Ever since I came of age, Thanksgiving has been one of my favorite holidays. At first, it was for the food and fellowship. Here was a holiday to which we invited a few good friends to share some delectable food and drink. Since I have a special interest in wine, I always try to include at least a couple people who know what (e.g.) Bollinger récemment dégorgé is and why it is superior to (e.g.) Lanson or Cold Duck (remember that?). Continuing with the wine theme, Thanksgiving is one of a handful of yearly occasions in which we indulge in vintage port, and it is nice to have at least one or two people on hand who enjoy the stuff and understand that it is different from (e.g.) that horrible Bailey’s concoction.
Beyond the pleasures of the table, however — pleasures, I should note, that conspicuously include conversation as well as caloric intake — Thanksgiving has become a favorite holiday for other reasons. For the last decade or so, we have begun our Thanksgiving and Easter celebrations with an informal musicale. One or two of our guests play a couple of short pieces on the piano or harpsichord, as does my wife. I do not play myself, but my wife occasionally conspires to find a piece that is within my competence, e.g., the left-hand part of the Polka Stravinsky wrote for his friend Sergei Diaghilev and himself (my part was just “plonk, plonk”). Sometimes we include a group effort of something like Ernst Toch’s Geographical Fugue, always a crowd pleaser. And as the children get older, they have taken to reciting some short poem (last year James, aetat 12, declaimed “The Charge of the Light Brigade”).
The music and recitation only takes fifteen or twenty minutes, but we find it a jolly praeludium. Perhaps the deepest pleasure I take in Thanksgiving, however, has to do with the first syllable of the name of the holiday: “thanks.” I am fond of observing that Aristotle may or may not have been correct that man is the rational animal, but he would certainly have been correct had he said man was the ungrateful animal. That is particularly true for those of us who have most to be grateful for, those, I mean, who have been lucky enough in the lottery of life to have been born in the United States in the last century. What ever slings and arrows they may have to contend with — and we all have some — they were born into the richest, the mightiest, and most secure polity in the history of the world. It is still, despite some significant erosions, among the most free as well. Yes, yes: Obama and his regiment of “expert” bureaucrats aim to change all that, but they haven’t quite managed that, not yet, and I have my doubts that they ever will.
The curious thing is that my pause for gratitude is a fairly recent phenomenon: I don’t think I went in for it much before a decade ago. That was about the same time that I started paying attention to other quotidian miracles, e.g., the blooming of flowers in spring time. I always approved of flowers, more or less, but it was only a decade or so ago that I began remarking their special poignancy: such extreme, delicate beauty tightly bound up with evanescence. You didn’t get one without the other.
Anyway, for me, Thanksgiving is now above all an occasion for gratitude: for friends and family, for my extraordinary good fortune in having been born where and when I was, with abundant opportunity to act in a way that Aristotle (if I may drag him in once more) described as the formula for eudaimonia, for human happiness, i.e., the free exercise of one’s faculties and talents, whatever they may be.
Writing this provides an opportunity not only to express my own gratitude for the favors Providence has bestowed, but also to thank you, my readers, for your affirmation, consternation, support, and criticism. It’s all part of the panoply in which we all perform.