Why We’re Skipping the Feast

What this:

Residents walk on a road littered with debris after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines

has to do with this:

TE BLOG. Thanksgiving turkey. 11.14.2011.iStock_000014820895Small[1]

I love Thanksgiving.  Aside from the  celebrations of the Incarnation and Resurrection, this is my favorite holiday.  I am an unabashed foodie and Thanksgiving is the day when I pull out all the stops.  For example, here is a picture of our newlywed Thanksgiving feast for two.

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Seriously.  I cooked everything my New England-raised husband was used to plus my own family’s Deep South staples.  At least I held back and roasted a turkey breast rather than a full-sized bird!  We had to bring his minifridge out of storage to contain the leftovers that overwhelmed our apartment kitchen.

Since then, our family has grown, and my holiday cooking has become somewhat more proportional.  Meaning, I skip his Yankee green bean casserole and might just have one type of cranberry sauce on hand.  We do larger family gatherings in the evening or the weekend after the big day, and have our own feast for five in the afternoon.  I actually prefer to manage everything on my own rather than potlucking with others.  Partly this is so I’ll know that all the dishes will be allergy-safe, but mostly I’m jealously guarding my foodie fun.

Here is our typical menu:  10-12 lb organic turkey, brined and roasted, oyster cornbread dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, homemade with satsumas.  (Probably a can of the jellied stuff, too.)  Whipped potatoes (for the New Englander), dirty rice (for the Southern girl), baked sweet potatoes, peas, green bean casserole (maybe), asparagus casserole (a real food take on my grandmother’s specialty), rolls (homemade or frozen from the GF bakery in NOLA), pumpkin pie w/ homemade whipped cream (real pumpkin puree, maybe a homemade crust).  Oh my yum.

A few weeks ago I was making my Thanksgiving plans when super-typhoon Haiyan made the news. The storm that struck the Phillipines on November 7 is believed to be that most powerful storm to ever hit land. Several thousand died and many more are living in miserable conditions while aid trickles in.

We live in a community that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina eight years ago. Barely a day goes by when I am not reminded of the storm – whether it is in passing the empty lots that once held homes or businesses, or hearing a local tell a story (our history is divided into “before” and “after the storm”). Most of the homes my town lost belonged to the wealthy. For all the loss and bungled aid that followed our storm, I cannot comprehend the disaster that struck the island of Leyte. A storm larger than our first-world nightmare struck a community where half of the people live on less than two dollars a day.

When disasters like this happen, we try to make a special donation so that in some small way, we can help alleviate the crisis. As we considered what and how we could give, it became apparent that there wasn’t much wiggle room in the budget. We currently tithe, and regularly support a few other worthy causes.  We were busily packing three slam-bang boxes for Operation Christmas Child, on which we spent a pretty penny. If we were going to make a meaningful gift, something would have to go. As a family, we prayed. I thought.

One morning, as I lay in bed in the fuzzy dawning of wakefulness, it came to me:  Thanksgiving.  We could give up our Thanksgiving feast. It must have been a God-thing because I felt a lightness of spirit rather than a sense of disappointment as I considered it.  My T-Day plan involved a trip to The Big City with a stopover at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, Whole Foods and the gluten free bakery. I would easily drop a week’s worth of grocery money (about $150) on supplies for the big meal. What if we skipped the trip, had a simple meal instead and gave our feast money to disaster relief?

I could hardly contain myself as I waited to propose the idea to my family. Now, you must understand that my kids enjoy Thanksgiving almost as much as I do. They all list turkey among their top five meals, even though we only roast one big bird a year.  It’s a big deal.  My husband, on the other hand, could easily live off Soylent for the rest of his days.  Fewer dishes to wash sounded like a fine idea to him.  (Also no need to bring out the minifridge.)  Surprisingly, the kids were in agreement.  It is important, I think, that we had been praying as a family about the disaster.  My heart thrilled to see them thoughtfully choose sacrifice over selfishness.

We decided to have turkey burgers and sweet potato fries on Thanksgiving day.  The spirit of gratitude is present as we gather together and the simpler fare is a reminder of how blessed we truly are.

We made our donation to MTW Disaster Relief, a branch of our denomination (Presbyterian Church of America).  Other organizations helping include:  Baptist Global Response, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, Oxfam America, and, of course, the Red Cross.

Am I trying to guilt trip you for having a big turkey feast?  Nope.  Of course not.  I plan to thoroughly enjoy our turkey burgers and sweet potato fries. I am planning a Thanksgiving 2014, the likes of which we’ve never seen!  I think it is right for Christians to celebrate an occasional feastival.  (I just made up that word.)  But this year, this time, I felt strongly led by God to give up something I value so that others might be blessed.  Maybe you feel that same pull.  Maybe you can scale back that Christmas list and sponsor a child.  Maybe you can let your hair revert to it’s natural color and buy a goat for a family in need.

Maybe you thought about making a donation to the people affected by Haiyan, but it slipped your mind in the holiday bustle.  Take a moment. Give a little something (or a lot), while you count your blessings with loved ones today.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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