I was on day one of quarantine when I heard Ben Rector’s new release: “The Thanksgiving Song.”
I’ve always been a fan. He was Tulsa born and bred. And while I’m not an Oklahoma native, I was neighbors with him for a time. He lived down the street from my childhood home, and we went to the same school. Too bad I was only a first grader when he was around. I probably would’ve loved for the cutest music boy in school to ask for my number.
Turns out the junior with the guitar would become everyone else’s favorite, too. Though the Chicago Tribune coined him as the guy who “knows you’ve probably never heard of him” in 2017, people have figured him out since then. Seven studio albums later, Ben Rector hit the top 10 in the Billboard 200 with his album, “Brand New,” and topped the Billboard American/Folk as number one with his “Magic” album. He’s a mix of pop and folk with a hint of nostalgia — and people love it.
In the words of Matt Bjorke from Rough Stock, “Ben Rector writes and sings songs that dance in your ears while the lyrics go straight to your heart.”
“The Thanksgiving Song” is one of those songs.
And in a year when so much has changed, Rector reminds us of the things that haven’t. As he writes in the opening lyrics, “Funny how this all looks different, but it feels the same / Like our lives never stop changing / Some things never change.”
Soft piano chords start off the song, which is typical Ben Rector. It’s a simple ballad that tells a simple story: Thanksgiving is here again, and it’s a holiday that in many ways reminds us of both the consistencies and the changes in our lives — and those changes in the world around us.
Though the leaves have “turned brown,” they line a “familiar highway.” Seasons change, but many times, the drive home doesn’t. For Rector, that’s something to be thankful for. More lyrics reminisce on familiar changes: “The old kids table all have kids of their own / Starting to see my grandfather in my nephew’s eyes / Mom still can’t talk about him and not almost cry.”
For Rector, Thanksgiving is a time where the past, present, and future come together. His late grandfather lives through his nephew; the kids’ table is still around, but it’s filled with new — and younger — family members. Timelessness and Thanksgiving dwell together.
The beat picks up, the chorus kicks in, and Ben Rector extends an invitation: “So fill your plates and fill your drinks and fill this house with family / The kind of love that all these years can’t wash away / The older that I get I see that life is short and bittersweet / Thank God for this Thanksgiving Day.”
Many of us experienced changes this year. The class of 2020 couldn’t finish their final semester. I have friends who couldn’t say goodbye to their grandparents because of hospital restrictions. A lot of us aren’t going home for Thanksgiving. The list could go on.
But Thanksgiving is still happening.
The very existence of a “Thanksgiving Song” reminds us of a poignant truth: We aren’t at Christmas yet, but Thanksgiving is here, and that’s reason enough to celebrate the comforting familiarity that hasn’t gone by the wayside.
Thanksgiving this year is a milestone — and a pandemic is no match for its permanence, significance, and familiarity.
Maybe that’s what Rector was getting at. Of course, each Thanksgiving will be different. Time passes, people change, and every moment that we live is uniquely and distinctly beautiful. But we should savor the steadfast beauty and comfort that come with yearly holidays.
I’m typically one to reject the superficial aspects of holidays, and frankly, Thanksgiving is something I don’t usually think twice about. It’s the week where I find a friend to go home with and eat good food. This year is different. It’s now a time to revel in the familiar holiday we celebrated last year, and though things might not be normal, there’s purpose in resting in a timeless pillar rooted in family, faith, and the blessings we often forget to remember.
In an interview with the Oklahoman, Rector said, “When the song came together … I was like, ‘Man, what if this could become like THE Thanksgiving song?’”
Maybe it will, and that might just be because he chooses to see “the longest year in history” (as he coined it) as an invitation to abound in gratefulness for the things that haven’t changed.
A few days after the “Thanksgiving Song,” Rector released some new Christmas songs. Maybe after you’ve listened to this one, you can listen to those, too. Just wait until the day after Thanksgiving.