Written by: Charneise Alston, M.Ed
As a child, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday because what could possibly be better than a holiday based on gratitude and eating? As a family oriented young girl, this special time of the year allowed for me to eat until my heart’s content, have meaningful dialogue, and share memorable laughs with my loved ones which would forever remain in my mental Rolodex. However, as I matured and became more versed in American History, I quickly became appalled by the actual tragedies beneath the veneer of Thanksgiving. I would be remiss to not acknowledge the historical context of Thanksgiving which reveals much disgrace. Professor and journalist Robert Jensen reminds us that, in 1637 Massachusetts Bay Colony governor, John Winthrop “was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children” – a gory annihilation that would “repeat itself across the continent until about ninety-five percent of American Indians had been exterminated.” And just like that, my childhood ignorance was now replaced with truth and Thanksgiving no longer carried those warm and fuzzy, comforting feelings. Instead, I became more empathetic to the hurt and grief of others during the holidays.
From reading the title of this blog, I understand if my introduction was a surprising damper. However, sometimes we lose sight of the sorrows that surround the holidays for many people. We gloss over the hurt that affects other cultures and dismiss the pain of our fellow citizens. Also, since the cornerstone of Thanksgiving is family, this holiday is an aching reminder of the absence of loved ones. For some, the holidays are hard to endure because of the long-distance that prevents one from enjoying the company of family members. For others, the waves of grief become too strong to resist and many find themselves drowning in bereavement. As a counselor, I am keenly aware of how this time of the year can be burdensome for many.
I wanted to redefine this time of the year and create a meaningful day which reflects a lifestyle of gratitude. Hence, I coined the phrase Thanksliving. It is my true aspiration to be thankful for everything that I am fortunate to have: good health, a loving family, wonderful friends, a great career, and my gift of writing. The older that I become, I realize just how wealthy I am in true riches. Instead of complaining about what I do not have, I deliberately focus on what is in my reach. As a society, we sometimes tend to over-consume and seek happiness in possessions which always fall short of true fulfillment.
Thanksliving honors the life I am blessed to live. No, I do not lead a perfect life and I absolutely could write out a laundry list of areas that need improvement. However, life is too short to focus on my lack. So, I have evolved into a grateful woman who values thoughtfulness. I do not need lavish gifts and grand gestures to bring me joy. On the contrary, it’s the simplest pleasures which keep my heart content.
Each day that we arise to see a new morning, we have yet another opportunity to show our gratitude. In our service to others, we extend grace. The holiday season should not be the only time that provokes good deeds. When was the last time you helped a complete stranger? Random acts of kindness should not be periodic. I encourage you to help others according to your means: cook a meal, offer a ride, make a phone call, etc.
One of the biggest obstacles that interfere with holiday cheer is unforgiveness. The holidays are commonly celebrated amongst family and many times holding onto grudges fester our spirits. It is time to forgive to reclaim your freedom. There is no profit in being tied down to weights that prevent growth. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to forget, that’s unrealistic. The emotional pain caused by certain people is not always insignificant. However, there is a brighter future on the other side of your ability to let go.
Good vibes are contagious. Keep your energy vibrant and positive. Do not allow others to hinder your ability to radiate joy. Let your smile beam with gratitude. Walk in confidence knowing that all storms will eventually pass. If you are in a rut and feel hopeless, allow for this time of the year to reignite the embers of thankfulness. Get in control of your mood by setting the atmosphere.
If you miss a deceased loved one, honor their life by lighting a candle, setting a place at the table, watching his/her favorite movie, or playing his/her favorite song. My grandfather would sit at the head of the table, eat, share a few jokes, and go into the living room to watch sports. I am not the biggest sports fan but I do leave the game on during my Thanksliving dinner because it recreates the nostalgic memory of my grandfather.
Life is meant to be lived. Unfortunately, my mother who is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis has been ill for the past five Thanksliving and Christmas dinners. Now, as the holidays approach I find myself experiencing slight anxiety because I am hoping to not spend yet another holiday in a hospital. Caring for aging relatives is hard and can be extremely tough during the holidays. Regardless, I will bring my holiday cheer to comfort her in any environment. When I walk through the hallways of nursing homes and hospitals, I am reminded about the importance of human connection.
Companionship is very comforting during this time of the year. I like to bring a plate of food to my neighbor who is a widow every Thanksliving. Some people are overwhelmed with loneliness and a mere phone call can bring happiness. Make your presence felt in someone’s life this holiday season.
For me, Thanksliving is a time to openly reflect and express my gratitude amongst family. Over the years, I created a tradition in my home for my daughter and I to give large bags of clothes to our local Goodwill every Thanksliving. Since I am traveling to Africa next week, our donated clothes will go directly to a Kenyan orphanage. It is my goal as a parent to foster gratitude in my daughter’s heart. Even as a toddler, my daughter’s compassion for others is one of her greatest qualities and for that I am truly thankful.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”