Thanksgiving feast for body, soul
November 23, 2022
If you ask me, Thanksgiving is better than Christmas, for a whole host of practical, spiritual and personal reasons.
For one thing, it hasn’t been commercialized the way the Yuletide has. Black Friday and Cyber Monday may fall near Thanksgiving, but those shopping-spree days are in preparation for the giving and getting of Christmas. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is a feast for the body and soul.
Sure, it may be based on a misleading narrative in American history, but at its core Thanksgiving is about something much bigger — a spirit of gratitude for what’s good in our lives.
I come from a family of six boys born and raised by a preacher and a teacher. Our parents always had room for more — they even took in a seventh son (who died way too young) — and others were always welcomed, as long as they could put up with a loud, fun-loving and rambunctious family of boys.
Eventually, all us brothers grew up, got married and had families of our own, and our family grew exponentially.
More than 30 years ago, we started gathering for Thanksgiving at a United Methodist retreat center deep in the Ozark Mountains, called Nawake at that time, in our home state of Arkansas. After a year or two of modest get-togethers, our parents, Charles and Lois McDonald, along with my aunt and uncle, Betty and Tom Welch, took it upon themselves to organize a larger family reunion, which quickly became an annual event.
It must have been around 1990 when they first rented a large lodge at Nawake, with dorm-like rooms spreading across two expansive wings and a large commons room in the middle. On the day before Thanksgiving, we would start arriving.
We’d claim our rooms with sleeping bags and fill the kitchen with enough food to last into the following weekend, then we’d turn our children loose to run and play with each other while the grownups laughed and played with insults and bearhugs.
And get this — we’re still doing it! Only now, it’s much bigger.
As our family grew, so did Nawake (now known as Mount Eagle). Now we rent two lodges for our multi-generational get-togethers. Mom and Dad and aunt Betty and uncle Tom are all gone now, but only physically, as their spirits can still be felt deep inside us, especially at Thanksgiving.
In my mind, this holiday is the second greatest gift my parents ever gave us (not counting birthing and raising us boys). First, they gave us each other. Then they gave us an annual reunion, when we come together as a family.
We’re far more spread out now; some of us travel great distances to make it back every year. My own trip is about 800 miles, one way, into the heart of some of the most beautiful country God ever made. Still others are coming from even farther away.
Once there, on Thanksgiving Day, we gather for an enormous potluck feast. But before we dig in, we form a big circle and go around the room to say what we’re thankful for. Some are funny and make us all laugh, most are heartfelt and touch us deeply, while others are too shy to say anything at all. Still others make announcements, maybe of another mother who’s expecting or some other cause for celebration. We even had a marriage proposal not too long ago.
I wish for you and yours something like this, somewhere you too can appreciate the love in your life. If you ask me, Thanksgiving is the best time to remember exactly that.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: