Thanksgiving grace

You’ve probably already planned every detail of your Thanksgiving meal – at least those of you who subscribe to Southern Living – but have you thought about the one act that gives next week’s holiday its name?

At the risk of sounding preachy, Thanksgiving is supposed to be as advertised.

But often, the last thought on anyone’s mind is the source and content of the blessing of the meal. In many Southern households, the matriarch emerges from the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron, scans the room of football viewing males and selects someone to offer thanks to God for the entire assemblage’s annual blessings.

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
You can do worse than the first Thanksgiving prayer, which Linus recites for the Peanuts gang in "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."

This is a key moment in the day’s celebration. Pick wrong, and everyone can be squirming during an awkward recitation of a childhood prayer. Or worse, you must endure a rank amateur fumbling his or her way through an indelicate and unintelligible monologue.

No, you need to put as much as thought and preparation into the actual Thanksgiving prayer as you do the menu. Before you get anxious, there are unwritten guidelines for this decision.

The first choice is obvious: anyone who is a minister or otherwise prays professionally. Preachers rate highest on this scale, although a missionary would be a bonus if you actually have one around. Most of the time, though, missionaries are on the other side of the world, having Thanksgiving ostrich or dried fish or rice or something.

The second option is anyone who does religious work other than preaching. Even if you sort the mail in the church office, you could be called upon to offer thanks if the hostess happens to be in a particularly desperate situation.

Third would be to select the most obviously spiritual person in the family. Perhaps this person is a Gideon or carries a large Bible to church or maybe even has a track record for “making a beautiful grace,” as we say down South.

The fourth option is the DP, or “Designated Pray-er.” Some families erase all the suspense by having that one person they go to every year. The prayers may not be fancy, but they are consistent and the family feels good about letting them voice the collective gratitude for the group.

The fifth and final option is the riskiest but can often be the most meaningful: one of the kids. As the oft-quoted W.C. Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals.” It’s unpredictable to turn the family’s annual Thanksgiving blessing over to a child.

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want"
Our Thanksgivings aren't always Rockwellian, but we can be thankful that we have "freedom from want."

You can get the literalist prayer in which the child thanks God for literally everything he or she knows or sees. This can take a while. Or perhaps the child starts strong but then gets self-conscious and just quits midway. Then you’re left with a half-blessed meal.

My personal favorite is the sung prayer. All three of our boys have come through Smoke Rise Baptist Church’s preschool where they have learned this little prayer to the tune of “Frère Jacques:”

(Preamble, spoken) Hands in the air, bring them down for prayer.

(Chorus, sung) Thank you Father, Thank you Father, for our food, for our food, and our many blessings, and our many blessings, A-men. A-men.

As you make your Thanksgiving preparations this week, don’t leave out the blessing of the meal. You’ll find that by planning for it, you may actually tap into the true meaning of the day and what may have been a perfunctory moment in your family tradition can become a holy one.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now it’s your turn: Who says Thanksgiving grace at your celebration? What is your favorite Thanksgiving blessing or the childhood grace you learned to say, musical or otherwise? Leave a comment below, and New South Essays promises to be thankful.

4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving grace

  1. Lance,
    I found this simple prayer last night that I really liked.
    Thank you for the food before us, the friends beside us and the love between us.
    I love reading your essays!
    Ruth DuCharme

  2. We recently started praying at supper, in response to Nate’s new found love of “cheers!” Obviously we needed to teach him that God comes first, then you may toast. He also says “fish” rather than “food” which makes me laugh every time.

  3. So… interestingly enough, the day you posted this, we had a “thanksgiving with friends” meal with a big group of McAfee students. The hosts asked Chris to pray, but he didn’t want to, so it got passed on to me – riddle me that one.

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