vigilant for opportunities to care and share with those less fortunate.
I count my blessings, indeed, grateful to be where I am, at this place in time, even if the times are hard for some. It is our responsibility to help others however and wherever possible, simply for the common good of all.
For no matter our circumstances, we are one nation indivisible. We must work hard to keep it that way, especially at Thanksgiving.
The word “thanksgiving” is derived from two words and blended for a singular meaning. The word “thanksgiving” dates back to the 1530s and is formed by combining the noun “thanks” with the verb “giving.”
“Thanks” is taken from the Old English “panc,” meaning grateful thought. “Giving” comes from the Old English “giefan,” or to bestow or grant.
Consequently, Thanksgiving is more than a mere term, more than a holiday. Thanksgiving is a sentence requiring appreciation, gratitude, and generosity.
So, Thanksgiving means much more than delicious food, genuine fellowship, and back-to-back-to-back football games. Thanksgiving involves praise, reflection, and acts of kindness.
The Thanksgiving command suggests a trio of actions for each of us. First, we must remember those who have helped us achieve what we have. Second, embrace and celebrate with your friends and family. Third, we need to share our blessings of abundance with others.
In so doing, Thanksgiving weaves the past, the present, and the future into a purposeful, warming lifestyle tapestry. That alone is reason to be thankful.
I had waited a long time to take a picture like this. However, I got so wrapped up at the moment that I left my camera at home. So my smartphone camera would have to suffice.
There we all were 40, gray-headed old souls who finally, after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, gathered together to eat, laugh, and share. I had to capture the moment.
The group was our faith formation or Sunday school class. We had only met a couple of times via Zoom since March 2020. So to finally be meeting in person was a taste of heaven on earth.
As a group, we were all on the same page. We followed the recommended health restrictions issued and altered as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, morphed, and challenged global scientists and medical personnel.
Our hosts had moved to the Harrisonburg, Virginia area from Wayne County, Ohio a year before we moved from a neighboring Ohio county. They had invited the entire class to their rural home nestled into a hill and surrounded by forest and wildlife.
Storms were in the forecast, but this was a determined group. The desire to see each other face-to-face overtook any threat of severe thunderstorms.
Besides, we met in a sweeping semi-circle in our hosts’ expansive and sparkling clean garage. With east and west doors open, a welcome breeze kept us comfortable.
As the first people arrived, an orphaned fawn hobbled across the emerald grass and plopped down. Soon, it righted itself and wobbled into the woods, likely looking for its mother.
Cars arrived at steady intervals, which allowed some positive personal interaction as guests exited their vehicles. With all safely vaccinated, no face masks were required. The many smiles spoke volumes. Fist bumps and hugs abounded.
With the hosts providing the main course, half the class brought salads and the other half desserts. Typical for any Mennonite potluck, the offerings were tasty and satisfying. No one went away hungry.
After lunch, we all found our seats in the garage and began the organized sharing. First, the class coordinator asked each person to share briefly about their pandemic situations. Some spoke at length, while others said only a few words.
Several of the attendees live in a local retirement community with even tighter standards than those who lived independently. They were more than delighted to be sitting with this gray-headed crowd.
One man shared how he had lost all of his siblings. Some deaths were due to COVID-19, others from natural causes. Not being able to gather to mourn in the usual fashion compounded his grieving.
Some told of vacations and weddings canceled. Others beamed at finally physically reconnecting with family and meeting grandchildren, some for the first time.
The eldest of the group stole the show, however. When it was this stateman’s turn to share, Cal simply said, “I’m glad to be here,” parroting late-night TV show guests’ comments. Other one-liners had us all laughing with this soon-to-be 96-year-old.
A thundershower clipped through the conversations, but it didn’t deter these determined folks. The laughter, sharing, and caring continued right on through the distant rumbles of thunder.
We were all grateful for the opportunity to see, hear, and be together again in the flesh. But we were also very thankful for the church and political leaders who have guided us through this unwelcome pandemic storm.
The fellowship of like-minded friends is invaluable. Consequently, our bonding time ended in a grateful halleluiah prayer of thanksgiving.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. My wonderful wife served up a delicious noon meal. She saved the best for later. At halftime of a basketball game we were watching on TV, Neva brought out this amazing dessert: a gluten-free brownie sundae with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, topped with fresh red raspberries. It tasted even better than it looks. The flavors perfectly blended together.
