February in 28 Words

Just for a little fun I thought I’d try to write a poem in 28 words for February – it wasn’t that easy and the result is not my best work! I wonder if you can do any better. Please feel free to post your efforts or links to them in the comments.

I’ve added a few photographs to brighten up the post, all were taken by Caroline Filer and are her copyright. They are not all strictly February photographs (well it is only the 2nd today!) but they illustrate the poem nicely and were all taken in the last two weeks.

February in 28 words

Snowdrops and daffodils

Battle through frosty earth

Spring flirts briefly with winter

But coal fires still burn in our hearths

Short days slowly lengthen

As February’s light strengthens

 

The daylight stays just a little longer

The daylight stays just a little longer

Snowdrops are the flower of the month

Snowdrops are the flower of the month

February flowers emerging through the woodland floor

February flowers emerging through the woodland floor

Early blossoms brave cold February days

Early blossoms brave cold February days

Stepping Out

Since the 22nd December 2014 I have walked over 200,000 steps, at an average of 6,000 steps per day. That’s approximately 91 miles based on my stride length. How do I know this? Because I have an app. Like most things these days anything that can be measured has an app. And now I am addicted to trying to keep my average up and reach 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) a day – which is the “magic” figure that the experts say we should walk –  lest we become sedentary creatures and allow all manner of illnesses to take their hold for lack of exercise. That’s probably pretty sound advice!

Until recently, I have had a real struggle with achieving a balance with exercise and general wellbeing. For years as a young man I was an exceptionally fit athlete, running at county level, competing for selection in the all England youth athletics team, and generally able to excel in just about any sport I chose. Now in my 50’s I just cannot attain the level of fitness that my ego would like me to – I can’t be as fit as I was when I was 22! But that has not stopped me trying. I have pushed myself hard at the gym, but each time I come home exhausted and therefore not feeling the full benefits of the exercise.

It was my partner Caroline who, knowing what motivates me, finally persuaded me to try something different. Walking. She has been doing this for longer than me and introduced me to the app, also persuading me to join her for a walk in the grounds of one of our local National Trust properties (Anglesey Abbey for those of you who know Cambridgeshire). We covered more than 10,000 steps that day, and it has become a regular weekend walk.

Coincidentally our good friend and fellow blogger Elizabeth Marro (Betsy), wrote a piece about her own walking ambitions and her intent to walk 15 miles a week – you can read that blog here – http://elizabethmarroblog.com/category/walking-dispatches-from-the-journey/. Betsy is an inspiring writer, and her article wriggled it’s way into my psyche, and spoke to me about just how good walking can be for one’s soul, she writes “When I walk, I will not listen to music or talk on the telephone. I will look, feel, think, seek encounters. I will smile at strangers. I will open myself up to possibility. I will take one step at a time and maybe, at some point, it will become clear to me why I am walking and where I am going.”

Caroline has continued to encourage me to walk – though now I have something to aim for in terms of average steps I don’t need  so much persuasion (reminding me that I am goal oriented!). But walking does more than get a few steps or miles under ones belt just to be able to say “I reached my numerical goal”. Walking takes you out. It takes you into the outdoors, and it takes you out of yourself. I am fortunate enough to both work from home and live in an area with easy access to country walks. I don’t even have to get in a car and drive a few miles to a ‘walking spot’; where we live we have splendid rural isolation as well as being able to choose routes frequented by others if we don’t want to remain entirely solitary. Although I have to admit that often it is the solitary nature of a walk in the countryside that is most appealing. Unencumbered with having to make conversation you are free to look and listen to the world around you –  the variety of what you can experience is surprising.

