By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. One of the reasons is that Americans still remember why we celebrate it. Thanksgiving isn't just another holiday, to which we give not one thought other than that it is a day off work.
Nearly all of us truly remember to give thanks and truly celebrate the holiday. Unlike Christmas, there is no stress around giving and getting presents. The purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving is very simple and very easy to observe.
We're told that all cultures observe some sort of day to give thanks. It seems to be a basic human need to back away from trouble, stress and daily commotion and reflect on one's blessings no matter how meager they may be.
In this part of the country, where we can boast a European presence that predates English settlements on the East Coast, we have some fun claiming that America's first Thanksgiving occurred near El Paso in 1598.
That's when Don Juan de Onate and his band of settlers paused on their journey northward to feast and give thanks to God for getting them through the desert and providing them with a river crossing. But it will never replace the story about Squanto and the Pilgrims.
The observance of Thanksgiving is so comfortable. Family gathers, often from afar. Sometimes good friends without family are included. Generations of cooks gather in the kitchen to discuss and prepare old recipes.
The smell of turkey and the trimmings begins to fill the air. Old stories are told, getting better every year. And after dinner, generations of males step outside to toss around a football. And sometimes grandpa is taken to the emergency room after aggravating that old shoulder injury.
Which brings us to those who can't take off for the holiday: the nurses and emergency room workers, police and firefighters, airline employees and truckers, and most of all, those who serve and protect us around the world.
For some, this will be the first Thanksgiving away from home and loved ones. Many of those will be New Mexicans serving in National Guard units called to active duty in locations far, far away. For them, the taste of turkey will have a very special meaning.
Here's some more reasons Thanksgiving is special. It's a four-day weekend for most people. Who works on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Most employers don't even expect it. Employees trade it for a vacation day or for a non-observed holiday like Presidents' Day.
Of course, mall employees work on the day after Thanksgiving, because it is the beginning of the holiday season, the busiest shopping day of the year.
Thanksgiving also is a day when it is acceptable to stuff oneself and grudgingly permissible to watch sports on television all day. Well, almost all day. Do we really have to turn off the Cowboy game during dinner?
And the Cowboys' Thanksgiving game is nationally televised, so it's possible to go anywhere and not miss it.
Many of us in the newspaper business especially like Thanksgiving. It allows us to write clever things about politicians for whom we are thankful. And it allows others to write about everyone they want to label as turkeys.
We had a municipal judge in Santa Fe for many years who was proud of his turkey label. Tom Fiorina held a Turkey Day at his court. Everyone bringing a frozen turkey could get a parking violation dismissed. The turkeys then went to those in need, who otherwise wouldn't have turkey for Thanksgiving.
City officials were furious because it decreased revenues. But Fiorina vowed to continue until Santa Fe took care of its downtown parking problem. He would still be having Turkey Days today, but he was beaten by a candidate who recently was forced to resign after accusations of multiple violations.
Enjoy Thanksgiving and be happy that in this part of the world there's usually green chile in the stuffing and red chile in the gravy.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org