I picked up the Target sales flyer last night, in search of turkey-themed paper plates and napkins for our Thanksgiving dinner. I thumbed through page after page of Christmas décor, high-priced electronic gifts and dozens of toys. Of course, they didn't actually use the word "Christmas," but everything you could ever want to commercialize your Dec. 25 "holiday" was featured on those glossy red and green pages.
I finally found my turkey tableware - one tiny photo the size of a quarter, hidden near the bottom of page 37. And that is when I realized how much our society has cast Thanksgiving as the poor, overlooked middle child of the holiday season.
It's not that people don't celebrate it. I've never met anyone who has anything bad to say about Thanksgiving itself. I do know a few folks who complain about certain relatives they only see at this time of year, but for the most part, it's a really enjoyable day.
We Americans love food and football, and Thursday is a good excuse to indulge in both. I love baking and cooking days in advance, pausing to enjoy the Macy's parade with my family, gathering my loved ones around the table, catching up with the women while the men watch football.
But it's the significance of Thanksgiving that I feel gets lost, stuck there between the festivities of Halloween and the fanfare of Christmas. Retailers can't quite commercialize something that is supposed to be an attitude of the heart. And turkeys just aren't as cute as Jack-o'-lanterns and reindeer, anyway.
I can relate to the turkey, growing up as the shy middle child in a family with three daughters. My older sister Ninnah was the pretty one, and my younger sister, Cherie, was the charming one. Both of them were - and still are - talented dancers. Ninnah was on the drill team in high school, and Cherie was an adorable blonde cheerleader.
And then there was me: Kari, Plain and Fat.
Even though my sisters and I have always been close, I never felt that I measured up to them. It wasn't that anyone made me feel that way. I just fell short in my own comparisons to them. They were gregarious while I was quiet. They were always onstage. I was happiest with my nose tucked into a book.
It took years for me to be able to appreciate myself for who I am, to appreciate the gifts within me that are neither showy nor loud. And it also took as long to really appreciate the quietness of Thanksgiving, to understand people like my friend Doris, who proclaim it as their favorite holiday.
Doris and her husband, Paul, make the annual trek from Conyers to their hometown of Crossett, Ark., to celebrate Thanksgiving with their extended families. The holiday means so much to her that Doris recently created a scrapbook to commemorate a lifetime of these celebrations.
"We usually have anywhere from 30 to 50 people at Mom's during the day," said Doris. "I get lots of hugs and kisses from family. There are so many dishes of food that we find it hard to get everything out to be served. So there are lots of choices to load your plate with and we graze all day. But the day means even more. It brings me back to what I've taken for granted so many years while living in Crossett - my family."
I look at the forest outside my kitchen window and the leaves positively glow as the late afternoon sun illuminates their peak of autumn color. The yard is a sea of golden confetti just waiting to be raked into piles for my sons to dive into. And I don't want to rush fall, to wish it away by focusing too soon on Christmas, by putting up bright decorations that distract us from the ones that God made himself.
And that's what I feel Thanksgiving is for, a quiet pause before the holiday madness kicks in, a time to sit back and enjoy the bounty of all we've been given.
I'm thankful for this day of peace, its simple pleasures, and the time to count my blessings.
Kari Apted can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.