French word merci and the English word mercy seem to be something like fraternal twins separated at birth. They are both the progeny of the Latin word merces, which my dictionary tells me means "price paid for something, wages, reward." The meaning of our mercy in modern English is thanks to those innovators, the first followers of Christ:
"The early Christians of Rome used the word in a slightly different way. For them it meant the spiritual reward one receives for doing a kindness in response to an unkindness. The word came into early French as mercit or merci with much the same meaning as was later passed on to our Modern English word mercy." (Merriam-Webster)
If only the ancient Romans had known how common - and drained of its meaning - this word would become in modern French. Millions of people in Paris exchange it numerous times a day for a polite je vous en prie (you're welcome) without thinking about it too much. Someone hands us sandwich, and we say merci. Someone holds the door for us and we say merci. But I doubt if your average modern would say it if he were tortured for praying to the God he does. In fact, at first glance, it doesn't make any sense. But those early faithful had such a firm grasp on their own spiritual pardon before God, it compelled them to extend that pardon to others regardless of the way they were treated.
"What are you thankful for?" As we went around the dinner table, the responses were sincere and heartfelt - community, friends in a foreign land, food, family, etc. The Lord loves all thankful hearts. But I'm wondering how my little tribute would stand up next to a response from the Apostle Paul, Stephen and all those guys. They rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for His name's sake. I rejoice that I've had a year fairly free of suffering. Hm. If my eyes shift even a little from physical benefits to the spiritual over the next year, I will be really thankful.
The word Thanksgiving (pronounced tanks-geeving-eh) is less of a linguistic mystery, having been borrowed quite recently into French vocabulary. They tried to float the idea of le jour de l'action de grace (lit., the day of the action of thanks) for a while. Alas, the French are too much in love with English these days for that sort of thing, and they preferred to swallow the real thing whole, with all of the zeal of a 10-year-old attacking his pumpkin pie. There is even a store named Thanksgiving, where you can buy jellied cranberry sauce for 5 euro a can. I hear you can also order a whole turkey in advance, but we weren't quite organized enough to plan ahead this year.
Which left me cruising around the city for most of Wendesday afternoon from butcher to grocery store to butcher, looking for a bird. No, madame, it is much too early. The farmers haven't even given them to us yet. (It's a Christmas dish here.) Finally, at the eighth stop or so, I was elated to see one handsome specimen in a shop window, the last one. She was magnficent, complete with long black tail feathers and head hanging down, as if she knew her fate. 15 minutes later, she was trussed and prepared, and with profuse merci's to the kind staff, I happily carried her away like an oversized football under my arm. Score! It was probably one of the best turkeys I've ever had. I don't know if you're like me, but I love how almost all elements of a Thanksgiving meal (sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, olives and pickles, etc.) can mingle on my plate and still taste amazing. Any other meal, and this is not okay with me. Must have something to do with gravy.
Yes, this was about as authentic a Thanksgiving as you can create when in a foreign land, far from loved ones. We were with dear friends and collegues, re-created the foods we love. We even piped in live football via the Internet and let Bing Crosby sing in the background. The two English and one Aussie who joined made us a bakers' dozen, and were fascinated and delighted by the whole spectacle. We even thought about doing a re-enactment of the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621, but everyone was too full to move. After recounting the details we knew, the story morphed into something of a fractured fairy tale, where Squanto was trying to save Pochahontas while the lone vegetarian was trying to rescue the turkey from certain doom. It was hilarious.
All in all, a terrific evening. As Ray (our friend and landlord) mentioned, it's a sign of a good party when people aren't worried about running out the door to catch the last metro or train home. Gee, I hope they got home ok.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our loved ones everywhere!