I knew I had to photograph this lovely dish. The fire engine red table cloth as the backdrop made the red raspberries pop. It was a great way to finish off our Valentine’s Day dinner.
I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.
Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.
I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.
My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.
My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.
Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.
It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.
Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.
As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.
Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.
When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.
The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.
Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.
However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.
A familiar aroma wafted all the way from the kitchen to my office. Joy overwhelmed me as I inhaled the welcoming whiff of Christmas cookies.
I had seen my wife mixing the ingredients and rolling the dough earlier in the morning. Just imagining the taste of the gluten-free Moravian ginger snaps and cookie crumbles made my mouth water.
Neva loves to bake, and the dynamo that she is, she did so even though not feeling the best. After nearly 50 years of marriage, I knew not to intervene.
Baking is only one of Neva’s many gifts for which I am grateful. During the holiday season, she goes into overdrive, providing goodies and other pleasantries for friends, family, and even strangers. That’s in addition to taking the lead in decorating our home for the holidays.
(Please click on each photo below to enlarge them.)
We decorated for the holidays earlier than usual in an earnest attempt to counter 2020’s double-barreled doom and gloom of pandemic and politics. We plan on letting the festive lights shine well into the New Year, too. Hopefully, that effort will soothe our souls and those of others as well.
Strings of lights, wreaths, and trees said “Christmas” even before Thanksgiving. It was our way of being grateful as this long and tedious year winds down. We all need the holiday spirit now more than ever.
We are determined not to let the negative news negate the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Advent season. We weren’t immune, after all. There was nothing fake about family and friends who contracted the virus. We are most thankful that all have recovered or are in the process. Too many others here and around the world can’t say that.
Neva and I are grateful for leaders who do the right things for the common good, whether it concerns the pandemic, raging wildfires, or assisting hurricane victims long after the storms have departed. We rejoiced with the announcements of effective vaccines that will soon arrive, starting with those on the frontlines of COVID-19.
Gratitude always helps the one who shows it. The more you give, the better you feel. Perhaps that is what motivated Neva to bake in the first place. Being productive is in her DNA.
No matter our circumstances, expressing our gratitude, serves as a healing balm. I have often experienced that, sometimes in the least likely of places.
I was fortunate to have traveled to Honduras multiple times on short-term work trips. Our groups usually helped local residents build churches and houses for the very needy.
I vividly remember one situation in Gracias, Honduras, the country’s old Spanish colonial capital. The six of us worked side-by-side with community members to help construct their church building.
Each workday, the women of the local congregation that we were assisting prepared lunch for us. In the cooling shade of her adobe home, the pastor served us chicken noodle soup and refreshing fruit juice. We were most grateful for the food and hospitality.
When I learned that the pastor had killed her last chicken to feed our small group, I was genuinely humbled. Given her gracious sacrifice, we all thanked her profusely.
Showing gratitude works both ways. Study after study has shown that expressing gratitude through productive actions benefits both the recipient and the giver. Our Honduran experience indeed verified that.
Perhaps author Ami Campbell appropriately summed up the purpose for appreciation. Gratitude is the birthplace of generosity, she stated. To that, I say, “Amen!”
In what ways will you express your appreciation to others this holiday season?
Thanksgiving season is upon us here in the U.S. The day won’t be the same as in years past, with the pandemic still raging. Nevertheless, we can, and we should celebrate.
I have always relished Thanksgiving. The food, the fellowship, the interplay of cross-generational conversation and gaming made the day special.
Growing up in blue-collar northeast Ohio, my four siblings and I had a boatload of first cousins with whom we communed on Thanksgiving Day. Our maternal grandmother graciously oversaw the gathering of her three daughters and their families.
A buffet of all the traditional Thanksgiving goodies filled the long dining room table at our Aunt Vivian and Uncle Kenny’s place, where we usually assembled. Other relatives occasionally joined us.
Besides gorging ourselves, we played football, hide and seek, and sang at the piano. By day’s end, both our stomachs and our souls were more than satisfied. Laughter and familial love will do that.
As the children matured to teens and then to adults, spouses joined in the festivities. Out of necessity, each family began meeting separately.
Thanksgiving Day resembled a progressive supper. It was one house for a noontime holiday spread and then dinner at the in-laws with an equivalent bounty.
Those traditions evolved even further when our children married or moved hours away. Thanksgiving became an extended holiday to accommodate as many attendees as possible. We would eat our way through Thursday to Sunday.
