Giving Thanksgiving its due

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut

I really want to honor Thanksgiving. It is a sweet, thoughtful holiday, shouldered in between the witchy fun of Halloween and the blessed chaos of Christmas.

How can you not respect a holiday meant to promote gratitude for life’s bountiful blessings? How can you not hold in high esteem a day set aside for fellowship, food and family?

Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday and deserves its own place of honor in the calendar of great celebrations. It should not be rushed or pushed aside because it falls just weeks away from Christmas.

Perhaps my words would carry more authenticity were my already-decorated Christmas tree not sparkling in my peripheral vision, the candles not glowing in the window and a jolly Santa not welcoming guests at my front door.

My neighbor Meg is the queen of honoring Thanksgiving. She has already looked disdainfully at my front door with a shake of her head, and I have heard a tale of woe about her office mate who put her tree up before Meg left for her annual Thanksgiving holiday. She rightly likes things in their proper place, especially when they deserve the attention.

Her only inkling of corruption is that she does annually attend the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s Fantasy of Trees Preview Party with me every year before she leaves for the family Thanksgiving in Virginia.

Now that I think about it, I can pretty much blame my impatience this year on ETCH. I went to Fantasy of Trees Tuesday night, and, if all goes well, plan to go back after the last dish is washed today.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” is the theme this year, and the Knoxville Convention Center is awash not only with twinkling lights and garland, but with hearths, rocking chairs and scenes that spark memories of holidays at home.

King Howell and Mathis Retinger pose by one of the displays at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s Fantasy of Trees.

And there are TRAINS, lots of trains, even a whole Christmas tree of toy trains with a track that runs from top to bottom. I know where every train is at Fantasy of Trees because my almost-3-year-old grandson, King, accompanied Meg, her granddaughter Mathis and me to the Preview Party. King is obsessed with trains and can spot one a mile away. He saw the first one when we were not five feet inside the door. It was the first of many.

Here’s just one of the wonderful things about Fantasy of Trees: Even Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch could not walk out of Fantasy without carrying some Christmas spirit with them. It is simply bursting with all the sights, sounds and, yes, trappings of the season. Shop if you want. Sing and dance if you want. Sit on Santa’s lap. Smile while posing at one of the many scenes set for photo ops. Munch the cookies, pick out a personalized ornament and ride the carousel.

I’m not sure how Fantasy, which is in its 33rd year, came to land on Thanksgiving weekend. My media guide doesn’t go into a lot of history and, believe me, I’m not calling Erica (PR) or Seth (Marketing) at their crunch time to find out!

What I do know is that in Year 1, in 1985, just over 13,000 people visited Fantasy of Trees, which was produced with the help of 12,000 volunteer hours and raised $13,843.

Last year, attendance was almost 61,000, with more than 187,000 volunteer hours given and $426,389 raised.

In 32 years, almost $8 million dollars has been raised to help care for the children who find themselves at Children’s Hospital.

And that, whatever the calendar says, is plenty of reason for giving thanks.

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