“G-d sat upstairs flipping through the secular calendar. When He got to Easter, He chuckled, when He got to Halloween, He cringed, but when He got to Thanksgiving He thought, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”
There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than standing in line at U.S. customs and border protection, even when you know you’re as innocent as it gets. Passport in hand, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other, I waited to be called. When the man behind the glass signaled to me, I gracefully stepped beyond the green line and made my way up to his desk.
“Passport please, miss.”
I confidently handed my passport to him, smiling warmly at its dark blue cover; a reminder of my Canadian citizenship; the source of my subtle, ongoing identity crisis. After living in the States for over 7 years, I still don’t identify as American. However when I go back to Canada I feel oddly removed. My once notable accent has faded over the years, and I can’t help but giggle at the tasty rainbow that is Canadian money.
“So, what are you?”
I looked up at the man holding my passport who was gazing down at me from under his glasses.
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“What are you?” the man answered irritably.
Caught off guard by the harshness of the question, I started wracking my brain. After months of post graduation soul searching, no obvious answer came to the surface. So I did what I do best: I started rambling.
“A human, an adult, a young professional, oh, I’m also Canadian, it says it on my passport, I’m a student… well, not formally but –”
He cut me off with a quick motion of his hand. Clearly, I had misunderstood the question, but in my nervous opinion, it wasn’t an easy one.
“Miss, I see a Canadian passport and you’re returning to the States. Can I see a visa please?”
Oh. That’s when I noticed that his question was a few feet from existential. He just wanted to see my green card…
As Canadians living in the States, my family never exactly celebrated Thanksgiving. We never cooked big dry birds or mixed fluffy white marshmallows with deep orange potatoes. We just never did. As a result, I never cared much for Thanksgiving or saw the value in designating one day a year to officially sitting down to give thanks; as if being thankful was something rare and outdated.
As observant Jews, we can’t help but recognize that for the non-Jews, the chaggim are mammash here. And as a people with a thousand demanding holidays of our own, it seems that the clal has had no issue with taking on Thanksgiving as well.
In fact, we take this holiday seriously enough to fly home from school, leave work early, and endure ample family time, even though it isn’t chag or shabbat, but man! It sure does feel like it. Meal prep a week in advance, swapping recipes, and opening our homes to those who “don’t have a meal.”
I can’t help but ask, why is this secular holiday so darn frum? Because if you think about it, it really is. This morning I woke up flustered, nervous about preparing and rushing home before candle lighting.
But there is no candle lighting. There’s no obligation to wash. There’s no kiddush. There’s just dinner, family, and what is oddly reminiscent of a two day yuntif — Thursday night until Motzash, with a quick break for Friday. How strange.
I naturally reached out to my friends and asked if they were “coming home for chag.” What is it about this holiday that even practicing American Jews take so seriously? Why Thanksgiving?
Besides for the obvious, there’s a lot of reasons. For me, one of these reasons is shabbat.
Praying on shabbat is a complicated thing. In theory, we don’t make any requests of G-d and we’re not supposed to ask for anything. I try to regard shabbat as a quiet day — a day to listen to G-d’s requests, instead of the other way around. I also regard shabbat as a day of thanks and often repeat it in my mind throughout the day.
“Shabbos, day of thanks.”
Because if I can’t ask, I can only notice; I can only be thankful for what I have instead of ask for what I don’t. I can take time to reflect on my week and notice the goodness I may have previously overlooked. Sometimes, asking gets in the way of owning.
Jews are programmed to take a day every week to stop, drop, and roll. We must acknowledge our creator. We must gather together. On shabbat, the song of the day is centered around thanks and praise.
“A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to Hashem” (psalm 92).
Jews celebrate Thanksgiving every week. We’re Thanksgiving professionals. We eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff.
When we wake up, we say thank you. When we eat, we say thank you. When we finish eating, we say thank you. To Jews, thank you means a lot of different things. It means acknowledging an area in which we’re lacking and recognizing that we need help to fill it. It means being comfortable with admitting that we’re not perfect — we are not the source. It means giving credit where credit is due.
Thank you for opening my eyes.
Thank you for putting air in my lungs.
Thank you for straightening my spine.
I say my own personal thank yous every day.
Thank you for the thoughts in my head.
Thank you for making me compassionate, caring, open-minded.
Thank you for helping my body to function the way it’s supposed to.
The question remains: If Jews are bred to live their lives this way, then do we really need to celebrate Thanksgiving?
While sitting around a long table stuffed to the brim with copious amounts of food, in a room decorated with hand-traced turkeys, what are we meant to be thankful for? What exactly does a Jew do on Thanksgiving? The most spiritual secular holiday of the year. Answers may vary, but one thing is very clear.
We should shut up and just be thankful. Thankful for a long weekend, thankful for a holiday that allows us to cook and prepare after sundown, thankful for a holiday without stress or fear or too much spiritual preparation required. Maybe just once we can stop taking ourselves so seriously. We can accept that there’s actually a secular holiday that’s perfect for us. Food, family, and sales. As we attempt to live full and balanced lives it’s important to recognize a good thing when we have it; it’s important to say thank you for it.
So do Jews need Thanksgiving?
No. Jews are Thanksgiving.