Regardless of the settings and meeting arrangements, fond memories always resulted. That was true even if the mashed potatoes were lumpy or the dressing was too dry.
This year, those memories will have to flavor Thanksgiving Day whatever, however, and wherever we celebrate. The coronavirus will likely alter any large gatherings, even if they include all family members.
As the contagious pandemic continues to spread and spike, we all have to do our part to thwart its invisible advance. It never was going to evaporate, no matter who won the presidential election.
This Thanksgiving, we have to let go of our traditions, our expectations, and our American pride and do what is best for the common good of all. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises against any large-group inside gatherings.
The professional advice is that people not be in an enclosed space with the same people for more than 15-minutes. I’ve been known to be a fast eater, but not that fast.
For my wife and me, that means we will be hoping for a warm Thanksgiving Day to meet outside with our daughter, her husband, and our three grandchildren. We’ll connect as we are able with our son and his wife in New York.
This pandemic has been the paradigm shift of a lifetime for all of us. It’s been hard for us, independent-minded citizens, to accept governmental and medical leaders’ guidelines and restrictions.
Trying to provide accurate safety information about a new and dangerous virus can’t be easy. It is incumbent on all of us to follow the advice to help slow this COVID-19 until an effective vaccine arrives.
Nevertheless, virus or no virus, Thanksgiving Day will arrive, and we should express our great gratitude. How that occurs is an individual choice, of course.
I am grateful for the many blessings received over all these many years. If we can’t meet in person with our family like my nostalgic recollections, I will be disappointed. However, we can still express our appreciation virtually.
The principle of being thankful is the very foundation for Thanksgiving. Let us all keep that tradition alive as joyously and safely as possible.
Just as I began to write about the colors of summer, a friend posted on social media about her visit to a local farmers market. In one digital photo, she succinctly summarized what I intended to say.
A cornucopia of vibrant colors from gardening harvests filled her photo. The variety of tomatoes alone captured nearly every hue of an artist’s paint pallet.
Ruby reds, luscious purples, warm yellows, and lime greens took center stage of their kitchen table. The light yellow of summer squash and the ribbed texture of a muskmelon represented the earthen tones.
A perfect emerald cucumber, the variegated rind of a watermelon, and a cluster of fresh basil leaves provided a generous sampling of the locally grown greens. The haul from your gardens, nearby produce stands, and farmers’ markets likely create similar still-life artistry.
Our house is no different, despite not having a garden. My wife does pamper a half dozen potted herb plants sitting on the white enamel top of an inherited old table on our patio.
Our daughter supplies us with all the plump, juicy, and tasty tomatoes that we can use from her garden. Her blackberry plants have produced an abundance of delicious tartness, too.
The half-box of organic fruits and vegetables we get each Monday from our Community Supporting Agriculture program assures that we maintain a healthy, flavorful diet. We also frequent several local produce businesses, mostly operated by the Shenandoah Valley’s Old Order Mennonites.
It that regard, we are reminded of our Ohio home, where we knew many of the Amish and Mennonite vendors personally. Somehow that seemed to make their homegrown offerings all the tastier.
My energetic wife ensures that we celebrate the summer’s colorful bounty all year long. Canning and freezing are in her farmer genes.
When it comes to preserving the downhome goodness of food, we have noticed a difference between living in Ohio versus residing in Virginia. Instead of in spurts, everything seems to come ripe at once in the valley.
One day we are canning peaches and the next day tomatoes. Those jars have barely stopped popping their lids when the sweet corn comes ready, tender, tasty, and delicious. The varieties here are as delicious as our Ohio favorite, Incredible.
We’ve also learned a few new tricks living in a new culture in a new state. We husk the sweet corn, clean it, and cut the kernels straight from the cobs. Neva fills the plastic containers, and when we want fresh corn at Thanksgiving, that’s when it gets cooked and not before.
Apples are next on the list. The sweet tartness of the ginger golds more than satisfy our family’s taste buds. Neva freezes enough for the grandkids, who usually finish off their supply long before Nana can do another batch.
Of course, canning and freezing are a lot of hard work. Sterilizing the jars and lids, cleaning the fruit and veggies, and peeling when required, all take time and effort. Then there is enduring the sauna-like heat at the height of the canning process in our tiny galley kitchen.
The vent fan works overtime, expelling the heat and steam to help cool the temporary cannery. But in the long run, it’s all well-worth every drop of sweat.