A Month of Thankfulness

Debbie Vallandingham, LMSW-ASCW Bereavement Manger

November 20, 2020

As the little ghouls and goblins of October fade into the shadows, we turn our thoughts towards the upcoming holidays.  Thanksgiving is going to look different this year.  Gatherings may be smaller or may be virtual.  Many families are following the recommendation to only gather with people inside their immediate households.  Even if you’re still planning on joining friends or family (and this year it’s more important than EVER to put time into the holiday planning process), it’s worth taking the time to think about November’s biggest holiday and how to spend a month full of thankfulness.

The Not-So-Accurate History of Thanksgiving

As the story goes, in 1621, the Pilgrims invited the local Native Americans to their home in Plymouth Colony to celebrate their very first harvest.  Classic images of this first celebration show turkeys, pumpkin pies, sweet potatoes and cranberries.  But as history would suggest, it probably didn’t happen that way.  After all, it would be years before Redi-Whip was available and sweet potatoes were not yet known to the colonists. So, what is the truth about Thanksgiving and what should we be reflecting on during this holiday?

In the 1800’s, a poet and magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale read about the 1621 feast.  A patriotic woman of her time, she was passionate about making Thanksgiving a holiday.  She published recipes for turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie in her magazine.  Then, she started lobbying President Abraham Lincoln.  In 1863, she succeeded and he set Thanksgiving as an official holiday to be celebrated every fourth Thursday of November.  Almost 80 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November to provide one extra week of Christmas shopping.  Opposition flooded in and early Thanksgiving lasted for only two years!

Why Give Thanks?

As a food holiday, many of us enjoy celebrating the bounty of the harvest: pie, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and turkey (or even tofurky).  Another tradition, beyond the food and the parades, is to express gratitude for the benefits we find in life.  This idea of giving thanks is centuries old, but in 1789, President George Washington reflected that “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God … to be grateful for his benefits … acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors” given to the people. 

But it’s more than even George Washington could have imagined.  Giving thanks and expressing gratitude is good for you!  Studies show that expressing gratitude regularly can decrease blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and even improve your sleep.  So, let’s move beyond just Thanksgiving.  Let’s aim for a month of thankfulness to make an attitude of gratitude a habit!

Let’s Be Thankful For…

Family.  Even if we won’t see them in person, we can express gratitude for those who are in our lives today and those loved ones who are no longer with us but made an impact on us.  And don’t forget our furry family members when reminiscing on those we love.

Friends.  Often, friends are as near and dear to our hearts as our own family.  November is a time to reflect on all of our relationships – past and present – and the role our companions play in making our days better.

Fall Flowers.  Spring and summer usually bring pops of pink and lavender.  But it’s the fall season that provides the deep rich colors of rust and burgundy mums and the hearty yellow and brown color of sunflowers.  November allows us to be thankful for the beauty at the end of the growing season with vibrant tones that will stay in our memories all winter long.

Early Evenings By the time Thanksgiving arrives, we are deep in the longer nights and shorter days.  We can be thankful of the chance to pop some popcorn, turn on a favorite movie and cuddle up under a cozy blanket as we remember the fun of fall evenings.

Scarves and Mittens.  As we move into the colder days, we can be thankful for cozy sweaters and even the scarves and mittens that show our own unique style.

Although it may feel dark with the sun setting earlier, there are so many reasons to be thankful every day.  It may be a smile from a stranger, hidden behind a mask but seen in his or her gleaming eyes.  It can be an appreciation for our frontline heroes who are there to support our emotional and physical health or to bring us groceries or to prepare meals at restaurants.  It could be the giggle of a grandchild or even the smell of roast turkey. 

Embrace Gratitude

With COVID-19, many people feel more isolated and alone.  With more time to ourselves, there is no better opportunity to reflect on the blessings in our lives.  Don’t forget, this time is only a snapshot in life.  We will make it through the pandemic and gather again for holiday dinners and celebrations.  Until then, remembering the good times in life and the things we are thankful for will help get us through.  So, take the time and embrace an attitude of gratitude!

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