Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What’s not to love – lots of yummy food, family and friends gathered around a table for hours, the celebration of the joys of one’s life. Over the years I have encountered Friendsgiving, Thirsty Thanksgiving, Freezing Thanksgiving, Misfits Thanksgiving, Argentina Asian Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving in July. No matter where I am, what type of food is in front of me, and who is at the table, the idea is the same: A gathering of souls celebrating what makes us grateful to be alive.
This holiday is very much a United States holiday. Maybe some Canadians celebrate it too, but I can assure you that most of my students have no clue why we get a four-day weekend in November. They are just excited they get a few days to sleep in before finals.
At UAS, we have one of the neatest Thanksgivings I have ever attended. The auditorium walls are retracted and 50 + tables are placed throughout the auditorium floor and into the hallway. Wednesday morning a seating chart is dispersed to all of the teachers. At noon, the entire school heads down, finds seats, and begins the UAS Thanksgiving tradition. Our director gets up and reads us the story of the first Thanksgiving, the second graders sing a lovely little Thanksgiving song, and our pre-kinders parade in with feather hats. I am thankful for little mice voices and our music teachers.
The entire school is mixed together for an afternoon of eating and celebrating. This year, my table held my Senior, a seventh grader (who happens to be the little brother of one of my 10th graders) two fifth graders (both sisters of former students), two second graders, and our second grade teacher. That awkward getting-to-know-you period of “what is your favorite food” type questions is cut short as the round of appetizers are passed. The moms of the school have all worked tirelessly to make decorations and the cafeteria has worked overtime to try and re-create a Thanksgiving meal in a country that has no turkey. I am thankful for substituted chicken and pureed potatoes sin sal.
One of the adorable little second graders decides that he wants to pour his own gravy. Whoosh, meat soaked. And he looks up at me chagrined until he sees me covering my laugh. And then his worry turns into the cutest little side grin I have ever seen as he “swims” his chicken in the river of gravy on his plate. I have grown up with the china plates and the crystal glasses on a formally set table. And yet, all I wanted to do at this moment was soak my own chicken and play with this little second grader. I am thankful for the simplicity of playing with one’s food.
On the way to the whole-school picture that we take outside, the fifth grader girls from my table grab onto my shoulders and create a choo choo train. I teach teenagers! I am not used to kids voluntarily touching me. But as soon as those little hands grabbed my shoulders and the train noises commenced, I became a conductor and we cha cha danced all the way to the bleachers for our picture. I am thankful for make believe and no inhibitions.
My colleague and I only get to see each other at faculty meetings. There are very few opportunities for secondary and primary teachers to get together and simply enjoy each other’s company. But at this Thanksgiving table, I become aware that we have way more in common than I ever knew. I am thankful for new friends and shared experiences.
And as I looked up at the flags hanging from the banister, one representing each country from which our students originate, I am reminded of why I chose to leave the traditions and comforts of my own home behind. I am reminded of how lucky I am to be a part of a school community where teachers and students, administration and staff, custodians and maintenance are all gathered together, mixed together to share a meal. I am thankful for UAS.