If he had his way, every day would be Thanksgiving.
A while back, I shared some Chestertonian insights on recovering the glory of Christmas. His unusual approach was well-received by readers, so I thought I’d share his insight about celebrating Thanksgiving, too.
Gratitude was important to G.K. Chesterton. In his autobiography he declares, “The chief idea of my life … [is] taking things with gratitude.” Thanksgiving is an opportunity to shake off the doldrums of life-as-usual and wake up to how blessed we are. Even if it’s been a tough year, the fact we all survived and are here is a victory. Chesterton’s idea is that, if we cultivate gratitude, our eyes will be opened to the wonder we have been passing by unawares.
I suspect if he had his way, every day would be Thanksgiving. For us beginners – and since I don’t think I can eat cranberry sauce that often – maybe we can jump-start our efforts by celebrating this Thanksgiving in a way that would make him proud.
Every good meal begins by giving thanks to God. Don’t forget to gather the family and express gratitude before the rush to the turkey. Chesterton would approve, but believes grace before meals is only the warm-up act. He writes, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
Thanksgiving is a way of life. If we’ve forgotten that, our celebration this week can jump-start us back into better habits.
Eat a turkey
Chesterton really liked turkey. In fact, he vigorously defended the tradition of eating them. Partly what makes a turkey special is that it’s time-consuming to prepare and so large that we rarely prepare them. At our house, we brine the turkey in saltwater overnight, stuff a butter rub under the skin, and smoke it over hickory wood for up to six hours. It’s a process. It’s kind of crazy, standing outside in the snow over a grill, obsessing over my barbecuing technique. All for a bird my children will eat in five minutes. The oddity of the situation, though, is partly why Chesterton loved it so much.
Gratitude comes with a price, says Chesterton, “and the price is Truth.” Facing reality is the best way to avoid either the low of despair or the high of presumption. Coming to grips with the truth is the best way to cultivate a sense of hope and savor an experience, because truth places before us exactly what we have and avoids mistaken comparisons about how we deserve better (or worse). Comparisons kill happiness. For instance, if I complain that the stuffing was better last year, or I dwell on the fact that my wife doesn’t make it the way my grandma did, then I fail to appreciate the food right in front of me.