Without argument, 2020 has been quite a year. With the pandemic, civil unrest, an unforgettable election, murder hornets, hurricanes, wildfires and too much more to list, each of us can concur it’s been a challenge at best …. and it’s not over yet.

Scrolling through social media, it’s apparent that many are ready to call it a year and end on a happy note, as my timeline is flooded with decorated Christmas trees. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday and worry-free other than the meal itself. It is unpretentious, ignored by Madison Avenue and the best excuse to celebrate blessings that abound. It’s the one day we set aside every other worldly care to simply express thanks and extend a little love, even to our enemies.

Obscured between the ghastly rage of Halloween and the materialistic focus of Christmas, Thanksgiving has been relegated to near extinction, yet it still warms my heart.

Yes, I am old-fashioned and nostalgic; however, there is something to be said for such customs purely for the sake of them. They provide continuity, safety and assurance from a more serene and secure time.

Awakening to the aroma of turkey and stuffing that Mom had put in the oven hours earlier is a powerful childhood image. It wafted throughout the house, tantalizing taste buds and appetites alike. Fondly I recall snuggling under the covers before tiptoeing on the cold, bare floors to sneak a peek at the slowly roasting fowl. Covered in foil and pervading the oven it was a disappointing sight — at least at that point — but the scent was divine!

It seemed to me that my mother never slept. She got up in the dark to stoke the fires and cook stove. We typically awoke to breakfast being ready. I never saw her in a nightgown until well into my adult years because she was always dressed and working, usually in the kitchen. I even wondered if she ever took a bath since I had never seen her do so.

She cooked for several days before roasting the gobbler. The house was filled with aunts, uncles and cousins in addition to our own growing family—a festive occasion eagerly anticipated by all.

We watched the Macy’s parade and Santa’s arrival to town, but never football (our family were serious baseball fans).

In addition to all the usual feasting fare, Mom made an ‘old-fashioned fruit cake’ which we renamed a Gingerbread Stack Cake. I watched carefully as she made this traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving treat. She patted a thin layer of thick, spicy gingerbread dough into two large cast iron skillets, baked them in a very hot oven for about 8 minutes before repeating several more times.

While baking, she mixed cooked dried apples and stirred in mounds of homemade apple butter to ‘frost’ between the layers, sides and top. It was made a couple of days ahead so the gingerbread was moist all the way through. Mmm.

The men gathered in the living room to brag and swap ‘stories’ while the women bustled in the kitchen with Mom. We kids played outside until we were exhausted before retreating to the bedrooms to play until it was finally time to carve the bird — wonderful memories of great family times.

Currently, even pre-pandemic, few families still celebrate any occasion in this manner. This year it will be worse though counting our blessings seems more critical.

In our home, after the blessing on the food, each person gathered around the table expresses three things they are thankful for (with no repeats). Even the smallest diners contribute.

In the old days, the men retreated to the living room while the children ran off to play and the women did all the clean up.

One thing I am thankful for is that currently, everyone pitches in for the clean-up. I write all the chores on strips of paper. Everyone present draws until they are all gone. They have their assignments and Grandmam rests on her laurels to delegate. They actually seem to enjoy it as revealed by the laughter level.

Whatever the size of your celebration, don’t let other holidays crowd it out. Take time to reflect on your blessings. Be gratefully humble — not grumbly hateful. Don’t consider what you don’t have, what you’ve lost or compare to others. Simply count the things you have that money can’t buy. They’re your best blessings anyway.

Don’t wait until a set date to do it either. Count them every single hour of every single day. A thankful heart is a prized possession which never goes out of season. It makes whatever you have enough. This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate all you have.

— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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