My local walk: Fields stretch to the horizon

My local walk: Fields stretch to the horizon

One day this week I set off on a lunchtime walk under fairly gloomy and wintry conditions. I walked 2 or 3 miles with nothing more spectacular to see other than a few ploughed fields stretching across the flat lands of the fens to a razor-sharp horizon in the distance. But half way round my 5 mile circuit I was in for a surprise. And as I turned a corner the dark clouds above parted just a little – enough for the pale sunlight to shine through. So narrow was this cloudy aperture that it looked as though a spotlight was shining from the sky. As the clouds moved the ‘spotlight’ appeared to move, shining on the magnificent cathedral in the distance. It illuminated the stone so brightly that the ancient building stood out in sharp relief on the Isle of Ely. Dancing over newly ploughed fields and copses of trees the shaft of light then briefly seemed to follow a flock of wood pigeons, or maybe they followed it, before finally fading back to grey. It was almost as if this ethereal illumination had been just for me, no-one else was around to see it.

The view of the distant Cathedral from a country lane in the village just after the ‘spotlight’ had passed

A route revisited is never exactly the same. Yesterday Caroline and I returned to Anglesey Abbey, the ground was crisp with frost and a dusting of snow. The snowdrops are now bursting through the earthy undergrowth, whole swathes of them give the woodland areas an appearance of a white polka dot carpet. The silver birches, planted to create a stunning visual display, reach for the sky like slender brushes painting white clouds on a blue canvas. 10,000 steps went by very quickly and enjoyably. Through the simple act of walking and being outdoors, I may well have found the solution to my need for exercise at a level that suits me. Thanks Caroline and Betsy of encouraging me to step out!

The slender silver birch trees at Anglesey Abbey seem to touch the sky

The slender silver birch trees at Anglesey Abbey seem to touch the sky

Anglesey Abbey: Snowdrops are appearing

Anglesey Abbey: Snowdrops are appearing

Anglesey Abbey: Polka dot snowdrop carpet

Anglesey Abbey: Polka dot snowdrop carpet

Holding on to Dad

Alzheimer’s is a wicked and vicious disease. There are no two ways about it. No life threatening, debilitating, wasting disease has any redeeming features about it, but Alzheimer’s takes the biscuit in how it gradually engulfs a person, a personality, and an individuals individuality with it’s silent attack on the stuff of memories, speech and recall; with its unrelenting impact on relationships, robbing not just the sufferer of themselves, but robbing friends and family of the person they knew. The person who gradually changes, gradually withdraws, gradually disappears. And finally can hold on no longer.

My father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Well, I say early stages, but the signs and symptoms have been there for two to three years, yet defied diagnosis until recently. My father is still there though, and he is still self aware, so he knows what is happening, he can’t necessarily put his fears and worries into words, but he doesn’t have to – I can see it on his face, I see it in the old man shuffle of this once proud and upright man. He clings on to dressing himself well, yet even that is beginning to wane, and for a man that put appearances above almost anything, this demise is cruel.

My father was a practical man. I use the past tense, because he has lost much of his ability to fix things and do things with his hands. He must find that loss hard to bear, he is so aware of it that he has begun to clear out his garage-cum-workshop and give various tools away – tools that have been his friends for fifty years or more. Tools that I grew up with. I will probably keep them, though I have no clue how to use many of them, but it doesn’t seem right to throw them away – it would be like consigning my father and his practical past to the waste basket. The time is coming when he will no longer be able to drive, and that final bastion of independence will be the hardest of all for him to give up, he knows in his heart that it will be soon, yet he clings to the car keys like a talisman. A lucky charm that keeps him independent, that staves off the march of the time driven disease that attacks him. He holds on.

Yet there are positive moments. Moments of sheer clarity that shine through his confusion and forgetfulness, like a beacon to the man that he was – to the man that he still is deep down. My father has given me much advice over the years, a great deal of it that I have not agreed with, an awful lot of which I have gone against – and to be fair my decisions have not always been bad ones when I have chosen not to heed him. Last week though, he gave me some advice that is probably his best ever. Discussing my job, and how hard I work, and the fact that I am now in my fifties, he told me that he took early retirement at the age of fifty-nine, because he just couldn’t stand the rat race any longer, he had run out of things to prove, he had been successful, made his money, and at almost sixty years of age he didn’t want to chase the numbers any longer. He said to me “when you recognise that time is coming for you, put your financial affairs in order, do not ponder too long, and just let it go”. If you knew my father you’d realise how significant his words were, as he has never been one to obviously plan in that way, he is always caught up in practicalities and just “doing stuff”, so to express advice that is more about quality of life is quite unusual. And that advice may have come with regrets, you see (and if you read my very first post on this blog you will know) my father lost his wife in April 2014.

