On this Thanksgiving Day, families typically congregate for the feast of the year. The big kids come home from college and the little kids had a ½ day of school yesterday and are off until next week. The aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins (most of whom you don’t see all that often) show up early afternoon for a celebration of food, football, and well, family.
Or at least that’s the way the ageless story is told. But, Thanksgiving is more than just about a big dinner with family relatives. It often includes those that we may not be related to but to which we are just as close. As life complicates and dynamics change, it’s those that we choose to love and be in our lives that we consider family.
We all can appreciate the importance of family regardless of how we choose to define it. But just as important is that we take the time to reflect on our lives and be grateful for what we have, no matter how big or small. That might include 20 people under one roof for a big turkey dinner but that also could mean a small meal between two friends or neighbors on a card table. Being grateful is a choice; it is a purposeful decision to not take things in life for granted.
That is what we try to teach our children. Kids need to be taught gratitude or they will learn to expect things in life with little or no effort. They will never be content with what they have and they will never feel satiated with anything in life.
12 years ago, my group of friends gathered for what was later dubbed the “The Pre-Thanksgiving Group Thanksgiving.” We decided to gather a few weeks before Thanksgiving Day so that we could celebrate as friends as many of us would be traveling out of town to visit with relatives. It began as a very humble meal at a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard where we dragged a picnic table from the yard into the living room to share a meal together using paper plates and Solo cups. We ate, drank, and laughed the afternoon away. We were young, still unmarried, and without children but we were a budding family.
From that very first year, we created a tradition of gratitude which we would eventually share with our children. Each year, we have gone around the table and announced to all for what we were grateful. There were times when we were so grateful for things in our lives that tears streamed down our faces and other times we laughed heartily at the responses. Life has its ups and downs and we all shared in that, together.
Last week we gathered for the 12th Annual Pre-Thanksgiving Group Thanksgiving. This time we had real plates, real glasses, and an actual table that was not plucked from the yard. And it now included our collective nine kids. The meal was amazing and the laughter infectious. It was a time to celebrate our children, our successes, our failures, our misfortunes, our health, and our family.
This is our tradition. And we use this day to help teach our children about the importance of traditions and purposeful gratitude. So this year, as we went around the table for the 12th time, I couldn’t help but feel the amazement and wonder of the power of friendships, tradition, and overwhelming gratitude for the people in my life. But the highlight of the day was hearing the kids express their gratitude when I asked, “what are you grateful for?”
- Ava: I’m thankful for my family.
- Zoe: Daddy (and I didn’t even bribe her on this one!) and school and recess
- Connor: Going to the beach and ice cream.
- Avery: My school. And swim class is my favorite subject.
- Ella: My house and my room that my sister is not supposed to go into.
- Sydney: For the TV
- Madison: My friends because they are always there for me and they are very fun to play with.
- Katie: My dogs.
- Paige: My house and gymnastics.
Life will surely complicate, and the answers will become more complex for these little minds, but these are the building blocks of a life filled with gratitude for the people who we choose to love and by whom to be loved.
So, no matter with whom or how you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, take a moment to ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” You just might surprise yourself.