Daydreaming on Paper
 
November 2001
Thanksgiving
 

thanks·giv·ing
1 a) the act of giving thanks b)an expression of this; esp., a formal, often public, expression of thanks to God in the form of a prayer, etc.
2 [T-] a) an annual U.S. holiday observed on the fourth Thursday of November as a day of giving thanks and feasting: it commemorates the Pilgrims' celebration of the good harvest of 1621 b) a similar Canadian holiday on the second Monday of October: in full Thanksgiving Day

There is actually some minor historical dispute concerning which was the true "first" American Thanksgiving. Some trace the holiday's roots all the way back to 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida as a shared feast between the Conquistadors and the Native Americans. Others say that it took place along the James River in Virginia in 1619. The traditional origin of the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it today is the feast at Plymouth in 1621. Any school-aged child can tell you the story of General Bradford and Massasoit, the Pilgrims, and the "Indians" fellowshipping over roasted turkey.

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter which of these events is the real predecessor of the modern celebration. They all have two remarkable characteristics in common: 1) each feast was made possible by generosity of spirit among people of two cultures that had absolutely nothing in common; and, 2) the purpose of each feast was to provide a pause from daily labor in which to reflect upon and give thanks for life's bounty and blessings. This is the true gift of Thanksgiving.

Fisher quote
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Nearly every culture on Earth has or has had some kind of thanksgiving celebration. People have always celebrated the earth's bounties and given thanks to a Supreme Being for enabling it. It is important that all of us continue this tradition of appreciation. Through journal-keeping, it can be extended to every day of the year. We can all benefit from taking a few minutes to reflect on what we have, whether those things be material or intangible; big or small; deserved or undeserved. This practice will not only help us to appreciate our gifts, but can also help us to learn compassion. Life is hard sometimes. If we try to imagine living it without some of the gifts that we take for granted, perhaps we will be moved to take action to help those who live it that way everyday.

Sarah van Breathnach has done a lot to spread the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. The basic idea is to list at least five things for which you are grateful every day. I believe that a gratitude inventory is only the first step. Listing leads to appreciation, and appreciation leads to thanksgiving. True thanks is given by word and by deed. Through a simple journal exercise, we can explore ways to live our lives with gratitude. We can learn to savor and enjoy the things that truly make us happy; and, we can learn to treat these things with the respect that they deserve. From there, we can learn to share our blessings with other people. Then, the spirit of Thanksgiving will have come full circle.

Iroquois quote
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What are you thankful for? Get into the habit of answering this question every day. Make a list, and be sure to write down why you are thankful for each item. Next, choose one or two items from your list to expand into a journal entry. Spend a few minutes thinking about the following questions - Are you truly thankful for these things? Do you show appreciation for them? How? - and explore the answers on paper. To get you started, here are a few questions to ponder in your journal. When sitting around the Thanksgiving table, most people list their health, their family and friends, or their jobs as the things for which they are most thankful. Of course, they are also thankful for the food. The prompts below address these specific themes.

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Are you thankful for your family and friends? How much time do you spend with them each day? In what ways do they enrich your life? Do you tell them how you feel about them? Do you show them? What would your life be like without them? Has there ever been a time in your life when you had neither family nor friends (literally or figuratively)? How did it feel? What did you do?

Are you thankful for your health? Do you actively work to improve and maintain your health, or do you take it for granted? Have you ever received a wake-up call from your body? What was it trying to tell you? How did you react? Have you ever had an illness, injury, or accident that incapacitated you? How did you feel? What did you learn from it? Is there anything about the experience that you can be thankful for?

Are you thankful for your job? Is it your life's work, or is it a source of income? What does this income allow you to do? How does it enrich your life? Are you happy? Do you show up for work on time? Do you walk in smiling or scowling? Do you consistently do your job to the best of your ability? Have you ever been denied the opportunity to work? How did you feel about that? How did that experience influence your current attitude about work?

Are you thankful for the food? Do you take the time to enjoy it, or do you scarf it down? Do you take a few moments to consider where it came from or what processes took place in order to get it onto your plate? Do you show appreciation to the cook or cooks who worked hard to put it all together? What was your contribution to the table (edible or non-edible)? Do you appreciate dirty dishes (no, that is not a trick question)? Have you ever known real hunger? What would your life be like if you did not have enough food?

What are you thankful for? Why? In what ways do you give thanks? To whom are you giving thanks? Why?

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Psalm quote
Click here to read the entire quote.

For the first few weeks after you begin doing this exercise, concentrate primarily on making your lists. Write down the first five (or ten, or twenty) things that come to your mind, whether they be serious or playful in nature. In other words, it's ok to be thankful for both the car that got you home safely to spend the holidays with your family and the Blockbuster that stays open until midnight so that you can get videos to watch when you've all been together a wee bit too long. At this point, your motive and benefit is simply awareness. You are cataloging your gifts as a means of realizing how many you have. As the habit forms and you become more aware of all the good things in your life, begin to expand the focus of the exercise outward. Begin to ask yourself...

How can I share my blessings with others?

What is your bounty? In what areas does your cup run over? What can you bring to the figurative Thanksgiving table?

Generosity was the key to those three historical Thanksgiving meals. It took mutual sharing and benevolence (however brief) on both sides to make those dinners work - to make them the feasts that got recorded in the history books. Through our journal explorations, we can foster this same generous spirit in ourselves. We can discover new ways to give. We can enjoy the company of our friends and family members while entertaining elderly people in nursing homes. We can use our good health to walk dogs at animal shelters or to coach little league teams. Each item on our gratitude lists can be shared with others. We can honor our gifts by giving each other new things to be thankful for.

Decide today to begin using your journal as a tool in the expression of thanks. Greet each day with a grateful heart. Live each moment in deep appreciation. Count your blessings; you've got more than enough to share.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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© 2001 Dawn R. Vinson. All Rights Reserved.