My Thanksgiving ritual
First, I sit down for a few minutes and think about some of the people I am most thankful for, and then I take the time to personally thank them.
Thanksgiving. It’s a word that often follows the word “happy” around this time of year. Emails, messages and greetings from colleagues at the office, people at parties and church all wish me a “Happy Thanksgiving.”
I would like to focus on the second word – thanksgiving – rather than the first one. Let’s think of this traditional Thursday and the holiday weekend, with time off to be with family and friends, as more than just another occasion to feel happy. Rather, let's focus on the second word. Thanksgiving means to be thankful – grateful – even in the midst of all that is happening around us in the world, and maybe despite of it. To decide to be thankful, and remember who you are thankful for, can be a spiritual practice that can take us above and beyond all those other things, such as the divisive and dangerous politics of America, that burden us. Because many of us are off from work over Thanksgiving and our children are home we have the time and opportunity to be genuinely thankful.
Being thankful, in the face of all that makes us deeply concerned, is indeed a spiritual discipline that can take us deeper, to places we might need to get to more often. Being thankful is also very personal, and is finally about relationships. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton taught us, “relationships are everything.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love turkey, and when one of my students asked me this week what my favorite Thanksgiving dish was I answered with the roast potatoes my English wife makes and my mother used to call “oven brown potatoes.” And both my sons being at home, one from college, is actually thrilling to me. We will likely watch a little football and the other kind of “football” that is really soccer at the World Cup, rooting for the Americans and the English while trying to ignore the fact that the stadiums in Qatar were built by immigrant laborers who were mercilessly used, abused, cheated and even killed.
The origins of the American holiday come from a 1621 harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe, who were willing to share their land and helped the new colonists get through the winter. Of course, the thanks from the New Englanders turned into conquest, theft of land and genocide. Justice for indigenous people hasn’t passed down over the years at Thanksgiving, but the idea of thanks has and is broadly applied to everyone now.
Now we have a holiday set aside for gratitude and thankfulness. So let's focus on that and just say “thanks.”
I will do something this year, a practice I have done for many years, that has become for me a regular spiritual discipline on Thanksgiving weekend.
First, I sit down for a few minutes and think about some of the people I am most thankful for. That always includes the most precious family members and extended family. But who are the people that I am especially grateful for this year, because of who they are or what they have done or what they exemplify for a world that truly needs what they bring to us and others? Especially, who are some of the young people that fill me with thankfulness and hope? They don’t have to be well known, but just known to me.
Then I take my little list and send each of them a note or a text or even give them a call, just to say how thankful I am for them on this Thanksgiving weekend. I am often quite surprised by how much that means to them, just to be remembered and to be told how thankful someone they know is for them. I
regularly feel touched by how touched people feel when they are told somebody else is particularly grateful for them. So try it and see if you have that same experience too, of being thankful for some other special people and then passing your thankfulness on to them. Just say thanks.
And, oh yeah, Happy Thanksgiving!
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In the interest of opening up awareness of the origions of Thanksgiving I urge you and others to read the following aeticle https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thanksgiving-myth-and-what-we-should-be-teaching-kids-180973655/
Thank you, Jim! Love to you and the whole family from us!