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Thanksgiving is a time for reflection

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — It will be a little more difficult for many New Mexicans to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Bad economic times have hit us hard in the past 12 months causing layoffs, furloughs, business failures and bankruptcies.

But most will still want to give thanks for having been born in this great country and having enjoyed blessings that much of the rest of the world doesn’t offer. And there still are reasons to give thanks for family, friends and good health.

We’re told that all cultures observe some sort of day to give thanks. It seems to be a basic human need to back away from trouble, stress and daily commotion and reflect on one’s blessings no matter how meager they may be.

In this part of the country, where we can boast a European presence that predates English settlements on the East Coast, we have fun claiming that America’s first Thanksgiving occurred in Southern New Mexico in 1598.

That’s when Don Juan de Oñate and his band of settlers paused on their journey northward to feast and give thanks to God for getting them through the desert and providing them a river crossing. But it will never replace the story about Squanto and the Pilgrims.

The observance of Thanksgiving is so comfortable. Family gathers, often from afar. Sometimes good friends without family are included. Generations of cooks gather in the kitchen to discuss and prepare old recipes.

The smell of turkey and the trimmings begins to fill the air. Old stories are told, getting better every year. And after dinner, generations of males step outside to toss around a football. And sometimes Grandpa is taken to the emergency room after aggravating that old shoulder injury.

Which brings us to those who can’t take off for the holiday: the nurses and emergency room workers, police and firefighters, airline employees and truckers, and most of all, those who serve and protect us around the world.

For some, this will be the first Thanksgiving away from home and loved ones. Many of those will be New Mexicans serving in National Guard units called to active duty in locations far, far away. For them, the taste of turkey will have a very special meaning.

Here are some more reasons Thanksgiving is special. It’s a four-day weekend for most people. Who works on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Most employers don’t even expect it. Employees trade it for a vacation day or for a non-observed holiday like Presidents’ Day.

Of course, mall employees work on the day after Thanksgiving, because it is the beginning of the holiday season, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Thanksgiving also is a day when it is acceptable to stuff oneself and watch sports on television all day. Well, much of the day. Do we really have to turn off the Cowboy game during dinner? The Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game is nationally televised, so it’s possible to go anywhere and not miss it.

Many of us in the newspaper business especially like Thanksgiving. It allows us to write clever things about politicians for whom we are thankful. And it allows others to write about everyone they want to label as turkeys.

Thanksgiving is another holiday with which American Indians have trouble. As with Columbus Day, they can’t see much need to celebrate the beginning of a hostile takeover of their land.

Some teachers try to add the Indian point of view to the romanticized version of the first meetings between Indians and white settlers. Usually parental concerns put an end to that and schools leave it to families to interpret the holiday in their own traditions.

Regardless of how you celebrate Thanksgiving, please enjoy it and be happy that in this part of the world there’s usually green chile in the stuffing and red chile in the gravy.

E-mail Jay Miller at

insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.