Happy Thanksgiving from Sri Lanka!

Today is Thanksgiving and we are missing celebrating with old friends and family. Of course, Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Sri Lanka, yet.

Despite Thanksgiving’s origins in American history, I think the whole world should celebrate a version of Thanksgiving. I often say that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, by which I mean, I suppose, that it is the holiday with the most meaning for me. It seems to me very important, at least once a year if not every single day, to remind ourselves of how fortunate we truly are. A cynic might say that this is easy for Americans with all of our wealth, but I do not primarily mean fortunate in material terms. Our greatest “fortune” is the gift of life itself, followed immediately by our connections with other possessors of this gift.

My God, how lucky I am to be alive! Fortunate to experience the wonder that is life. I am so thankful for all the people, including each and every taxpayer in the US and Sri Lanka, for the opportunity to be here in Sri Lanka, to meet new friends, to see new sights, to experience a different climate and ecology, to learn more about myself, to grow as a person.

My God, how lucky I am to have Kris in my life! She has taught me the meaning of love, of what it means to really, deeply, care for another person. Life would be so much more flat, dull, and less meaningful without her to share my experiences, thoughts and dreams, without her sharing with me her experiences, thoughts, and dreams, without her to keep me humble, without her as my life’s partner.

My God, how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family! A mother who has supported and encouraged me for a lifetime. My father, Dick, whose caring ways with all of my family almost define the word “husband” (in its non-marital sense, but with love nonetheless). He is as good at growing a family as he is at growing a garden. My sisters, Shannon and Anna, of whose life’s accomplishments I am so proud, of whose love I always feel, and who also work (sometimes overtime) to keep me humble. My nieces and nephews, both by blood and by marriage, who have added so much to all of our lives. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Heidi and Michael, who connect Kris to her roots, who added so much love to the last years of Allan and Delma, and who continue to bring humor and much love into our lives.

My God, how lucky I am to have so many wonderful friends that I can not possibly list them and their meanings to me in finite time. Friends at Kenyon, friends at First Congregational Church, friends from our neighborhood in Mount Vernon, and friends who live far away. Perhaps my tenderest feelings today are for my oldest friends from Wallingford, Patty and Sandy, Tim and Gen.

And, yes, I am thankful that, while I do not possess all that I long for, I certainly possess all that I truly need. That I also possess much more is pure gravy, if you will pardon the gratuitous T-Day reference.  And I hope that studying the Buddha’s teachings will help me dampen my lust for gadgets and lenses that only bring ephemeral pleasures…(repeat this thought as necessary).

Of course I am being Amerocentric (is that a word?) by calling for all peoples to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am sure many other cultures have their own versions. The Jewish Passover has similarities to Thanksgiving, for example. I guess I am just annoyed that the holiday that seems to be crossing all ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries, to be expanding around the world, is Christmas. Thanksgiving is so much more deserving as an international holiday. Its heart, its focus, its point, is so much more likely to be universally felt and appreciated.

This is all tied in with my annoyance about what Christmas has become. The true heart and point of Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of Christ. (Nevermind that the origin of Christmas was a device to replace the winter solstice celebrations of the Romans with something equally celebratory, in order to ease the acceptance of Christianity as the new state religion.) Instead, it has become an excuse for the exchanging of gifts. Not that exchanging gifts is a bad thing, but you only have to look at the meaning of Christmas to the retail stores of the US to see that it has gotten out of hand. Christmas is now about satisfying our lust for material stuff.

An, in my opinion, it is the lust for material goods that is spreading the celebration of Christmas around the globe. The biggest shopping day of the year in Singapore is Christmas Eve, despite the fact that Christians make up a small percentage of the population of Singapore. (Since the Singaporeans do not, yet, celebrate Thanksgiving, the concept of “Black Friday” has not made its appearance in Singapore, yet.) I also have come to dread Christmas muzak. Three years ago on our trip to Asia, Christmas muzak followed us to Singapore (whose dominate religions are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam) and to Thailand (whose dominate religion is Buddhism). Only in Cambodia, a dominantly Buddhist country, did we escape the muzak. However, I attribute that more to poverty and the lack of department stores with PA systems than to a lack of potential “Christmas” spirit. One Cambodian restaurant pasted cotton balls onto the restaurant walls to simulate snow and ease the Western visitor’s homesickness at Christmas time.

