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Can we make Thanksgiving a way of life?

David Colburn
Posted 11/24/20

When I was a child, the holidays I cherished the most were the ones I considered the “fun” ones – the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Christmas. Each generated a sense of …

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Can we make Thanksgiving a way of life?


When I was a child, the holidays I cherished the most were the ones I considered the “fun” ones – the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Christmas. Each generated a sense of anticipation well before the day itself.
I couldn’t wait for the day family friend and fireworks salesman Larry Kohlman would pull his car into the Colburn driveway on Elm Street and pop open his trunk. For friends, Larry sold Independence Day magic at cost, so there was never a shortage of firecrackers and fountains and Roman candles. Between about third and seventh grades I relished all the hours spent in advance figuring out what plastic model cars and airplanes I’d built that past year would be gloriously blown to smithereens. The Fourth of July was the centerpiece of a highly anticipated week-long frenzy of explosions and flashes and fun.
The thrill of Halloween changed across the years of my youth from what costume I would choose and how much candy I would get to what kind of pranks my friends and I could get away with, but it was always the eagerly anticipated highlight of fall.
And I need not waste much printer’s ink on why this kid reveled in Christmas, only to add that with my birthday coming just three days after it was my most favorite of all.
But increasingly, as I’ve aged, my favorite holidays have shifted from the ones I once found most fun to the ones that carry the most personal of connections.
Halloween remains a favorite not because of costumes or candy, but because it’s a day to remember what a special day it was for my Mom, the consummate cook, entertainer, and hostess. Halloween brought with it Mom’s biggest social shindig of the year, a massive and glorious buffet she spent days and weeks preparing for, that would draw dozens and dozens of families back to the house after trick-or-treating was done. It took on added importance after my Dad died in 1987 and my sisters and I were living afar, as we all loved seeing Mom carry on that tradition, until in her mid-80s it became too much for her to do. When she died two years ago it was surprising and heartwarming to discover just how many families considered that a treasured part of their own Halloween experiences.
Memorial Day and Veterans Day have become treasured holidays for their personal connections. I’m named after a great uncle I never knew, David Potter, who was killed in World War I. My father, grandfather, and a great uncle served in World War II. That particular aspect of their lives makes those holidays reasons to remember not only their service but their lives and their roles in mine.
And that brings us to Thanksgiving, a holiday with a personal connection shared by many, but surely not by all, one discovered by a curious eighth grader as he rummaged through boxes of memorabilia in the family basement one afternoon.
In a box containing papers from my father’s college days I unearthed something I’d never seen – a family tree, handwritten in Dad’s familiar style, detailing the lineage of his family in America.
It became even more fascinating when I saw the name at the top of the tree, Edward Winslow, a passenger on the Mayflower and three-time governor of Plymouth Colony. My Dad was Edward Winslow Colburn, and my middle name is Winslow, too.
A holiday connection really can’t get much more personal than that. It was a discovery made awkward when moments after thinking, “Wow, I’m descended from someone on the Mayflower,” I thought “No, I’m not – I’m adopted.” The find created a question about personal identity that took a long time to resolve, but that’s a story reserved for a different time and context.
But I am fully Edward Winslow Colburn’s son, and gladly claim the lineage of being one of about 35 million Americans alive today who trace their family lines back to that first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts.
By lineage and in practice, the spirit of Thanksgiving is woven into who I am. Barely a day passes when I don’t find myself with thoughts of gratitude for something in my life. It’s usually simple things – the marvel of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the luxury of having time to contemplate the wonders of nature, or the privilege of someone sharing their personal story with me. Sometimes it’s something as grand as the gratefulness I feel for a young Kansas couple who reached out across the miles to make a newborn in California the beginning of their lives as marvelous parents.
Over the past ten months there’s been the immense sense of gratitude for my new life in the North Country, for all of those people and experiences that have made this feel more like home than anywhere I’ve lived in the past two decades, and for all that remains to be discovered.
Thanksgiving is a welcome day for expressing gratitude, no matter what the circumstances, and a special personal connection makes this a most cherished holiday. But I’ve come to believe Thanksgiving is much better celebrated as a lifestyle, something to live year-round. It makes the good days better, it makes the tough days easier to bear, and it means you’re less likely to take for granted all of what we have to be thankful for.


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