It’s that time of year and I am pumped – PUMPED, I say!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday outside of Easter. There is nothing like the hours of cooking with family and friends and the decadent meal that ensues. The smells, the leftovers, the wine and Champagne, the candied yams, ya’ll. It is truly amazing.

But even more than the revelry and togetherness that Thanksgiving brings is the whole attitude of gratitude feeling we share on that day.

As teacher and geologist John Clayton said, “Thanksgiving is a time when the world gets to see just how blessed and how workable the Christian system is. The emphasis is not on giving or buying, but on being and expressing that appreciation to God and to one another.”

I am not the only one who holds Thanksgiving in such high esteem. The American Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest travel holiday in the nation. People travel from far and wide to honor traditions and even start new ones. AAA forecasts that almost 47 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving, a slight 0.6 per cent increase from last year and the most since 2007.

Traveling home to Florida for me involved way more than 50 miles, or even 200 or 300 miles. I travel across oceans, over mountains and plains, just to spend the most wonderful of holidays with family in Miami. And when travel is not an option, I bring the holiday to wherever I am, be it Ghana, Austria or The Bahamas.

Abroad, my American friends, and guests from our host country, would gather together after weeks of searching for the right food items – or something as close to them as possible.  We would be each other’s family. And the foreigners would marvel and the gravitas of the whole thing – and the vast quantities of food. No wonder you Americans are so big, they would laugh. In the end, they left suggesting what they might bring the next year. 

One of the beautiful things about Thanksgiving is the twists that different ethnic groups or people from various regions of the U.S. bring to the holiday table.

Some Italian-Americans include lasagna, risotto, ricotta stuffed mushrooms or baked olives as part of the Thanksgiving meal. Many Asian-Americans have Peking duck, steamed rice, or dim sum; while some Jewish families add matzo ball soup and Manischewitz wine. In New Orleans, people often include gumbo or red beans and rice. My Indian friends put a twist on the traditional roasted bird by making tandoori turkey. Many Mexican-Americans incorporate a staple: chili – fresh and dried, as well as salsa. And some go for chicken or hen rather than turkey.

Despite these ethnic tweaks to the traditional Thanksgiving meal, turkey remains king as the dominant meat served with more than 46 million turkeys cooked and eaten for Thanksgiving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sweet potatoes and cranberries are also among the top sellers for the holiday.

Whatever food graces our family’s table, love and appreciation are always the centerpiece.

I like the quote by Henry David Thoreau: “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”

It reminds me that while I so look forward to the holiday, for many the day brings sadness – sadness that a loved one has passed on; sadness that financial pressures prevent them from being able to travel home or buy enough (or any) food for the table.

It is so crucial that we not only keep these neighbors, family members, elderly, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers in our prayers, but that we go one step further and take action.

Part of Thanksgiving is “giving.” In Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, “Operation Turkey” provides Thanksgiving meals to 30,000 people each year. They organize volunteers in various cities to cook, prepare, pack and deliver food to the homeless and less fortunate. Similar work is being done throughout Florida, like the Big Heart Brigade in South Florida that has, since its inception in 1992, provided 1.4 million Thanksgiving meals to the needy.

While you wait in line at the ham store or dig through the frozen turkeys at the grocery or stand in the produce section picking and plucking greens, remember how fortunate you are. Think of those who wish they could afford to be in your shoes. Eat to your heart’s content, but let us also embrace the spirit of the holiday and pay it forward.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Alison Bethel McKenzie is a veteran newspaper editor and former executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria. She may be reached at