I am home today waiting for dinner. I spent last night making pumpkin pie from scratch and was very proud of myself – it was the first time I ever made a pie. This morning I finished the pumpkin puree by making two more pumpkin pies!
Then I made a middle eastern rice stuffing that I grew up eating and stuffed a 15 lb turkey with it, and put it in the oven to roast. I needed some whipping cream for the pies later tonight and headed over to my local Whole Foods market to buy a pint only to find they were completely sold out! I then made a 10 mile trek to the next nearest Whole Foods to get my pint of organic cream. Along the way I started to think.
This year the holiday season here in the United States begins with Thanksgiving as the holiday season for the Muslim world comes to its end with Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For me It will be five days of holiday starting with Thanksgiving and culminating with Eid. And yet when thinking about these two holidays they seem so diametrically opposed, not in spirit but in practice. In spirit Thanksgiving is about showing thanks for the blessings and bounty that we have. I am sure originally thanks was given to God, but today I don’t know who exactly people thank. Folks today in the U.S. believe in so many different things or in nothing at all that I have given up on trying to understand who thanks what anymore. Growing up, Thanksgiving was always a strange holiday. People cooked more food than they could possibly eat, then ate more then is healthy. Someone, either a guest or neighbor, always consumed to much alcohol, became intoxicated and then spoiled the day with some boisterous diatribe about how the world was all wrong and he never got a fair shake. The very act of giving thanks on that day seemed so contrived and disingenuous. All the while there was the guy on the street corner, like today as I left Whole Foods, with a sign in his hand that read “hungry”.
At the same time this year, 2 million humans converged on Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, for the annual Islamic Pilgrimage.
From all over the world and from every walk of life these people make a sacrifice to get there, and in some cases their entire life savings, and seek out forgiveness for the wrongs they committed in their life so far. They sacrifice their time, leaving family behind in some cases, and make a trek into and through the desert for a glimmering hope of starting life a new without any mistakes to account for. After 9 days of slogging through the desert these 2 million people make one more sacrifice. They purchase an animal; lamb, goat, cow or camel, they have it slaughtered and the meat is given away to those hungry people in the world, wherever they might be. The meat is processed there in Mecca, flash frozen and then distributed worldwide to those who need food. After all the Eid that follows the pilgrimage is called the Festival of Sacrifice. But all is not roses there during the Hajj. There is wasted food, more waste than I think I have ever seen in my life when I made my Hajj 11 years ago. Leftover food, half eaten loaves of bread, plastic bags filled with uneaten cooked rice and curry litter the pathways. For a spectacle like no other where sacrifice and giving are the hallmark, it is utterly embarrasing and repugnant to see so much food discarded. All the while beggars are every where asking for help.
Growing up in my home these two holidays were about feeding other people rather than feeding ourselves. Each year my aunt calls me about a week or so before Eid and asks are you going to hold Eid this year? What she means is – are you going to feed people? This year she also asked if I and my family were going to spend Thanksgiving with her. Like my dear departed mother, she has a obsession of generosity that is only placated by feeding people.
It is said that it is always better to give than to receive. Thankfulness for something given is expected. Being thankful for the ability to give is another matter all together. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said ‘charity does not diminish wealth’. What ever one gives out will return ten fold. The ability to give to and sacrifice for others is deserving of thanks. It is a state of well being that marks independence and fortune. It pains me when those that have the ability to give hoard what they have for themselves and leave others to pine for what should be enjoyed by all.
This year my wife and I have the good fortune of hosting our extended family at our home for Thanksgiving. It was a sacrifice for us as well as times are tough and we have had to tighten our belts a bit. But the joy we feel in giving out, and receiving the blessings of family in our home is more than we could ever ask for. This year, think about thanks and what you are thankful for and who you are thankful to for what you have and for what you have the ability to do.