Dr. Zorba Paster: Lots to celebrate during the holidays

Dr. Zorba Paster: Lots to celebrate during the holidays


When Penelope and I lived in Canada, we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, which was in October. Somehow, it just didn’t seem right. Too warm. The days were too long.

We were addicted to the November date, so we decided that, unlike the rest of Canada, we would celebrate not once, but twice — their Thanksgiving and ours. Anytime you can take in an extra holiday, go for it. I’ll lift my glass to that.

I love thinking about what’s good in America today. Truce time. This is a season we can put down our swords, our battering rams, our regional differences, our red state/blue state “state of mind” and celebrate our common heritage. Like all heritages there are hills and valleys.

Those Puritans were a bunch of somber folks. During the decade they controlled England, they shut down all the theaters. They equated going to see Shakespeare with going to a house of ill repute.

So the first thing I’ll raise my glass to is being thankful for freedom. If your average Pilgrim doesn’t want to go to movies, that’s their choice, but don’t impose that on me.

And don’t impose your religion on me either. We live in a multicultural, multiracial, multigenerational society where most of the time most of us get along just fine. I’m thankful for that, too.

My grandfather on one side took his young bride, both at the age of 18, and left Poland to settle in Chicago — never to talk or see to their parents again. They had 6 kids five girls and my dad living in a 2 bedroom apartment with one bathroom. They worked hard, he was a leatherworker who helped the milkman deliver milk and handed out towels to men in the men’s room at a fancy downtown hotel.

They flourished. It was an all-in proposition. With just a few shekels in their pockets, they didn’t know what they were getting into. I’m thankful they took the plunge. If they didn’t, they would likely have perished in the Holocaust.

My other grandparents left England for economic freedom. They couldn’t make a living so they, too, jumped on the boat — also never to see or talk to their parents again. They had three girls – he worked with leather and furs making all sorts of coats. Took the plunge. I’m thankful they did or mom wouldn’t have met my dad in the Chicago melting pot. I’ll raise my glass again.

Now here’s one to ponder: being thankful for technology. I’m not strictly talking about the ubiquitous computers, cell phones and everything else, although I am generally thankful for all that. Not only can I access scholarly texts but I can now be a master of trivia by Googling. But here I’m talking about medical technology.

We area living longer than ever, healthier than ever, more robustly than ever with fewer infants dying, in large part because of good maternal health care and childhood immunizations. More women and infants in Sweden in the 1950s died in childbirth and infancy than moms and kids in Rwanda today. If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.

I do believe in miracles. Modern medicine, modern health care, clean smoke-free air and good, nutritious, healthy food — all the modern inventions and society changes, such as no smoking in public places. I’m thankful for that.

But I saved the last and most special thanks for my friends and family. For those of us fortunate enough to have a family, be it parents, grandparents, kids, grandkids or just a social circle of friends, this is what makes life rich.

This is part luck, although I do think you make most of your own good luck. It’s also part mentoring, by those parents and elders who showed you the way. And it’s part what you do to bring people together. There is always chance, as my mom would say with the caveat, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

This is what we celebrate in this season.

I have eaten incredible food in my life from some of the finest restaurants around. I ate in a five-star restaurant in New York years ago. And, honestly, I was disappointed. The food, although good, was not over the top, gee-whiz amazing.

I discussed this with my good friend Nancy, a cookbook editor and food critic of renown. Her response, “Food is only so good. Who were you with?”

Well, I was on a project with a bunch of people who I didn’t know and, frankly, who were not Wisconsin nice. Nancy’s answer was right. Food is only so good.

But holiday food is the yummiest of the yummiest. From the turkey and giblet gravy to my Aunt Myrtle’s cranberry relish, from the creamed spinach (which is more cream than spinach) to the pumpkin pie — my mouth waters just to think of it.

So, with that, I lift my glass high and toast my friends and family and you, my loyal readers, wishing you the best of times during this season. And stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.


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