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Gathering family

11/23/06 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(HOST) It's Thanksgiving morning, 2006, and commentator Madeleine Kunin is thinking about what it really means to be home for the holiday.

(KUNIN) It's the smells of Thanksgiving that make us nostalgic. Just mention the holiday, and our subconscious evokes the aromas of turkey in the oven, drifting from the kitchen to the living room, and all the way up the stairs.

Memories are stirred by our senses-sense of smell, sense of taste.

When our children were young, we went to the grandparents house for Thanksgiving, only our trip wasn't over the river and through the woods, it was down the highway, over the Brooklyn bridge, into New York City. The basic fixings were the same, though my father-in-law added a course that the pilgrims didn't know about, home made gefilte fish, a Jewish specialty.

It was on Thanksgiving that all the children and grandchildren came home from distant places.

Now there is a new generation of grandparents, parents and grandchildren drawn together by the ties that continue to bind one generation to another, one part of the country to another.

Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, evokes the idea of home. We know that this is the most traveled holiday of the year, but that doesn't stop us from getting on crowded highways, or long airport security lines.

We respond to a fundamental urge to be together, to be family. The definition of family has expanded, to include stepfamilies, blended families, friends, and even strangers.

It's the holiday where everyone eats more than he or she intended. Just one more slice?

Well, OK. It's only once a year.

No matter where and with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving, the menu remains almost the same.

Yes, there are exotic recipes for stuffing, but the bread remains essential, and sweet potatoes can be candied, baked, or mashed, but sweet potatoes it is.

Everybody has a favorite recipe for cranberry sauce, with nuts, with orange rind, whole or jellied, but cranberry sauce it must be.

Perhaps because we have learned the ritual of Thanksgiving so well from our earliest years, perhaps because this is a holiday that can be celebrated by all religions, including atheists, perhaps because food is the great common denominator, Thanksgiving for many is the best holiday of the year.

It certainly is the longest-least fast food - meal of the year, stretched out with lots of courses and lots of stories.

In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the holiday in the midst of the Civil War, he knew we needed time to pause from the horrors of war, to - quote "heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."

In 2006, Thanksgiving once again gives us time to pause and be thankful for what we have, for being together with those we love, surrounded by an imperfect world, whose wounds we must continue to heal.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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