“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” ~Bertrand Russell
This year I’m thankful for a national holiday that forces us to remember to be grateful for the things we so often take for granted. Try as we might to foster grateful hearts in the McLennan home, each of us inevitably forgets what an incredible luxury it is to have clean water, more than enough food to fill our bellies, a sturdy roof over our heads, and the freedom to thank God for all of it.
It’s healthy to slow down once and a while and ask ourselves why we do things the way we do them, particularly cultural traditions. I used to view Thanksgiving as nothing more than the kick-off to the Christmas season. That special Thursday in November was more about discovering Black Friday specials than reflecting on everyday blessings. Thanksgiving dinner was carb-loading preparation for a high impact shopping weekend and had little to do with recognizing the provision of the harvest and the hard-won freedom purchased by the sacrifices of early settlers.
This year our family is trying to create some new traditions, not only for Thanksgiving but also for Christmas. We want to slow down, focus more deeply on the true meaning of these special occasions, and be more intentional about how we celebrate them. Here are a few of our ideas for Thanksgiving (or anytime!) gratitude boosters:
1. Write spontaneous thank-you cards. I’ve never been good about sending thank-you notes in response to gifts I receive, but I’ve always enjoyed writing letters of appreciation. What would it mean to you to receive a note from someone for no other reason than because they wanted to thank you for being in their life, and tell you why they appreciate you? It would make my day, and I’m guessing it would make yours as well. You don’t have to be a poet to be an encouragement. Write from the heart, and your words will be a blessing.
2. Make a family appreciation leaf garland. Ask your children what they appreciate about the members of your family. The responses they give are bound to be humorous and heartwarming. Record them on fall-color paper leaf cutouts, help the kids put them to a string, and you’ve got yourself a decorative and meaningful holiday decoration.
3. Keep a blessing box. I’d love to do this year-round, only opening it on Thanksgiving Day. The key is to make a practice of gratitude. As you and your family intentionally acknowledge the blessings in your lives, jot them down on slips of paper and drop them into the box. Be creative and reflective, recording not only the big moments of victory and celebration, but also the small moments of comfort, relief, and peace. Every day holds something to be thankful for. Can you find it? I would love to have 365 slips of paper in my blessing box on Thanksgiving Day!
4. Do without. Last spring our family and some friends temporarily cut out certain luxuries in an effort to gain deeper appreciation for what we have, and recognize how monumentally different our lives are from the majority world. One week we ate only rice for dinner. Another day we went 12 hours without drinking anything (this was, surprisingly, the hardest trial for most of us!). Another time we walked a long distance with empty water jugs, filled them up and carried them home. During the rice week, our children asked repeatedly why we were only eating rice. As the week progressed, they asked more questions about how other people live, leading to some hard but important discussions about poverty and injustice. What better way to teach ourselves and our families to appreciate what we have than by doing without for a period of time?
5. Add a seat or two to your table. Do you have neighbors with no place to celebrate the holiday? Know any singles living far from family? How about foreign students? Most likely their understanding of Thanksgiving goes no deeper than turkey and family gatherings. Why not invite them to your home to celebrate this uniquely American holiday? Find out what they’re thankful for, and how blessings are celebrated in their culture. Gratitude is an international phenomenon, after all!
6. Shop early for gifts that give hope. Gifts that Give Hope, Lancaster’s alternative gift fair, takes place on Saturday November 23rd at the Farm and Home Center, offering a unique opportunity to support and learn more about some outstanding organizations. Some of our personal favorites will be there, including For More and North Star Initiative. And if you don’t live nearby, don’t worry! Search online for an alternative gift fairs near you. They’re popping up all over!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!