Thanksgiving is a peculiarly North American holiday. I know they celebrate in Canada (see Angelle’s comment below for more history on this) and I assume they have some of the same traditions that we have in the US: food, family, and fun! Oh, and a side helping of dysfunctional family dynamics, I imagine. And I also know Gabriel and his family celebrate Thanksgiving here in his adopted country. So I don’t feel it is amiss for me to hijack one of his best films to help illustrate a bit about this odd turkey-centered observance that occurs the fourth Thursday of every November.
Emotional Arithmetic, (also known as Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning, the title of the DVD), is a film Gabriel made a decade or so ago, in Canada, with director Paolo Barzman, co-starring Susan Sarandon, Max Von Sydow, and Christopher Plummer. Based on the award-winning and beautifully-written book by Matt Cohen, it tells a special tale of survival and renewal that many fans find especially poignant this time of year. Its colors are those of autumn, and we find the story inhabited by characters in the autumn of their lives as well.
Although Mr. Cohen is not telling a Thanksgiving story, and Mr. Barzman has other things on his film-maker’s mind, there are many scenes, in the film especially, that recall this time of year.
The solitary walks in fall to watch the turning of the seasons, from glad summer to a more somber autumn, the last burst of colors giving way eventually to darker hues and bare branches, before rejoining family and friends to celebrate the holiday.
Meeting family and friends at the airport is a tradition many will observe. Waiting expectantly for the loved one(s) to appear. And then they do and the questions begin! Oh, how you’ve changed! Or, you look just the same! Are you happy? Are you okay? What’s wrong? How good it is to see you! Who is this you’ve brought with you? It’s wonderful to have you home again!
Then there is the ride home, full of conversation, shared stories, catching up. An argument or two, trivial stuff. Sometimes drama. And often laughter!
There are so many rituals and traditions that surround Thanksgiving! Every family has its special customs–the college football game, the Thanksgiving Day Parade (on television or on Main Street), the after-dinner nap. Thanksgiving, though, is really all about Thanksgiving Dinner. A beautiful table set to create a special holiday atmosphere. A traditional toast of thanks for family and friends. Turkey. Dressing. Those familiar food items (Mom’s deviled eggs, Aunt Julia’s marshmallow sweet potatoes, Uncle George’s weird homemade wine). That one unappetizing side dish–green bean casserole? Oh yeah. And cranberries, of course. And then, if there is room in the tummy, pie! Pumpkin pie is required, but there is also pecan pie. Bourbon pecan pie. Maple pecan pie. Who knows what pecan pie! With lots of whipped cream…
And then a nap. LOL!
Some families are happy and excited to be together at Thanksgiving. And some are not. If there is a negative side to this holiday, it is that the dinner table offers an opportunity for the best and worst kinds of interaction and family dynamics. Old feuds, festering over time, erupt once again. Politics can cause a chilly silence. The past collides with the present sometimes and suddenly everyone is upset, or laughing, or both. Still, we get together once a year to celebrate something–the founding of a country, the spirit of our ancestors, the bounty that is ours, the fortune that we enjoy and hopefully share with others. A little family dysfunction can’t ruin a good party, so we do it. Every. Year. That’s tradition!
Sometimes we reconnect with those we love in ways we do not anticipate. They surprise us. They unsettle us. They remind us of who we are. That can be a Thanksgiving gift.
Reconciliation and the Giving of Thanks
And finally, we are sometimes presented with the opportunity to heal an old wound, recognize a good deed from the past, acknowledge a debt, offer thanks. And that can be the best Thanksgiving gift of all.
I treasure this film. I hope you enjoy it this year, to help you celebrate Thanksgiving, or to observe Autumn and the passage of time, or to just relive a great story about intriguing people with complicated pasts trying to find their way to the future. Emotional Arithmetic is rewarding story-telling: intense, funny and dramatic, delicate and heart-poundingly turbulent. I cherish it and I will always be thankful Gabriel chose to be a part of it.
Happy Thanksgiving to you! heart