BARIYAPUR, Nepal (AP) — The ceremony began with prayers in a temple by tens of thousands of Hindus before dawn Tuesday. Then it shifted to a nearby corral, where in the cold morning mist, scores of butchers wielding curved swords began slaughtering buffalo calves by hacking off their heads.
Over two days, 200,000 buffaloes, goats, chickens and pigeons will be killed as part of a blood-soaked festival held every five years to honor Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess of power.
Sound crazy? Clearly to the author of the article it does, as he describes the “blood-soaked festival”. But how many turkeys died to honor Thanksgiving? In a country of 300,000,000, the answer is a far bigger number. I am not a vegetarian, at least not full time, though I rarely eat meat except on Shabbat, holidays, and special occasions. So this is not about the fact that all meat is murder and a pox on all those who think otherwise.
I am actually more intrigued by the way in which the same amount of butchery feels reasonable when it occurs in the context of a tradition with which we are comfortable, but seems barbaric when it does not.
In fact, the real story behind this story is that the offering of animals, whether upon a formal altar or upon the altar of our family table (a transformation for which we can be grateful to Talmudic sages of 2,000 years past — Berakhot 55a) is a powerful expression of gratitude and connection. While it may not be the only, or even the best way to express such things, it is a way of doing so, and this Thanksgiving it also connects us to millions of people half a world away.
Who will be far from you this Thanksgiving, and how could you connect even if you are not physically together over the holiday? What can we do to bridge the gaps in our lives, whether with estranged family and friends, or with members of other communities which seem so different from our own?
Thanksgiving not only creates tensions by virtue of putting us together with those who we might not otherwise want to spend so much time. But it also creates an opportunity to acknowledge that while such folks annoy us or their actions disturb us, we probably share more than we first appreciate. Knowing that will not make everything perfect, but it does create the context in which to reach out to those near and far, do a bit of repair and restoration work on the relationships in our lives. That opportunity is surely one for which we can all be thankful.