Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Somewhere in the backs of our minds, we know it’s about long-ago celebration between the newly arrived pilgrims and the Native Americans, but in today’s culture that idea has taken a back burner to family, football, and of course, the food. Whether you like turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls or pumpkin pie, that’s what Thanksgiving is about, Charlie Brown.
The Thanksgiving meal is one that stands out because it requires us to spend nearly all day in the kitchen. It is rare, in America, to spend an entire day in the kitchen. As a young college student studying in Russia, I was astounded to watch my host mother spend hours either shopping at the outdoor markets or stirring a cabbage soup on the stove. Slapping a bag of chicken nuggets on a tray and popping them in the oven was not an option — not part of the culture.
Yet I love the food preparation of Thanksgiving, the hip-to-hip bustle in the kitchen. There’s the intricate timing of turkey vs. pie, the last-minute gravy, and those difficult-to-keep-hot mashed potatoes. When everyone gathers to the table and sees the golden turkey, the shimmering bowl of cranberry sauce, the heaps of steaming potatoes, it is one more reason to give thanks. We have been fed another day.
We shouldn’t take the idea of food preparation lightly. The idea of feeding one another is a vein that runs all through the scriptures. When Jesus Christ said, “Feed my sheep,” I don’t think he just meant spiritually. After all, he recognized the power of feeding his own flock with baskets of fish and bread.
In his parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan not only binds the wounds of the injured man, but also makes sure he is fed before he departs.
At the return of the prodigal’s son, the father commands his servants to prepare the fatted calf for a grand feast. In his description of those who are most honored, Christ begins with this example: “When I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat.”
Christ’s last, most sacred gathering with his disciples wasn’t a boat ride or a walk on the hillside — it was a supper — a place where he could both teach and nourish. As an extension of that Last Supper, we take the sacrament each week, a physical manifestation of a spiritual commitment.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Relief Society group comprised of women spend a lot of time feeding one another. I have been the recipient of countless meals after each of my babies were born. Just this past week, I injured my back and spent several days in bed. Like a miracle, food appeared at my doorstep.
And here’s the thing: With the proliferation of packaged foods, my husband could have quite easily popped a frozen dinner in the oven for dinner. But that blessed dish of pasta with roasted vegetables, that pan of homemade pizza, that shepherd’s pie — those were a symbol that we were loved and cared for and that we weren’t passed on the road to Jericho.
There is a rabbi who became famous for telling the allegory of the long spoons. In the story, the rabbi visited hell where he found massive pots of steaming soup. Each person had a long-handled spoon strapped to his arm. Despite the sumptuous surroundings, the people were emaciated and starving because they could not get the soup from the end of their spoon into their mouth. In heaven the scene was similar: giant pots of soup, long-handled spoons. Yet the people looked happy and well-fed. When the rabbi asked about the difference, an angel dipped his own spoon into the soup and offered it to a man across the table. "Here," he replied, “we have learned to feed one another.”
Each time we stand in the kitchen with a hot oven and steaming dishes, each time we gather around the table with a home-cooked meal on our plates or pass it off to someone in need, we offer our own type of sacrament. It is a sacrifice of self to feed our own wily flock of sheep, but it doesn’t go unnoticed, and it should never go unappreciated.
With every bite, we should remember that the Lord would do the same if he were here.