Happy Thanksgiving! What are you planning for this American holiday? Are you expecting a traditional festival of family, food and fun — or perhaps a day of service at a soup kitchen — or maybe an early holiday shopping expedition? Or are you perhaps expecting a dinner alone, or a day spent at work?
Just like the history of Thanksgiving, the way Americans observe the holiday is a happy myth built around a complex reality.
Many Americans still believe the popular story about grateful Pilgrims celebrating a traditional harvest festival with the Native Americans who had saved their lives. Truth is, however, that historians today question the evidence that that festival actually took place. The first official Thanksgiving holiday was 16 years after the Pilgrims’ first winter, when Massachusetts Bay Governor William Bradford ordered “a day of thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots.” The only natives present were those taken captive during the bloody raid that preceded it.
So how can we honor the meaning of the holiday in the midst of all these complexities? Let’s start by looking at the basics:
- Taking time for reflection and gratitude
- Giving the gift of yourself
- Connecting with friends and family
- Developing rituals for you and or your family
Let’s face it — no matter what you are doing this Thanksgiving, the day and the season that it launches are usually a whirl of activity! So it’s crucial, before anything else, to make sure that you are grounded and centered, physically and spiritually…and gratitude is one of the best ways I know to do so. Whether you take the first moments after you wake up to write a gratitude list, or go for a morning walk to say “thank you” to Spirit, the sun and the earth for another day, or spend meditative time considering the blessings in your life, a quiet time of thankfulness gives a positive light to everything that follows.
Once your day is sparkling with the awareness of blessings, it’s natural to want to share the joy! If you’re not hosting — or attending — a dinner, local soup kitchens are always seeking volunteers on Thanksgiving. Give of your time, energy and service, and you’ll find your soul richly rewarded in return. Or, if you’re hosting a gathering, open your doors to friends and family who are spending the holiday alone, or who have to work.
But how would you serve such a crowd? How to manage the time and money involved in serving up a turkey with all the fixings? Well, that’s the menu of the traditional Normal Rockwell dinner, but there’s no law saying that you need to buy into the mass-marketed, conventional turkeys — or that turkey needs to be the centerpiece of your feast at all! This is a festival of Giving Thanks — and while we are all thankful for the food on our tables, certainly, I suspect that we’re even more thankful for the friends and family who give love, support, challenge and fun to our days.
So let’s focus on our loved ones and be creative with the menu! Whether your guests are omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan, kosher or halal, open up the menu and invite everyone to bring their favorite dish. Do a Stone Soup Thanksgiving and invite your guests to contribute one or two ingredients each to a lavish one-pot meal. Who knows, you may wind up creating a new tradition!
After all, isn’t that what it’s all about — being thankful for the blessings we have, right here and now, not what we go into debt to buy? A friend once asked a Native American teacher about the Thanksgiving traditions of his heritage. Gently, the teacher replied, “We make every day an occasion of thanks giving.”
So I invite you to consider: how can you include your family and friends in a sharing of day-to-day gratitude, not just for this day or this season, but all year round? How can you make each day a “thank you” to all of the beings who sustain and bless your life?
As my Thanksgiving gift to you, I’d like to share the traditional Iroquois prayer of thanksgiving… which honors every blessing that every being in creation adds to our lives, and affirms that our hearts are one.