Sometimes in the commercialization of the holidays we forget the sentiments that underlie the season. When all we see are turkeys and tables brimming with food and fall decorations, it can be easy to forget that a thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude. While in the U.S. this holiday commemorates a harvest festival, days of thanksgiving are common all around the world and celebrated in Canada, Liberia, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Granada, and there are even holidays with similar meanings in Germany and Japan.

Being Thankful. Giving Thanks.

In our country, many of us have a lot to be thankful for. Whether we appreciate the communication technology that allows us to work from home some days or makes it easy to keep in touch with friends around the globe, or we’re just happy to have a roof over our heads and a job that helps us meet our family’s needs, there are often reasons to be grateful when we stop to think about it. Sometimes in the middle of hectic days and overwhelmed with multi-tasking, we can forget to be conscious of these positives—the support and love of family, the relief of weekends after a 40-hour work week, a safe, encouraging school environment for the kids, a comfortable place to sleep at night. Take a moment to truly ponder the question … What are you thankful for this year?

With this thankful outlook, it’s easy to find ways to give thanks, too. Below are a few ideas for sharing that “attitude of gratitude.”

Sharing the Bounty

  • Donate items or send care packages, letters, and cards to soldiers who are serving overseas, either in locations of conflict or even just on hardship tours. They are serving their country and separated from their loved ones this time of year. These types of gestures can mean a lot. Several organizations specialize in this sort of work: Operation Gratitude, the Any Soldier network, and Adopt a US Soldier (AAUSS), just to name a few.
  • Provide Thanksgiving Dinner for a family in need. There are numerous organizations that can help link people in need with those willing to help. One resource is Feeding America. You could also contact the school, your local church, or a municipal meal program; any of these might be able to facilitate this kind of opportunity.

Donating Time

Giving of your and your family’s time to make the holiday a little brighter for those who don’t have anyone to give thanks with can be a meaningful gesture for both the giver and receiver. Consider volunteering at an animal shelter and working with animals, reading to and visiting with seniors in your neighborhood or at a senior center, or inviting extra guests to join your family for dinner. This can make the holidays sweeter.

Recognizing the Impact

Whether it was a teacher that helped your child grasp a tough concept, a neighbor that found your family pet wandering the neighborhood and brought him back home, or someone that just waves at you as you’re driving past, if there are people in your life that have an impact on it, great or small, Thanksgiving is an excellent time to let them know that you appreciate them and what they do. Writing thank you notes might be “old school,” but the effort can be worth showing someone appreciation for the little things that have made a difference to you, your children, and your family. There are even studies noting that expressing gratitude is as beneficial to the one expressing it as to the one receiving.

Moment to Share:

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  • Some families begin the Thanksgiving meal with a discussion or mention of what they are thankful for this year. Why not adopt a similar concept at home, if you haven’t already? Or you could take it a step further and make your family’s thankfulness a centerpiece. If you take some sticks and place them in a vase, you have the perfect fall tree to which you can add Leaves of Thanksgiving. Each person at dinner can write something they are grateful for onto the leaf, then tie or hang it on the tree. You can limit guests to one leaf or let them fill out several. It’s a great way to visualize your and your family’s bounty.
  • Storytelling can be a way to share your and your family’s thankfulness as well as your personal and cultural history. The Great Thanksgiving Listen is an oral history project backed by StoryCorps which is inviting students to interview older relatives about their lives. They even have an app for that; you can learn more on StoryCorps’ site or in an articles like this one by NPR. Even if you choose not to participate in something so organized, your family can still share meaningful stories with one another from the elders to the children’s table—everyone has a story to share and this is the perfect time of year to do just that.

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