In the United States, fall marks a trifecta of holidays that snowball, picking up speed as they carry us,—often chaotically—from October through the New Year. The party starts with the distinctly non-religious (some would say pagan) celebration of Halloween; progresses to the spiritually inclusive embracing of gratitude that is Thanksgiving; and culminates in various religious observances ranging from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanza. Sadly, long before we reach Thanksgiving day, we are already being bombarded with commercial messages regarding the season to come, and a true sense of gratitude gets lost in the shuffle.
So how to we avoid succumbing to this all-pervasive seasonal commercialism? Here are some ideas for putting the thanks back in your family's Thanksgiving celebration this year:
It sounds obvious. Too simple. But to cultivate a sense of gratitude, we must actually take time at our meal to give thanks. A pre-meal blessing is a good start, but why not take it a step further and have everyone around your Thanksgiving table share a blessing they are particularly grateful for this year? If your crowd needs some prompting, pass a basket filled with slips of paper that ask each person to recall either a friend, a family member, a place, an opportunity, a trip, a meal, a relationship, etc. that has brought them joy during the past year. This little nudge may get the gratitude ball rolling, and before you know it your gathering will be filled with the real spirit of Thanksgiving.
ONE HOLIDAY AT A TIME
Don't short circuit the attitude of gratitude you cultivate on Thanksgiving day by diving into preparations for the next holiday right away. Give your self some breathing room. Be mindful about moving from one holiday to the next and about creating space between the two. Holiday magic is lost if we are in perpetual celebratory mode from October through the New Year. The deeper significance of each commemoration is sublimated if they are dragged out and run together. So instead of obsessing about what picture to put on your Christmas card the minute the turkey leftovers are in the fridge, try staying in the Thanksgiving spirit at least through the entire day. A post-meal walk with family and friends is a great way to revel in the beautiful fall weather and work off some of that delicious meal you all enjoyed.
BOYCOTT BLACK FRIDAY
And when you wake up the next morning, commit to boycotting Black Friday. One concrete way to establish a boundary between Thanksgiving and your next holiday celebration (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc.) is to eschew this retail-centric tradition. That's right. No matter how tempting the sales. How amazing the deals. Make a pact with yourself (and family and friends if they are on a similar path) to stay home the day after Thanksgiving. Remember those blessings you talked about around the table the day before. Build a fire. Play board games. Watch football. Do anything but turn your spiritual celebration into a material quest.
Too often we feel swept up by forces outside ourselves during this busy time of your. Our head is filled with more "must do" items than will fit on a one-page to-do list. In reality, there is very little that we must do to make this season special for ourselves, our friends and our family. By focusing on keeping things simple and taking it slow, we can return to our Thanksgiving roots, established by Native Americans and colonists, of coming together, sharing what we have and giving thanks.