Most of my friends in Paris have left. Most of my future friends haven’t yet arrived. For the short time we spend between coming and going, each November we share “Friendsgiving” (none of us have family here, so we’ve adapted the name to fit). The meal serves as a reminder of the transient nature of our existence as young expats. Looking around the room, I can’t help counting: How many friends are new this year? How many of those who were here last year are now scattered around the world? The most sobering is: How many goodbye parties will I attend before Friendsgiving rolls around again?
We always have French guests who ask what Thanksgiving is. They know the name of course, but are fuzzy on its cultural significance. “What do you do on Thanksgiving?” they ask. It’s temping to say, “This is it—we just eat.” But honestly, what more is there? I’m often at a loss to describe the day as more than a special meal. Such a reductive explanation leaves our French friends wondering why we Americans are so fixated on turkey.
But for those of us with a long history of observing Thanksgiving, there is no question that it is an essential annual milestone. It brings family together and invites us to look back on the blessings of the year. These, we know, are the meat of the feast. Turkey, cranberry sauce and football are the most visible markers of the gathering, but they are really just side dishes. Focusing on the food misses the point entirely, but that is hard to express to the uninitiated, dazzled as they are by the array of New World dishes.
If I’ve chosen to reflect on the meaning of meals, it’s not because I’ve peeked at the theme of this month’s service. It’s because we’re in the thick of the most meal-intensive part of the UUFPyear. Many of us shared potlucks in October, and will do so again this month. Add to that our gatherings of families and friends, and social calendars start to fill up. As we come together to celebrate the life of Neil Smith, so closely tied to our fellowship, it’s no coincidence that we will remember him with a buffet. And when we have visitors at Sunday service, it is only fitting that we extend an invitation to join us for lunch down the street.
How fortunate we are to have a tradition of pausing to share meals and memories. If I’m thankful for one thing this year, it’s that we have inherited an appreciation for the communal breaking of bread—companionship—and the occasion it offers to look back on times with departed friends, and forward to those who will join us next time around.
Yours in fellowship, Joe