Amidst the annual push for increased consumer spending at the holiday season by expanding the shopping frenzy to Halloween and earlier, and the quadrennial cacophony that came to a conclusion on Election Day earlier this month, something quieter, and rather important, was happening in Harford County and beyond: community Thanksgiving gatherings were being planned.

Rooted in agricultural harvest festivals, and linked to the earliest incarnations of a positive American spirit, Thanksgiving has evolved into a rather uniquely American observance: a day to be thankful for our many blessings as individuals and as a nation.

No gifts are exchanged. No speeches are given. No wreaths are presented. No salutes are necessary. All that's required is a hefty meal shared with friends and family and maybe a little football, a rather uniquely American game.

More than a quarter of a century ago, the SMILES volunteer student group in Havre de Grace came to the stark realization that not everyone had the wherewithal to celebrate the holiday. Some were lacking the hefty meal. Others were lacking companionship. All were invited to Havre de Grace High School, and later to St. Patrick Hall, to share a meal prepared by students, not the day before or the day after, but on Thanksgiving itself. It wasn't the first time such a thing had been done, but it was the first time it had been done on an annual basis and on such a large scale in Harford County.


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And for many years, through good times and bad, it was the only such community Thanksgiving meal in Harford County and the surrounding area.

This year, however, as the economic news nationally and locally continues to bounce between bad and not so bad and, arguably, there is less to be thankful for, community Thanksgiving meals have proliferated. The SMILES event remains a mainstay, and Aberdeen's Community Dinner at the Aberdeen Fire Hall on Rogers Street is growing into a similar tradition after having taken root a few years ago.

To the west in Bel Air, as many as 400 people are expected for a Thanksgiving meal prepared by about 250 volunteers from New Hope Baptist Church and St. Margaret Church.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Susquehanna, Perryville United Methodist Church is busy this week preparing turkey dinners for a community feast.

This Thanksgiving week, something all of us have to be thankful for – even if we're unable to participate in any of the community meals – is the wonderful realization that we live in a community whose members can look beyond a dismal economic situation and share the good things they have with folks who are less fortunate. We're all better off for it.