I have come to experience Thanksgiving as a time of genuine gratitude, fabulous food, and
time shared with loved ones. Choice is a pivotal aspect in moving beyond some of the past difficulties with family gatherings as well as in dealing with the unjust foundations of the holiday. When I met my husband, he and I started a new Thanksgiving tradition: treating ourselves to a holiday feast at our favorite Italian restaurant, Maggiano’s. The food, served family style, is absolutely delicious. Staff are efficient and friendly. The atmosphere rings of holiday cheer with visual beauty. We find ourselves smiling throughout our time there.
For this year’s gathering on Thanksgiving Day (after an equally delightful celebration the night before at our neighbor Nan’s), my husband Chuck, Aunt Edo, and cousin Sylvia gathered at Maggiano’s. We smiled continually.:-) We enjoyed introducing Sylvia to this special experience. Staff seated us in a different area–the banquet rooms turned-into a table seating area. We enjoyed the new location just as much as the main room. Actually, the area brought back memories of another feast in that same spot several years ago. Another time filled with physical and spiritual nurture, a time basking in the bounty. Especially in the midst of difficulties, these pauses to appreciate the people and places in our lives are essential to individual and communal well being.
Past Fabulous Feast at Maggiano’s in the Banquet Room
Having this year’s Thanksgiving meal in the Maggiano’s banquet room area allowed the warm memories from spring 2010 to reemerge in my conscious awareness. In that split second, I was drawn back to that evening of the private party. The nonprofit where I worked chose a Maggiano’s feast as a way to let our clients know how much they were appreciated. We worked with ex-offenders, helping them transition back to the community. The feast provided a memorable event which, I believe, continues to nurture the souls of each of those in attendance that evening.
Staff and clients along with spouses or significant others were on the guest list. Everyone dressed to the nines! As is the tradition at Maggiano’s, we were served a four course meal family style. The food came to us in abundance. We ate with gusto and pleasure. As far as the eye could see, smiles and relaxed stances filled the room. Toward the end, we were given a chance to say a few words. When my turn came, I told them about the movie, “Babette’s Feast: (1987),
Almost a decade and a half ago, my friend Cathy Kyle and I watched a movie that has stayed with me in ways I never imagined. At the time, I thought it was quite odd. The setting was a very remote village in 19th century Denmark. I hated the sense of isolation I felt as we delved into the flick. Two adult sisters remained at home and cared for their minister father. He disagreed with their previous attempts at independence so they stayed. During World War II, they took in a French refugee. This provides the background for that cinematic experience, “Babette’s Feast.”
Babette, the French refugee, agreed to work for the sisters as their servant. After winning the lottery, Babette wanted to thank the sisters. She thus cooked them and their strict, religious friends a fantastic French meal. In like manner to the family style meals at Maggiano’s, Babette’s feast encompassed several courses. At first, some of the friends objected to the wine and then to the very rich, yet delicious, wealth of food. As the evening wore on, the few frowns of judgment turned to smiles. Babette’s gift touched their souls in their depths. She gifted them with an experience they would never forget.
After reading the initial version of this blog, dear colleague Dr. Dave Valeta sent me an article about Pope Francis and “Babette’s Feast.” What a delight to discover that this film is the Pope’s favorite. The joy that Babette’s gift elicits in others turns out to be one of the primary reasons this story has touched his heart in a similar manner to mine. In this published piece, the journalist shares the Pope’s explanation:
The most intense joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in others, as a foretaste of heaven. We can think of the lovely scene in the film Babette’s Feast, when the generous cook receives a grateful hug and praise: ‘Ah, how you will delight the angels!’ It is a joy and a great consolation to bring delight to others, to see them enjoying themselves. This joy, the fruit of fraternal love, is not that of the vain and self-centred, but of lovers who delight in the good of those whom they love, who give freely to them and thus bear good fruit.
Thanksgiving and Beyond
The nurture of Babette’s gift, no doubt, lingered for years to come just as mine does with the Maggiano’s feasts at Thanksgiving as well as from the client appreciation banquet. And, actually, when I again viewed “Babette’s Feast” several years later, I had new eyes to see. The sense of isolation no longer came to me. Instead, I sensed the fullness of the experience for that small community and Babette. In like manner, may we always find these opportunities to bask in the bounty, at Thanksgiving and beyond.