Thanksgiving is an ambiguously religious holiday. As a people, as Americans, we give thanks directly to God for the bounty He has provided us. Atheists may quibble over the deity as addressee. We could just as easily set one day aside each year to thank ourselves for all that we managed to accomplish. There might be wisdom in that, like the wisdom of Christmas parties for the upkeep of morale. After all, the bounty God provides is seldom a one-way street. Does God thresh the wheat? Does He baste the turkey? Even if we can't force people to be grateful, or to be grateful and believe in God, it does seem productive in the long run to give them a Thursday off each November to make four-day weekends and visits home a workable possibility.

I say "directly to God" because the holiday requires no intermediary. Thanksgiving is a government holiday, but we are not expected to thank the government. Nor is there a particular god, goddess or hero who presides over it. Unlike Veterans Day, National Secretary's Day or even Christmas, our thanks is not directed toward individuals, groups of individuals or to the concept of a religious entity mixed inextricably with folklore and retail frenzy. The Thanks in Thanksgiving is a very general thanks. Of course, folklore and tradition have become parts of the recipe — turkeys, Pilgrims and Indians mingle in pre-slaughter happiness — but the meal itself is not a propitiation. The turkey is not an offering. It symbolizes, along with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, the bounty that should give us pause for thanks.

Brussels sprouts were a traditional item in the family God saw fit to place me in, along with yams and in later years mostly California champagne — my personal addition. Thanksgiving is essentially a communal saying of grace, a day when we find ourselves on the same page, though that page be written in a hundred or a hundred million different ways or languages. I haven't shared a Thanksgiving meal with relatives in twenty-five years, but I've often wondered if it's possible to say grace, to adequately say grace while hating those at the table. It seems like a contradiction, a misalignment of values. So I've wondered if God's sense of humor is broad enough to accept that. After all, the original joke was on me. Is it possible to be genuinely thankful among the sights, smells and traditions of Thanksgiving Day while wishing those around you dead and gone? The answer may surprise you, though I've already given you a hint. God provides the bounty for which we are thankful. He leaves the threshing and the basting to us.