My father and I have discovered a new trust, a new way of relating to each other. While I, and my sisters, have to do much for him, he trusts us to do that. He trusts me in ways that I never thought he would, he trusts that we will care for him and make sure he is cared for, of course he fights tooth and nail if he feels we are doing anything that erodes his independence, but ultimately he has trust in our decisions made on his behalf. He still relates to me as his son, but we hug  now, and he expresses his love more now than he ever has, he seems prouder of me now than at any other time of my life. Of course he gets angry, he gets stubborn, and he gets frustrated – but honestly, who wouldn’t?

Trying to hold on to the pieces Image courtesy of iStockphoto

Trying to hold on to the pieces
Image courtesy of iStockphoto

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, because of my profession I know much about Alzheimer’s, how it progresses, what the disease does, how treatments work (or don’t work). So I know what is to come, but I know that he will hold onto his self awareness as long as he can, though I also know that he will ultimately lose himself as the disease envelopes him. As we watch this uncomfortably unfold, we manage his life for him, and we hold onto those moments of clarity, wisdom and advice, just as we treasure family photographs as memories of happy times, we will cling to words as well, because that is how you hold onto the person in those photographs.

Despite what I know, I look for the positives as well as accepting the inevitability of his decline. Learned behaviours are often the last to be affected, so he can still teach us the basics of ballroom dancing, an echo of his and my mothers dancing past (they once danced on the TV programme “Come Dancing” in the 1960’s) – and we have a had a few laughs doing that. He practices the piano twice a day, an instrument that he has played since he was a young boy, and he can still read new music, we’ve played boule and his hand-eye co-ordination learned and developed in his county cricketing days is still there – I am the only one who can beat him – because as a youth he taught me to be an even better cricketer than he was.

So I still have my father. He’s there. Sometimes the best of him is buried beneath the fuzziness of the low moments of the disease. Other times he rises above the disease and we have more of him.

Hold on Dad, just hold on as long as you can.

Resolutions: The Importance of finding a “Bill Spratt”

When I was fourteen I wanted to be taller and faster. I’d been the skinny kid for all my school life up to that point, and I wanted to be bigger and to be able to win races. With a birthday just before the start of the New Year, I decided to combine the two and I resolved to grow as much as I could in the following year up to my fifteenth birthday, and to take up athletics to make me faster.

I embarked on a regime of exercise and a high protein diet which,  based on my limited knowledge of nutrition science, I decided would make me grow taller. I took up running, joined a local club, and ate more eggs and chicken than ever before – my mother however drew the line at letting me eat steak on a regular basis.

I trained hard. Beginning in the winter months proved to be a good test. My coach, a local man named William Spratt (known to all as Bill), was supremely fit although forty years my senior, and he would make me train in all weathers. Three times a week I’d run a mile, meet Bill and we’d continue on a circular route for another two miles that would bring us back to my house and then he’d continue on afterwards back to his house – I worked out later that he knew the distance from my house to where we met, and that I’d run three miles each time, but he’d run twice that. I also found out that Bill had been the first Cambridgeshire man to run a marathon, and he was something of a local legend, although he never mentioned it. I felt very fortunate to have him as my coach. He was a tough coach though, more than once I phoned Bill on a training night to say “it’s raining hard” or “the snow is quite heavy”, followed by “shall we give it a miss?” – we rarely did, the only time he would agree was if the conditions underfoot were dangerous – either too icy, or compacted snow. Rain was never an excuse. During our winter training Bill decided I would run the 400 metres on the track in the summer season, as this would suit my leaner frame and he would make sure that my endurance levels were high enough for this demanding distance, which is run as a sprint.

