Remembering Thanksgiving - before it's over

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This column originally appeared in the Monitor on Nov. 23, 1984, the day after Thanksgiving that year.

When it comes to holidays, why is it that we seem to be absolutely terrific at anticipation, medium-fair at celebration, and perfectly awful at recollection? That is, if you can call it recollection - our habit of instantly forgetting, instantly erasing a holiday when its allotted 24 hours have passed.

Here it is the day after Thanksgiving, and the country has its eyes fixed straight ahead on Christmas - just as if Thanksgiving never was.

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Every holiday brings its own kind of gift. Thanksgiving, more than most holidays, offers up an emotion to savor, to linger over - or so you might think. A person cannot be rushed into giving thanks. It's not one of your push-button emotions.

You just can't give thanks the way you give a "Whoopee!" on New Year's Eve.

Gratitude is a shy emotion. It has to well up on its own, not as an acknowledgment of this or that particular benefit, but as a slow, loving response to the goodness of life itself.

Thanksgiving comes out of the total cycle of human existence. It begins with the sowing of the seed. It grows with the summer's flowering to fullness. And finally it comes to fruit with the harvest.

All the seasons of the year, all the seasons of the heart, are summed up in Thanksgiving.

Yet, unless we are exceptional people or this is an exceptional year, Thanksgiving on the Friday after is as cold as leftover turkey - just as Christmas will be the day after Christmas, when abandoned trees with shreds of tinsel begin to appear at the curb.

There is a serious loss of pleasure in permitting ourselves no sweet aftertaste - in crying, "Next!" and rushing on to the following costume party. But there is an even more serious loss of meaning in flipping Thanksgiving on and off, like the leaf of the calendar that records it.

Thankfulness, granted a little time, grows into something else - a sense of community, a sense of what every gathered table shares with the human race. If, this Thanksgiving, our thoughts turned to a hungry Ethiopia, a hungry third world, how can we switch off the thankfulness that may enlarge and mature into compassion - just because midnight struck?

Giving thanks, when thanks are forced, is the phoniest of pseudo-emotions. But when thanks sing from the heart like a psalm, there's no mistaking the real thing. The feet dance on the mountaintop, and who is going to look at a watch and say it's time to stop?

If Thanksgiving cannot be a two-day holiday, it ought at least to be repeated, sotto voce, in the mind and heart, as in "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

Melvin Maddocks, the Monitor's columnist at large from 1968 to 1988, lives in Newton, Mass.

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