Thanksgiving is a holiday with a complicated historical past but in recent times has come to be about family, friends, and delicious food! Of course, many people do not enjoy Thanksgiving, for reasons ranging from tricky relationships with the people in their lives, a work schedule that does not allow for celebrations, and/or lack of enjoyment of the festive spread of traditional turkey, stuffing, yams, and pumpkin pie. What do we all have in common? The opportunity to use Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on the things we appreciate about our lives and the potential to share that gratitude with those around us! The following are 5 ways that you can help put the “thanks” into Thanksgiving.
1. Create a gratitude tree or wreath. Expressing thanks is incredibly powerful and shifts the focus of the day onto gratitude and love. There are numerous DIY instructions on various webpages as well as pre-made kits you can purchase at stores like Target and Michaels. Short on cash or not the DIY type? Leave out pieces of paper for guests to write down what they’re grateful for and have them place them in a vase or bowl. Consider reading each comment aloud towards the end of the meal or before everyone leaves for the evening. You might also consider walking around doing quick video-recorded interviews where people can share aloud what they are thankful for. Again, you might watch this video at the end of the evening or save it for next year (see #5!).
2. Value time with loved ones. Many people lose track of the gift of being surrounded by family and friends on Thanksgiving. It’s easy to forget that it’s a privilege to loved ones and to be able to spend time with them. Rather than rushing to escape that conversation with your nosey great aunt or precocious young cousin, try to be present in your relationships and use active listening skills in these conversations. Do your best to remain patient with those family and friends who may rub you the wrong way or that you simply do not get along with. You never know how these relationships may shift and change over the years or when you may lose the opportunity to spend time together. Listening closely may make these individuals feel more likeable to you or help you relate to them in ways you haven’t before. Bonus: listening closely may also give you great clues for holiday gifts your loved ones will cherish deeply. Spending time at work or alone this holiday? Do your best to implement active listening skills with your co-workers or fellow human beings that you encounter in the world.
3. Build and deepen connections. Many of us do not have the privilege of spending Thanksgiving with our loved ones (or anyone, for that matter). Finding ways to bridge that gap can act as a touching way of bringing you together with loved ones that distance or scheduling does not permit a lot (or any) physical contact with. My favorite way to reach out is through a handmade card through the mail. When our mailbox is often full of bills, shopping ads, and other impersonal materials, it’s an incredibly special and thoughtful treat to receive a handmade card with a note inside! Don’t have the time or energy to create your own card or even find a stamp? Send a digital card, an email, or even a text message! No matter which method you choose, letting people know that you care and that they are in your thoughts is a powerful way to build connections, even across a far distance.
4. Engage in acts of kindness. There are limitless ways you can be of service to others this holiday season (and throughout the year) and one of the most powerful ways to reflect on our own gifts is to use them to help support or bring caring into other people’s lives. Volunteer at a soup kitchen; send a care package to soldiers stationed overseas; raise money for a meaningful charity; buy the person behind you in line their coffee, breakfast, or gas; use the long weekend to sort through your clothing, food, and household items and donate them to a nearby shelter, food bank, or charity organization; and/or help the person hosting Thanksgiving with their clean-up duties. Do your best to serve as a reminder that kindness exists in the world. There’s no better way to spread the holiday spirit than through thoughtfulness and generosity!