Ever since childhood, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. It is true that most passions take hold during our childhoods. My mother was not a gourmet cook, nor was she someone who was particularly eager for celebration, yet once a year she vowed to celebrate Thanksgiving. Now, as a parent of three adult children, I see that I was inspired by her role model and holding Thanksgiving as my most cherished holiday. What can be so bad about a holiday that celebrates gratitude and focuses on good food and conversation without the unnecessary addition of materialistic offerings? While the other seasonal holidays focus on gifts, the gifts we share at Thanksgiving are our company, our conversation, and the simple joys of sharing.
Historically, Thanksgiving is both an American and Canadian holiday. Its origins lie in giving thanks for the harvest of the previous year. Interestingly enough, both countries have similar and dissimilar reasons for the annual celebration. In Canada, there seems to be two origins for the celebration. Supposedly, explorer Frobisher coined the holiday in the 1500s, as a way of being thankful for having found a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean. The early French settlers in Canada, in the 1600s, began the celebration as a way to give thanks for a successful harvest.
In the United States, the tradition is traced back to the 1600s and the Pilgrims’ celebration of their first successful harvest in 1621. Similar celebrations were held throughout the Colonies. The last Thursday in November was proclaimed a national holiday in 1863 and Thanksgiving has been celebrated ever since.
My childhood passion for Thanksgiving included the classic Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple pies. A special treat featured on our Thanksgiving Day table was a chocolate turkey, usually wrapped in aluminum foil and painted with orange and black to resemble a turkey. The reward for finishing our dinner was being able to unwrap the turkey for the hollow chocolate which we gobbled down as quickly as we had the delicious meal.
The build up to Thanksgiving Day usually began in school the week before, when we were instructed to craft Thanksgiving cards for our families. These cards typically included sentiments to express gratitude to family and the universe. Even if home life was stressful, at the end of the day there were always at least one or two things to be thankful for. In addition, we made a habit of offering some universal thanks, for the food on our plates.
For many years, the tradition in my own family was that, the day before Thanksgiving we’d take my children to the homeless shelters where people often lined up from early in the morning for a special Thanksgiving feast. We would all serve them meals—some of us involved in food preparation, others, actually serving to the guests. I remember how my children were amazed at the cross-section of individuals in our Orlando community—from articulate businessmen in suits to illiterate alcoholics. There were no stereotypes. There are no economic or class boundaries to suffering and poverty. It gave us pleasure to see this gathering of unfortunate individuals and to bring a smile to their faces for a few hours.
I’ve always viewed Thanksgiving as a good time to pause, reflect and connect with loved ones or others who play a significant role in our lives. Even as a journaling advocate and instructor, each November, I habitually focus on gratitude journaling. Typically, this includes list-making. It is a good habit to adopt and to be able to look back on those entries as a way to offer a perspective on our lives. Now that my kids are in their 30s and seem to have less time for journaling, this year I will try a new exercise. At the dinner table, we are going to pick an “Appreciation Chair.” Each person will take a turn sitting in it. When they are seated in that chair, everyone else at the table will write what it is they appreciate about that person. Each person will collect the papers for safe-keeping. I read about this exercise having long-term affects. One mother said that this list was found in her son’s pocket after he had died on the battlefield during war. Supposedly, it gave him strength and power over the course of many years and served as an ongoing reminder of all his goodness. It is understandable how this could be a good pick-me-up during turbulent times.
Recently I attended Jack Kornfield's seminar in Arizona and read his wonderful book, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace which discusses the transformative aspects of loving kindness and gratitude. Highly recommended for this time of year.
Here are some good measures to keep in mind for Thanksgiving:
• Make a list of all you are thankful for, such as people who have changed your life, trips you have taken and skills you have.
• Turn off your cell phone as a way of showing appreciation for those who you are with on this day.
• Continue your workout routine or try doing something with your guests, like a walk, hike, and/or swim.
• Make a list of whom and what you are grateful for; your accomplishments during the past year; the highlights of 2014 and what might be your goals to be met before next Thanksgiving.
• Above all, cultivate an attitude of gratitude, not just on Thanksgiving, but each and every day!