By STEVE ERKENBRACK

Families and friends across the nation gather this week for a unique American holiday. Millions of turkeys give their all, and loved ones assemble in kitchens, dining rooms and dens, savoring the aroma of feasts and the bonhomie of shared affection. Old family recipes make their annual appearance, and blend with old family stories, tying the current generation to the feasts of our forebears.

Almost all celebrations center around dinner, and most dinners center around a turkey, but each family chooses activities to fill the day from an American smorgasbord of celebration: parades, pro football on TV, touch football in a park, taking a walk, making a run, debating (or avoiding) current events, planning upcoming holiday season logistics. This blend of a common culinary center of gravity orbited by various family traditions creates an experience that nestles deep in our souls. But any recipe for Thanksgiving will be better with three key ingredients.

Humility, the traditional ingredient

Humility is the historical underpinning of the day. The celebration originated with English colonists in Massachusetts and Virginia, after a safe passage in a small wooden boat across the North Atlantic. Nothing inspires humility and the awareness of powers beyond our control quite like cresting uncountable waves in a storm-tossed vessel, thousands of miles from a shore and thousands of feet from the bottom.

That was followed by a harvest planted in unfamiliar soil and peaceful coexistence with native peoples already settled on the land, who chose to share and teach, not repel and slay. Blessings, whether from God or nature or fellow beings, prompted the humility that underscores any thanksgiving. You don’t give thanks for things you deserve; you give thanks for things you acknowledge as gifts.

Humility may have been easier in times when food supplies came more directly from the field or the forest or the sea, without the intervening processing and pricing of a supermarket. “Consumers” then meant people who ate what they harvested, not people who spent what they earned. Hunger was a real and perennial possibility, since harvests were dependent on weather and water, and successful fishing or hunting was dependent on being in the right place at the right time with the right skill. Being closer to nature bred both humility and a keen appreciation of either luck or the largess of the Lord.

Tolerance, the transformative ingredient

Little will determine the nature of your celebration more than a commitment for tolerance. This is particularly appropriate for such an American holiday, since our nation was founded on the core principle of tolerance for different views. The right to express an opinion was enshrined as the first of our fundamental liberties in the Bill of Rights.

When I advise young people making their first trip abroad that they may be challenged to defend American political policies or cultural choices, whether they agree with them or not, I suggest beginning any response to an attack with the truism: “Many Americans agree with you.” For that sentence is accurate about any position — positive or negative — on any topic: Donald Trump, Joe Biden, climate change, racial justice, Congress, courts, Hollywood, COVID, you name it. Praise it or pillory it, you’ll have millions of Americans on your side.

We embrace this cacophony of opinion because it is the core of who we are, as reflected in our Constitution. We extend to our political adversaries the right to have their say, and, in so doing, ensure that we have the same. Surely, we can extend the same tolerance to those we invite to our Thanksgiving feast, recognizing that the common bond of celebration is not political affiliation or cultural conformity — it is affection and kindness.

Gratitude, the implicit ingredient

As important as humility and tolerance are, the key ingredient of the day is contained in the very name of the celebration. Many families will bow their heads, giving thanks for family members deployed in uniform, or relatives who survived COVID, or relatives who are no longer with us, but who left behind a raft of memories that weave together to form the fabric of a family. They will express thanks for the feast on the table and the roof over their heads, recognizing those who have neither. And they will savor the love of friends and family.

Being a uniquely American celebration, we might extend the subjects of our gratitude to the form of government we have, with particular attention to the Bill of Rights noted above. Recent events have shone a spotlight on the some of those rights that play out in courtrooms with decisions made by juries under the rule of law. Whether you are dismayed or satisfied with acquittals in Wisconsin and convictions and prison terms in Washington, D.C., you might consider the wondrous value of a system that says citizens, not politicians, determine who goes to jail, and do so guided by law, not ideology.

Each person around your holiday table enjoys those same rights, given to us by those who came before. On Thursday, may we honor that, in humility, in tolerance, in gratitude.

Steve ErkenBrack is an attorney in western Colorado, where he settled in 1979. He has served as a trial attorney, as the elected district attorney, as a health insurance CEO, and as Colorado’s chief deputy attorney general. He is currently Of Counsel at Hoskin, Farina & Kampf in Grand Junction.