Christine Roome reflects on the history of Thanksgiving, the emergence of autumn and her connection to the abundance and gratitude inherent in the season.
The first day of fall has passed. Autumn brings with it the ancient Chinese wisdom of Yin. The natural balance of elements teeter totter to achieve a distinguished equilibrium, creating harmony in life. Our nights grow longer, days shorter, weather cools, becoming sharper and sterner. The leaves slowly morph from their fresh green to brilliant yellow, orange and red. It is a bright promise of change reminding me that before death there is an explosion of colour igniting against the blue sky. As summer Yang recedes, Yin rises bringing us closer to winter when we can ponder, reminisce and retreat.
There is something about this season that echoes and compliments spring. The yang of spring brings fresh energy, longer days, warmth and new growth. And, while these elements seemingly oppose those of fall, I can’t help but feel a charge in the fall. Perhaps it is in the dying of the light and the leaves that I find the invitation to let go of that which I don’t need – old love, friendships, worries, dreams that don’t serve me, fears and regrets. And then, somehow in the letting go I am immediately rewarded because I make room for something new. It is a time of profound change and acceptance. And, it is a time for gratitude.
Since 1957, Canadian Thanksgiving has occurred on the second Monday in October. Its purpose is reflective and humble – to give thanks for the closing of the harvest and the abundance that it brings. Apples, artichokes, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, corn on the cob, chard, cranberries, eggplant, figs and kale – they are all harvested late summer and early fall. Many of these foods grace the tables of those who observe Thanksgiving.
Our mainstream Thanksgiving celebrations echo those in Britain. A celebration including hymns and prayer, the Harvest Festival is represented by cornucopias, pumpkins, corn and wheat sheaves. It is held on the Sunday near or on the occurrence of the Harvest Moon. Celebrations of the harvest have been occurring since pagan times to acknowledge the successful harvests and give thanks for abundance. But, giving thanks for an abundant crop is not just a North American or British tradition. Held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese Calendar, Asia boasts the Moon Festival and it is one of the most widely spread harvest festivals in the world celebrated by both Chinese and Vietnamese people. It has been celebrated for possibly 3,000 years and includes eating moon cakes, carrying brightly lit lanterns, burning incense and fire dragon dances. Other famous harvests festivals include American Thanksgving in November, Makara Sankranti, Thai Pongal, Uttarayana, Lohri, and Magh Bihu (or Bhogali Bihu), Holi and Onam in India.
I have always thought of fall as being my time. So many of the most profound moments of my life have occured either very close to or on Thanksgiving weekend. I have so much to be thankful for this time of the year. 20 years ago, I ate Thanksgiving dinner on October 11– kept warm by tin foil on a paper plate – while sitting in my hospital bed after having had brain surgery to remove a benign tumour. This surgery saved my life and permitted me to go on to receive so much more. I met my husband at a Thanksgiving dinner and completed my post graduate degree in History in October of 2001. In the fall of 2003, I accepted a proposal for marriage and then on October 11, 2008, I gave birth to my second child – my first having been born in the complimentary Yang of spring. This year, one week ago, my youngest son was in the hospital being treated for a serious, but not life threatening infection. We were in hospital for five days and over those five very long and focused days I could both see and feel myself taking on the burden of his fears and pain while I made his stay in the hospital as close to Disneyland as was possible. Ironically – or perhaps inevitably – I also felt myself letting go of his babyhood as I watched him persevere against the pain and fear. And, when we left the hospital I found something new – a toddler that had somehow magically transformed into a mature little boy.
I am not Chinese nor do I possess great knowledge of the philosophy of Yin and Yang. But, what I do know resonates with me. Tonight, I celebrate balance with wonderful food, autumnal flowers, delicious wine, fabulous desserts and, most importantly, family – who, for me, are at the very centre of gratitude.
“Autumn Leaves.” Flickr Creative Commons. © All rights reserved by raysalaff103
“Harvest Moon Morning.” © All rights reserved by Linda S. Montgomery
“Cranberry’s Anyone?” Flickr Creative Commons. © Some rights reserved by Bruce Foster