When my family lived in the Appalachian Mountains of Wise County, Virginia, the food that we ate at our Thanksgiving Day meal was the same as what we ate on any other day: soup beans and cornbread. Occasionally, there would be meat, if Daddy had been out hunting.
What made the meal different was a ritual that my Daddy insisted upon observing on Thanksgiving. Before eating, each of us sitting around the table would, one by one, give thanks for that for which he or she was most grateful. Not having much in the way of material possessions, our thanks usually were given for treasured relationships. One year, after I had recovered from a severe bout with pneumonia, I was surprised to hear my brothers give thanks for my survival. It changed the way I felt about them, and their constant teasing was easier to take after that. I gave thanks for my new baby sister. Mama was thankful for well-behaved children, and Daddy was thankful that he had been blessed with children who were thinkers. If you use your head, you will come out ahead, he always said.
When we moved to the city, Thanksgiving remained the same. My parents refused to assimilate into the city culture, and so our meals and rituals never changed. We children eventually adopted city ways, but Momma and Daddy held to the old ways until their deaths.
The Thanksgiving after they passed away, my sister and her family came to spend the holiday with me in Connecticut. I fixed a traditional meal of turkey, dressing, and various side dishes. Before eating, my sister and I decided to reinstate the old ritual that we had taken part in so often. One by one our children gave thanks. My daughter was thankful for the new dress she had gotten for the Christmas dance at school. My nephew was thankful for his Nintendo. My niece was glad that her allowance had been increased. No one mentioned family or friends.
I abandoned the ritual after that. It just was not the same with its new emphasis on material possessions. On Thanksgiving day, we have a bountiful meal and good companionship. Everyone seems happy. But I always make sure to take a few minutes alone to give thanks for the wonderful man who taught me that it is not who you are, but how you live, that matters most; and that anyone who has a loving family is rich indeed.