Bill - my athletics coach and mentor

Bill – my athletics coach and mentor

On winter weekends Bill would take a group of us to train at our local woodland, where there was a steep incline of about 150 metres (not easy to find in the flatness of the fens!). He would drill us up and down this slope, in what he called a “pyramid”; this involved running up the slope as fast as we could, jogging back down, and repeating this in cycles of two, four, six, four, and two – in that pattern with no breaks in between. This was designed to push our endurance and build stamina.

Bill entered me for local and regional cross country races, I rarely finished higher than twentieth in a field of forty or more. I later learned that, as a 400 metre runner, I wasn’t expected to, but this was all designed to improve my stamina and also test my resolve. I have to admit that I did feel like giving up in a few races that went ahead despite driving snow, but I never did – Bill had taught me to run through the pain and the dips in energy and confidence.

Wednesday evenings were club meetings, the club was big, and the evenings were well attended by juniors through to veterans. I was one of the youngest, yet found myself training with a group a few years older than myself. We ran circuits around the streets near the club meeting place, and the drills were long and hard, but I loved drilling with the older kids, always trying to prove myself against them, seeing if I could keep up with the sixteen and seventeen year olds – of course I rarely could, but as my training went on I found myself only just behind their pace.

Around March of that year it was our inter-house school cross country. I’d told no-one, other than a close friend, that I’d been training, and then I entered the cross country – actually volunteering for it raised a few eyebrows! It was only a three mile race, so just the same length as my training runs. At the start I didn’t sprint to the front, I held off the pace a little, letting the usual boys surge ahead, but I didn’t let them get away from me. After about a mile I realised that this race was being run at a very slow pace, well below what I was used to in my training, I let it carry on that way for a few hundred yards more and then I just got bored of running so slowly, so I upped the pace, hit the front and before I knew it I was 100 metres ahead of them all. I recall my friend, who was racing too, shouting “go with him, he knows what he’s doing” – but nobody could, and I waited a good thirty seconds for the next person at the finish line. That was a good feeling, and I realised that just as I had resolved, I was becoming faster.

Then we got to the late spring, and the track season opened. We started training on a proper running track. It was the old fashioned cinder surface, most of which have since disappeared and have been replaced by the much friendlier tartan all weather surfaces, but I loved that cinder track, which gave me my first taste of running on a real circuit in spikes. We trained hard that spring, club nights were now at the track, although I kept my thrice weekly training road runs with Bill. At the track there seemed to be more people than ever, I was put into a group with four other boys, all a little older than me. We focused on sprint training, and more pyramids (this time on the flat though).

We trained hard all spring and into the summer. My legs had started to get very large, with muscly calves and thighs, and I remember my mother getting quite exasperated at the speed with which I was growing out of trousers – not just by height, but by the girth of my muscles. That summer I ran my very first competitive 400 metres, I finished fourth in a field of eight, and clocked a time of sixty seconds – which wasn’t a startlingly quick time, but at that age was not too shabby for a first race. Bill was happy. If Bill was happy, I was happy.

That summer, following my cross country victory, I was expected to take a clean sweep at the school athletics house competition. But I knew there was one boy that stood in my way, Martin Cleary. He was tall and fast. I’d never beaten him in a straight sprint at any distance. I discussed this with my mum, and I remember her saying to me , “David, have you not noticed how fast you’ve grown this year? You are nearly as tall as your father”. So absorbed had I become in my short terms targets that Bill had set me, that the cross country race had presented, and that  weekly training had given me, with a focus on getting quicker, I’d forgotten about the first half of my resolution – to get taller. Of course, I had been able to control my running speed improvement; by sticking to a strict training regimen I had improved my endurance, my stamina and my speed – these were all variables that I was able to influence to a certain degree subject to my own discipline and dedication. What I could not control, was how fast I grew or how much I grew. As it happens between the ages of fourteen and sixteen I went from barely being five feet tall, to being almost six feet tall. At age fourteen and a half I was now taller than Martin Cleary. More importantly to me, I was now faster than he was, and I finally beat him! Later that summer I went on to run the 400 metres with my club in under 55 seconds, and progressed to county standard – I really had got faster! My personal best a few years later was 50.2 seconds.

