Back in elementary school I was taught that Thanksgiving has its origin in the Pilgrims. After settling in the New World, they came together to celebrate a good harvest in thanksgiving. Historians like to argue about whether or not this is true, but they’re academics, and that’s what academics like to do (except for mathematicians; we just like to point out the flaws in other’s arguments). Regardless, we will go with this elementary school version so I have the following to write.
1. Show thanks through celebration.
Have you ever thought about the fact that they expressed thanks for a good harvest by having a feast. This shines an interesting light on gratitude: we show gratitude by living in/with/by/for the thing/person we are grateful for. Saying “thank you” is not an expression of gratitude for food, eating and enjoying it is. Saying “thank you” is not an expression of gratitude for friendship, living life with another and enjoying it is. Etc.
2. Celebrate life.
When the Pilgrims traveled to the New World, a lot of them contracted disease and died. At this first Thanksgiving, they weren’t only thankful for a good harvest; they were also thankful to be alive to eat it. The ever lengthening life expectancy has us feeling less and less threatened by death, but life is a blessing. This Thanksgiving give pause to the fact that you are alive. Then look around you and be thankful for the lives of those around you as well.
3. Invite others to your celebration.
The pictures I remember from elementary school always had a few Native Americans in them. Let’s open up our Thanksgiving celebration to others. Let’s show gratitude for the blessing in our lives by being blessings in the lives of others. The spirit of gratitude is not a closed fist but an opened hand.
4. Be with the people you’re with.
I’m thinking that this was not as much of a problem for the Pilgrims as it is for us. Technology has made it possible for us to have digital connection with people around the world. All too often this is done at the cost of being present with the people you are in the same room with. This Thanksgiving as you meet up with friends and family, put the devices away, look them in their real eyes, and say, “I’m thankful you are a part of my life.”
5. Exercise freedom of religion.
The Pilgrims traveled to this New World in the hopes of religious freedom. And that dream lives on in the fabric of our nation. However, we are still learning the lesson of the paradox of religious freedom: for my religious freedom to be preserved, I must allow for the religious freedom of others. And this is not just about capital letter religions. A world that respects my ideas and beliefs demands that I respect your ideas and beliefs. There are no two people in the world who believe the same way. Often times getting together with family for a holiday is a reminder of this.
6. Let go of expectation.
Really I should say, “Let go of entitlement.” An attitude of entitlement is the destroyer of all gratitude. If you expect no less than a great harvest, then why offer thanks when it happens? If you are entitled to a great harvest, then the feast is indulgence, not gratitude.