Published November 22, 2023

It’s the time of year when Americans gather around the table of Thanksgiving and break bread with family and friends from near and far to celebrate our good fortunes and to renew our strength in enduring our losses.

Many of us have logged enough miles around the sun to gain the wisdom that life will always be filled with a goodly sum of both. For those among us too young or too naïve to have learned such a basic tenet of life, it falls to us to instill in them our country’s cherished values – like resiliency, hope and respect for all people – through our words and deeds.

Our recent history has been filled with poignant examples of how life as we know it can change in an instant, too often in cruel ways that test our faith and resolve. A decade ago, a new phrase entered our local lexicon – Boston Strong – that instantly united and defined us in a way that would have been unfathomable prior to that horrific event at the Boston Marathon. Twenty-two years ago, we lived through the horrors of 9/11, when two of the four planes hijacked by terrorists that day had departed from Boston and were flown into the World Trade Center Towers in NYC.

We were awakened from our slumber of complacency in much the same way that another generation of Americans was jolted out of Camelot 60 years ago, just a few days prior to Thanksgiving, with the assassination of JFK, also unfathomable, and followed in short order by the tumult that defined the ’60s.

Our country’s collective consciousness is filled with life-altering events that ultimately serve to reinvigorate the resolve of Americans in overcoming the adversities of their day.

The modern Thanksgiving holiday, with its roots in a shared three-day feast between the 53 Pilgrim survivors of the Mayflower and about 90 Wampanoags who came together to celebrate the fruits of a bountiful harvest 402 years ago, remains an important touchstone in our collective consciousness.

The promise inherent in Thanksgiving is its ability to bring together the diverse tapestry of America around a shared table that takes many forms.

A morning visit to the high school gridiron, where traditional rivalries are codified and local lore reigns supreme, typically precedes the afternoon feast back home. Others may choose to volunteer their services to assist those otherwise forgotten souls at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, nursing homes or hospitals. And there are certainly many Turkey Trot road races in which to partake as an insurance policy against overindulgence while supporting a good cause — including our own North Reading HOF Turkey Trot 5K at Ipswich River Park.

Naturally, the country’s merchants are eager to entice you from your turkey-and-pie coma to partake in that other national pastime – shopping – before the leftovers have been cleared from the dining room table.

While it’s difficult to resist such enticements, the tendency to merge all of the end-of-the-year holidays into one big blur has its price, too. Moments in history like the Boston Marathon bombing, 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, and just last month, the Lewiston, Maine mass shooting, solidify a basic human need to step back from the trappings of the 24/7/365 world that we’ve created and re-engage face-to-face with neighbors and strangers, family and friends. An outstretched hand, the desire to buffer the burdens of those in need before they spiral out of control and take innocent victims down with them, must continue to be nurtured in each generation as a worthwhile endeavor.

Having a national holiday like Thanksgiving allows us the freedom to disengage from our typically hectic schedules to give thanks and be present in the joy of the moment. That is a priceless gift.

So pause and say a prayer for the safe return of our soldiers and sailors stationed in far-flung regions of the world who remain separated from their loved ones on Thanksgiving protecting our cherished freedoms.

Take the time to enjoy the company of loved ones, play with the kids, and yes, listen patiently to the stories retold by our grandparents or elderly aunts and uncles. It will pay dividends that can’t be measured on a balance sheet.

There’s no doubt that Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and all the wonderful goodies associated with our 24/7 news and advertising cycle will herald in the holiday shopping season soon enough. The crowds can wait. The devices can be powered down. On this night, throw another log on the fire, relax and soak it all in. An extra slice of pumpkin pie awaits.

~ Updated from a Thanksgiving editorial originally written by editor Maureen Doherty in 2013