Plenty of reasons to give thanks this Thanksgiving

This truly is the land of plenty.
This truly is the land of plenty.

As I wandered through the San Francisco International Auto Show Sunday afternoon at Moscone Center with my husband and three friends, I was dazzled by the displays of gleaming metal and chrome.

In America, if you want to drive a gas-guzzling SUV, there are dozens of models from which you can choose. Not only that, you can fuel the four-wheeled monster with gasoline cheaper than in any other western country.

Want to drive an environment-friendly hybrid? You have just a handful of options, but choices nonetheless. Prefer a rag top? Well, do you want two seats or four? You’ll have to make the same decision if you’re buying a sports car or pickup truck.

There are scores of vehicle color choices – and appropriate to the season, pumpkin shades seem to be the trendy hues – and a dizzying array of options for our wheels.

The five of us went to dinner after we tired of ogling the exotic and everyday vehicles. In true American style, we were served more food than we could eat and expected nothing less.

Like most of people in this country, my loved ones want for nothing material. The vast majority of Americans have a roof over their heads, plenty of food to eat, and warm clothes to wear.

All of which brings me to Thanksgiving.

Unlike the big holiday on the 25th of next month, it hasn’t become associated with the gimmes. We don’t mail lists of “I wants” to a fictional elf to fulfill.

Unlike that December celebration, retailers don’t stuff our mailboxes with catalogs pitching Thanksgiving-related merchandise.

Unlike the 12 days of you-know-what (and wouldn’t it be nice if it really was just 12 days instead of 12 weeks), we don’t decorate everything in sight to get into the holiday spirit.

Of course, our Thanksgiving celebrations are not without flaws. The average Thanksgiving meal contains about 3,000 calories. It doesn’t help that for most people, it’s followed by a turkey-induced slumber that prevents most folks from even considering working off some of those gravy-covered carbs.

Then there is the matter of nonstop football and wall-to-wall shopping associated with Turkey Day. At least the shopping frenzy, when so many Americans unabashedly throw themselves full force into the Christmas-is-consuming spirit, is deferred until the day after Thanksgiving. Not so with the pigskin match-ups, which are watched by millions in a tryptophan-induced haze before, during and after the holiday meal.

I’m grateful that, in the main, Thanksgiving is still about taking time to remember how blessed we are and for assisting those who do need a helping hand. Many people gather donations for a food bank, serve a meal at a soup kitchen, or send a check to a favorite charity to mark their appreciation for and share their good fortune.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday because of the tradition of coming together with friends and family to appreciate the most important things in life, most of which can’t be purchased.

The privilege of living in a free society, where we choose our leaders (even though most of us take a pass on spending a few minutes punching a ballot on Election Day), can say what we think (although the President’s press secretary scolded Bill Maher for doing just that, saying, “This isn’t the time for remarks like that; there never is.”), and believe whatever we want (despite some Muslim women’s post-Sept. 11 fear of publicly wearing a hijab), is one invaluable blessing for which we should be eternally grateful. Since the Mayflower, people have risked their lives to come to these shores. Most of us didn’t have to do anything to earn the privilege – not even deal with INS bureaucracy – because our priceless American citizenship was an accident of our birth. Not taking that blessing for granted is literally the least we can do.

When we have healthy bodies and minds, when we see the beauty in the world around us, when we have friends we can count on, when we have work we love, when we are responsible citizens by being educated voters, and when we stop every now and then to appreciate these things, then we are savoring the blessings money can’t buy.

Despite the overload of calories and football, Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite holidays. Gratitude is something that’s hard to overdo, especially for a nation as blessed as America.

And if you want to spend part of your Turkey Day appreciating a wide variety of automobiles instead of watching large, overpaid men fighting over an oddly shaped ball or finalizing your strategy for finding Friday morning parking at the outlets, the auto show is open Thanksgiving Day.

Lisa Pampuch is the former city editor of The Dispatch. She lives in Morgan Hill with her husband and two children. You can reach her at [email protected]