The moral of this story from my own personal trip down memory lane? Well it’s quite simple really, what I did all those years ago, without even realising, was to make an ambitious resolution, only to have it broken down into more achievable shorter term objectives by my coach, who knew a lot more about how to achieve my goals than I did. If I had set myself the goal of winning the cross country, running under 60 seconds in the 400 metres, or beating Martin, then I doubt that I would have focused on the steps to get me there. Bill provided me with those steps. Maybe we all need a Bill, to keep us company as we work towards our grand objectives we set ourselves as New Year’s resolutions, it is the Bill’s of this world who have the wisdom to help us achieve those objectives stepwise. So if you are considering setting yourself a New Years resolution of losing weight, giving up smoking, eating a healthier diet, and so on, then don’t try and do it on your own –  find your “Bill”, and you will stand a much higher chance of meeting your resolution.

As for growing taller,  well I just happened to grow due to my genetic make up, so the lesson there is that there are some things we just have no control of at all, so don’t go wasting your time by setting totally impossible New Year’s resolutions – because if you don’t have the power to control the variables, then you cannot effect change.

So thanks Bill, you are long gone from this world, but you and the lessons you taught me are not forgotten.

Cristes Maesse

I have tried to write several blog articles about Christmas over the last few days, their content has been varied. I started with taking a look at the “commercialisation of Christmas”, but that just felt tired and cliched, and I found myself sounding very judgemental. Then I tried a different tack and started to write about “The meaning of Christmas” – an over used phrase I felt, that just pandered to peoples need to eat and drink to excess during the holidays. Again I ended up sounding judgemental. Finally I tried observational humour, recounting a few anecdotes of human behaviour that I’ve observed during the preparations for Christmas – mostly in the shops – but my humour began to sound, guess what, judgmental.

Time for some self-analysis I thought, after all I cannot let the festive season pass without making at least one post on my blog. So I asked myself this question: “why are you so judgmental about how people behave towards Christmas?’

The answer surprised me. That answer is quite simply because I regard myself as a Christian. I was surprised because I am not a very good Christian, regular church going lapsed a while ago, I don’t pray every day, and I don’t always got to church on the main days in the Christian calendar. A good friend of mine (who is now a vicar) once said to me, going to church makes you no more Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car – I’ve possibly taken that too far and have been part of the “non-churched” for quite some time.

But back to my not so Christian judgemental attitudes. I suppose I had not realised the strength of my own feelings about Christmas, and what it represents. There are many who argue that Christmas is overlaid onto older festivals, and will point to the historical process of how Christmas came to be celebrated in December, and how Yule and Saturnalia were there first. And that’s all interesting. But it’s not theological and it’s not spiritual, it’s just historical and the fact remains that we do have a festival called Christmas. It’s also not a good enough reason to sideline what Christmas celebrates; after all the name itself rather obviously has something to do with celebrating Christ; the title of this article “Cristes Maesse” is the old English meaning “Christ’s Mass”, which later became Christmas.

Secular Christmas Illustration by apenotmonkey.com

Secular Christmas
Illustration by apenotmonkey.com

Consequently the secular use and notion of Christmas (“Cristes Maesse”) sits uncomfortably with me, after all would society at large hijack Ramadan for its own purposes? Would the supermarkets make lengthy, cheesy, questionably distasteful commercials around Diwali? Would there be black Fridays and cyber Mondays geared around Hanukkah? And if the answer to these questions is ‘no’, then how has the Christian church allowed one of their two main celebratory days, the other being the resurrection at Easter, to be so secularised and taken over in this way? What if “Christmas” was a trademark or was copyrighted to ensure that it was only used by the church to refer to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, how different might that be? It is of course naive to think that we could divorce the secular and Christian celebrations of Christmas, so entwined have the traditions become over the years one can hardly see the join. But for Christians, Christmas is more than a holiday, it is a holy day.