I’m not sure what Christmas will be like in Sri Lanka, but I am fearful. Why? At morning tea two days ago, a Muslim and a Buddhist faculty member were worrying about whether the fall semester would end before Christmas.

Fortunately, I do not have a class to teach today, so I can take the day off to celebrate with Kris. We are having the Kandy Fulbright contingent over for a makeshift T-Day dinner. I discovered that one of my Sri Lankan physics colleagues who did her graduate studies in Oklahoma, came to love the Thanksgiving feast. She grew quite a smile when she mentioned her love of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. She was kind enough to call a friend of hers in the animal sciences department to inquire about the availability fof turkey in Sri Lanka. It turns out that they are doing some research on turkeys, but all of the meat gets turned into processed products and they knew of no one who sold raw turkey meat. So Kris is making do with a couple of whole chickens. We did find cranberry sauce in the local supermarket, so that will be on the table. A student came over to our house last night and baked a fancy apple pie. A couple from Chicago are bringing mashed potatoes and some other vegetables. So we will definitely eat well this afternoon.

No football on TV for the guys, though. I will not miss it as Kris won’t let me watch football on Thanksgiving even when we are at home!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world,

Tim

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5 Comments

  1. Kara LaSota said,

    November 28, 2008 at 2:42 am

    Happy Thanksgiving to you both! We’re both thankful to have you as friends.

  2. SHANNON said,

    November 28, 2008 at 5:39 am

    I STILL LOVE CHRISTMAS ESPECIALLY WITH THE GRANDKIDS.

  3. Elliott Jackson said,

    November 28, 2008 at 5:50 am

    My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving also. I like the fact that it has stayed family centered over the years and hasn’t been commercialized beside the selling of food. It’s actually overlooked by the retail industry.

    However, this isn’t to say I don’t love Christmas. I celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and that is actually good enough for me. I just prefer Thanksgiving because it has stayed more to the original theme, at least as well as we can have it in modern times.

  4. Kris said,

    November 28, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Aw, thanks, Tim! I love you too and feel about you, equally thankful. I love Thanksgiving for the celebration of bounty, and for the chance to have less charged time with my family and friends. It’s not about the cooking, it’s not about the little Pilgrim salt shakers that most people have somewhere in the cupboard–it’s about connecting with people we love, and enjoying that time and connection. As a cook, of course, it is also a time to celebrate cook books and beautiful platters and the perfume of roasting poultry–but that’s only part of the story.
    As for Christmas–it is a great way to cheer up the dark of winter, if only there were a bit less schlock. Muzak is cultural schlock, and I can’t stand medleys anyway; junk gifts are material schlock, a waste of money; we all know about junk food; so I enjoy church services in Advent and Christmas as a lovely time to anticipate, to cherish the quality of my life and choices, and to enjoy the atmosphere of hope and expectation and evergreen fragrance. Oh, and I do love Christmas cookies but invite everyone to bake just a few, to enjoy, so they don’t become another chore.
    Christmas in a Buddhist state is going to be a minority experience; I don’t think my toy oven is up to baking cookies unless they are the adobe kind; but it is still going to be about love and hope and the beauty of expectation. There is even a part of the material Christmas I can justify–a new toy to play with brightens the darkness of February! But I have discovered that I am so simple that a few toys is enough–my attention and time can’t take in too many. I am still learning the basic operations of two complex new features of my life, my new camera and my new laptop, and with my new cell phone, I’m almost saturated. Sometimes it’s dull being an adult!

  5. Anna said,

    November 30, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Back away from the commercialism! Create the celebration that creates meaning for you. If your life is full of love and friendship, you have plenty to celebrate. I do appreciate the photos of you in your dining room. Nice to have a visual on where you are. We love you.


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