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Sofia Knows

November 19, 2011

Sofia is eight years old. She loves dogs, colorful headbands, and math. When I happened to ask her about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, she had some interesting and telling things to say about its meaning. It made me think about this day and what it has become for many Americans. Sofia, you see, is from Colombia, and she looks at Thanksgiving with new eyes, and perhaps because of that sees it more clearly.

Thanksgiving, unfortunately, has become distorted by its accompanying activities as have so many other traditional holidays. Memorial Day has become the unofficial “first day of summer” with barbecues and beach house openings, Christmas is Santa and shopping and extravagant gift exchanges, Easter a bunny with candy baskets, and so on. But what about the real meaning of the day?

I understand that Thanksgiving had dubious beginnings in spite of the popular image of grateful Pilgrims sharing a feast with happy Indians. However, the idea of setting aside a day to focus on giving thanks is appropriately American; we have, after all, quite a lot to be thankful for despite all our complaining. These thanks should be offered every day, but given human nature and hectic modern life, I’d settle for a single day of reflection on our collective and individual bounty. I’m afraid, though, the focus has largely shifted to food preparation and consumption followed by football. The few moments of cartoon Pilgrim logos or obligatory fifteen second commemorative spots flashed across the TV screen during the game don’t quite do the trick, in my view.

There are some families who do verbalize what they are thankful for as they sit around the dinner table. This is a noble gesture, to be sure, but beyond that, I’d like assurance that every American actually steps back from their busy lives and materialistic desires to really think about it for more than just a fleeting moment. Sure, we all have problems and discontents that distract us from the bigger picture, but would we trade places with the impoverished masses of the world for whom daily existence is an acute struggle? Would we rather be in one of the many war-torn nations on the planet or those ravaged by disease and natural disaster with no help forthcoming? I realize that not having the newest smart phone or the car you desire seems to be a tragedy of major proportion, but what of those who lost jobs and homes and the dreams of their children’s future in these harsh economic times? What of those who lost arms or legs or part of their soul in service to this America that wants more, more, more?

Perhaps I’ve just become a crotchety old fogy whose standards are out of touch with a changing society. Maybe my ideas of the way things should be are hopelessly stuck in the past. However, I know that when I gather with my family and friends on this Thanksgiving Day, I will count my blessings once again. I will truly think about what I have — food and shelter and freedom and love — and be thankful, for it is these essentials that give sustenance and value to my life, and that is more than enough reason to sanctify this one day to give thanks.

Sofia knows that. So should the rest of us.

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