Our local grocery store was busy last night (well, we were there, too) with people stocking supplies for a day or more of familial feeding and lodging. When family members from out of town stay over, as will be happening in many households in the next few days, albeit fewer this year due to the economic situation, there’s more than a single on-stage meal involved, as many people know. There are the all other meals. Along with the dishes. The laundry ahead of time, and afterwards. The cleaning, dusting, vaccuming, straightening up in preparation. The cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, and straightening up afterwards, in recuperation.
“The holidays” strikes me as a complex phenomenon.
In the dominant American “imaginary” — I think of the pictures we see on television, especially in commercials, as a guide to the contents of the mental images here — Thanksgiving is a rosy warm time, of family togetherness, counting our blessings, enjoying Mom’s perennial favorite dishes, and basking in the glow of domestic tranquility.
For some, that picture will be fulfilled, or nearly enough to feel approximately accurate. Enough to make it realistic to name Thanksgiving as “the most wonderful time of the year.” And as much as this picture has “gender” written all over it — from the assumption (often accurate) that a woman or women will be doing all that shopping and cooking and cleaning and entertaining and stage-managing and family-maintaining, to the assumption (often accurate) that whatever men are involved in the scenario will be doing other manly things, like making last-minute trips to the grocery store or watching football on television, but in any event avoiding the “woman’s work”, to the imaginary shape of that “ordinary family” — despite all that, the alluring glow of that holiday ideal affects me.
[And why not? It is, after all, an image of peace, abundance, joy, and the realization of hopes and dreams. It contains a kernel of that eschatological expectation that makes all such images possible metaphors for the entire satisfaction towards which we all presumably hope, and pray, and work, and wait. Who doesn’t want peace, abundance, joy, and the realization of hopes and dreams?]
The imaginary picture excludes lots of people, though. Not everyone has a domestic space. For others, there is space, but no family. For others, there is family, but it is far from peaceful or pleasant. For others, Thanksgiving itself is more a time of mourning than of celebration, whether public or private. And maybe that is just another way to say that real life does not yet measure up to the ideal — whether or not the imaginary American Thanksgiving is even the ideal one wants to pursue.
So as it brings to mind both ideals and our distance from them, the beginning of “the holidays” seems, most accurately, a time for prayer . . .
for travelers, safety on the way, and welcome upon arrival;
for those in need, the meeting of those needs;
for those with abundance, memory and generosity in sharing;
for those who mourn, comfort;
for those who suffer, relief;
for those held captive, in whatever way, release;
for those who have much to be thankful for, gratitude;
for all, the grace and power to imagine peace, abundance, joy, and the realization of hope,
and the faith to continue to pray for it, and to work in light of it.
[Image source: Syracuse metro voices 2007]