As a Christian, and as cliched as it sounds, I really would like to see “Christ” put back into the celebration of Christmas. The fact that Christ, in many ways, has been displaced from how much of society celebrates Christmas is quite bizarre when you consider it in those terms. And that is precisely my point, there are few, if any instances, of secular society hijacking any other religious festivals other than the Christian ones of Christmas and Easter, and divorcing them from their spiritual and theological meanings. So why should Christmas be swallowed up by everything that is not Christian, and therefore not about Christmas? The birth of Jesus was arguably his first miracle, and it is the virgin birth that we celebrate on Christmas day, we give presents to each other to remind ourselves of the gifts the magi gave to Jesus to honour him, we sing carols that celebrate the manner of his birth – “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, come ye o come ye to Bethlehem”, is a call for the Christian faithful to make a spiritual journey in our minds to the time and place of Jesus’ birth, and we feast to mark the joyous significance of Jesus’ arrival. It is a true celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  On December 25th Christians will celebrate that He has arrived

I hope that I have not been too judgemental of the secular, I have no objection to a secular holiday of course, but I hope that I have provided a small reminder that Christmas is supposed to be all about Christ.

Merry Christmas.

Milestones

 

 

milestone

Last month my blog clocked up one thousand hits. I was quite surprised at how pleased I was with reaching that milestone. This got me looking back at all of my posts to see which had been the most read, and I realised that, with the exception of the “cooking trilogy”, every post I have written is related to some milestone or other (I suppose family meals could be milestones too!).  Why is this? – I wondered.

Perhaps it is because I tend to measure my life by those milestones – I know many people who do the same, perhaps we all do to a degree. Each marker in time  is some kind of right of passage to another stage, another chapter, of our constantly unfolding lives. I actually get annoyed with those count downs to milestones, as I see that as wishing one’s life away.The Christmas countdowns that start well before December are one such annoyance, wishing time away just seems plain wrong to me – we have only one life in this world, so why wish for it to pass more quickly? Like most people I’ve experienced times when I have wished time would pass more rapidly and give way to better times, but now those better times are here I don’t want the days and hours to flash by. Father Time though seems to have a wry sense of humour and, as the skilled illusionist that he is, gives the appearance of life passing slowly when things are  tough, but speeding it up when life is good.

Looking back at my blog posts, which only started in June 2014, the milestones are a combination of personal and societal. The death of my mother and the death of a good friend were two events that put life into sharp relief, a time for evaluation and re-evaluation of my own values, needs and desires. That’s when I began to write again and I have marked days of inspiration, reaching 15,000 words  in my book (20,000 now!), and now one thousand hits on my blog; these are small achievements, yet they mark my passage towards something I’ve always hoped for – some form of literary achievement. I haven’t recorded every milestone of course – that might be a little tedious for anyone who reads my blog  – but also some of these milestones are best kept private, so for example I’ve not recorded the details of my son’s departure for university and my daughter’s theatrical and musical exploits, they are things we talk about as a family, and that’s where the details stay – within our family.

Milestones though can be about more than just  personal achievement or marking the (hopefully) happy progress of our lives. Some milestones are marked on a national, and even global scale, there are some that will always be commemorated. In this blog I have written about the anniversary of D-Day and the observance of Remembrance Sunday – both all the more poignant as 2014 marks the 100th year since the outbreak of the first world war and seventy years since D-Day. Our nation marked those milestones with great respect. But they are still just that – milestones, they mark a point reached and another years distance from the real events, and the milestones become history themselves.

