GROWING UP CATHOLIC | Celebrate Thanksgiving like Chesterton

I hate to brag, but no one eats more turkey than me. No one is more prodigal with the gravy. For generations, our family has smoked turkeys outside over hickory wood. I still remember my grandfather standing outside on a snowy Thanksgiving Day in a short-sleeve T-shirt, tending to the grill with one hand and holding an old-fashioned in the other. Now that I’m the patriarch, it’s my job to cook the bird. It’s a grave responsibility that I accomplish rain or shine.

The only person I fear may have celebrated Thanksgiving more boldly than me was GK Chesterton, who in his autobiography says, “the chief idea of my life … (is) taking things with gratitude.” Gratitude, he says, is an opportunity to shake off the doldrums of life-as-usual and wake up. Chesterton’s idea is that, if we cultivate gratitude, our eyes will be opened to the wonder of our lives.

Here’s how to celebrate Thanksgiving like Chesterton.

Say grace. Simple, right? But this is just the warm-up act. Chesterton writes, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Thanksgiving is a way of life.

Eat turkey. What makes a turkey special is that we only eat one a few times a year. Everyone has a secret technique for making theirs the best and will work on it days ahead of time — all for a meal the kids will eat within five minutes. The oddity of the situation, though, is partly why Chesterton loves it so much.

Expect nothing. Chesterton was fond of dandelions and insists each one is a little miracle. It would be extraordinary to “demand the pick of all the dandelions in the garden of Paradise.” At Thanksgiving, not only is the feast a miracle, but so is the conversation, the fire in the hearth and the kids running wild underfoot. We don’t have a right to these blessings, which makes us all the more thankful for them.

More is not better. Chesterton says, “There is no sense in not appreciating things, and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.” Even if the food is less than perfect or a family member is missing this year, if we don’t appreciate what’s in front of us, no addition will make us happier. I’ll remember this when I’m confronted by a table weighed down with a dozen types of pie.

Shake off familiarity. Chesterton writes, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” Each new day unfolds like a delicate flower. Stop and smell that flower. Give thanks, because the food at the meal is actually a feast, the people around you are family, the house is a home, and life is so, so special.

Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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