When I was growing up, the US holiday of Thanksgiving was surrounded by a lovely legend of two different types of people coming together for survival in a harsh winter. It was a tale of mutual respect. In this tale, the Pilgrims didn’t try convert the indigenous people, but learned from them. The Wampanoag tribe didn’t challenge the strangers in their land, but befriended them. It’s a lovely tale, and George Washington signed in a national holiday around it.
Historians challenge this tale and there is now a lot of controversy. The real story is not as simple or as nice as the one we get in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. It’s filled with all the complications and ugliness that seems to be present in any time we look at the real events and actions of our ancestors rather than the legend.
Added to that are the gatherings of families, with all their own imperfections and oppositions. As I write this, I am visiting my family, where I hover somewhere on the edge of being a perpetual 16-year-old. It takes a strong force of will to be my own man in this environment, and most of it is actually in my own head. Others deal with major clashes in areas of politics, religion, sexuality, work ethics, and pretty much every other possible way to differ. Why don’t we just call the whole thing off?
And, yet, I think there is something truly valuable in having a holiday that is focused on giving thanks.
“But, why? We can give thanks any time we want! We don’t need some sort of national order to tell us to be thankful.
This is true. We don’t need a specific holiday to make us thankful. In fact, articles, such as this one published by the Harvard Medical School, say that a regular regimen of gratitude has enormous benefits to our psychology and well-being. Furthermore, there is evidence, like what is referenced in this Forbes article, that suggest we shouldn’t wait for things to turn out well to begin expressing our gratitude. We can, and should, be giving thanks every day.
For that matter, we don’t really need the wheel of the year. We don’t need a Yule festival to think of the light returning, renewal, and resurrection. We don’t need a Dia de las Muertos to think of our ancestors and to connect with their essence. We don’t need a New Year celebration to make resolutions for change. We can do these every day. Nevertheless, these traditional points in time cause us to reflect on these areas of our life. We get to put extra effort and focus into the idea. If it’s something that we’re not doing so well, it gives a target for making improvements. It’s a time for a do-over. We can dedicate ourselves to doing better from this point forward, and the traditions help us to focus our intent. The legends surrounding these holidays also help instruct us about how to embrace and act on the ideas we want to improve, even if they are apocryphal.
So far, I’ve done a good job of not talking too much about politics and lifestyle choices at my family gathering. I also notice that, personally, I need to up my gratitude game and will use this day to propel me into better habits. Here are things I’m going to start doing. Feel free to steal.
- I will be sending out a load of hand-written Thank You cards next week, some of which are way overdue. I don’t think there’s a statute of limitations on thanking people, though.
- I’m going to start a ritual of gratitude. Many suggest a journal, and that might be a good idea. I will certainly begin a sort of meditation or devotional to reflect on things for which I am thankful.
- I’m going to be more proactive with my gratitude, being thankful for the opportunity for success, whether or not the conclusion is known. How many people never dare? How many people are unable or unwilling to try? That I am on my chosen path at all is worth some gratitude.
- I’m going to work harder on finding ways to let people in my life know that I am grateful for them. I am going to work harder to let them know that I see them.
I am grateful to you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I am grateful to you for your support on my path. I am grateful for living in a time where our minds can meet, no matter who or where we are.
I hope that you find your own way to renewed and robust gratitude going forward. If the prominent legends and icons that surround the holiday are trouble for you, select your own and apply them. You don’t have to raise up the ideas that you don’t agree with
—but you will benefit from a day focused on thanks, which will lead you more and more to being truly thankful every day. We’ll see those results evolve as we achieve it together.