On a more upbeat note our US cousins have just celebrated Thanksgiving, a major annual milestone, and a time for friends and family to meet and give thanks for each other and what they have been blessed with. A positive and reflective milestone. Soon we will celebrate Christmas and then New Year, traditionally times when we look back at the previous year and it’s milestones.

Milestones become history the moment after they are reached. I am reminded of possibly one of the finest lines from a contemporary play, from Alan Bennet’s “The History Boys”, it is spoken by the pupil Rudge, who up to this point has been mostly monosyllabic: “How do I define history? It’s just one fucking thing after another”. It is a line played for wry laughs in the play, but of course it is true. History, is merely a sequence of events that occur in succession – whether that is our personal history or society’s. If we can do our utmost to make sure that “one thing after another” is made up of positive actions,valuable achievements, and enriching behaviours, for ourselves and those around us, then our personal histories we will have a strong influence on our society.

Perhaps there is a moral in here somewhere, and as we approach the end of 2014, for me that moral might be that in 2015 I am going to do “one good fucking thing after another”.

 

Note: Apologies if the expletive causes any offence, however it is a direct quote and loses it’s impact and emphasis if censored.

 

Thanksgiving: what’s the big deal?

 

Thanksgiving

I’ve never understood Thanksgiving. Or to be more accurate, as a “Brit”, even though I’ve visited the USA many times, worked with American colleagues and have many American friends, I have never been able to fathom why the Thanksgiving holiday is such a major event, possibly even eclipsing Christmas in its national importance and observance.

I’ve read about the origins of Thanksgiving, the debate about how it came to be, the influence of the English reformation and the puritans, the possible connections with the Dutch concerning the siege of Leiden (1573), the suggestion that the holiday has its roots with the early pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, fabled tales of feasts between pilgrims and Native American Indians, the Unionist rationale for fixing the date and so on. But nothing really explains why Thanksgiving has the national importance and significance that it does. Other countries have Thanksgiving holidays, but on the whole they are celebrated to a lesser extent than in the USA. Is it a holiday that exists solely to give thanks for the Harvest? In a country as vast as the USA surely harvest time varies depending on where people live and therefore so would their periods of thanksgiving. It is certainly nothing like a traditional harvest festival in Britain which, while a notable Christian celebration (particularly in rural farming communities like mine), is not a national holiday nor as major an event as Thanksgiving – maybe it should be. Harvest has it’s place in Thanksgiving – that much is clear – but it appears to be much more than a glorified harvest festival. And maybe it is because of that, that the religious and secular observance of the holiday is united.

If I’m honest, I am actually a little envious of Thanksgiving. From my observers perspective it seems to be a holiday that has retained a genuine meaning, relevance and significance that transcends belief systems (although what that meaning is founded on is still unclear). Of course it has it’s commercial elements – I’ve been to the Thanksgiving sales – but at its heart Thanksgiving seems to be a holiday of, well, Thanksgiving. I’m not sure it really matters that much what you are giving thanks for, whether it is the harvest, your family, home, community, and friends, maybe it’s giving thanks for your country and your freedoms.

It doesn't really matter what you are giving thanks for

It doesn’t really matter what you are giving thanks for (image courtesy of gallery hip.com)

 

In Great Britain, despite our long and vast history, we actually do not have a day like Thanksgiving, nor for that matter do we have a day like Independence Day; it would be a whole other discussion to look at the make up of the holidays in Great Britain and their origins, but we do not have a day where we celebrate who we are, or a day that we give over to giving thanks. As British citizens I fear that we may be morally poorer for a lack of a Thanksgiving celebration; for we too have much to give thanks for.

So tomorrow, when my usually hectic afternoon of telephone calls and video conferences with my US colleagues will be strangely quiet, I will pause for a moment and make sure that I give thanks for the things that I might otherwise take for granted. I will of course also enjoy the peace and quiet (maybe I should give thanks for that too!).

To all my American friends, colleagues and readers, I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving holiday.