Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Liturgically, I have other favorites, but Thanksgiving has always been a special time for me and my family. Growing up, we often had to go without. Food was often scarce, although we were never starving, and I rarely knew what it was like to feel full. My mom always worked very hard to make Thanksgiving beautiful, and God always provided extra for us on that day. Churches have extra offerings, food banks fill up with generous donations, and my family always benefitted from those seasons of giving.
Perhaps my fond memories have much to do with the bounty of the table, a rare and amazing site, but I think it is bigger than that. One of the greatest gifts my mother gave our family all year round was her ability to find things to be grateful for in all circumstances. She taught us to practice gratitude daily, to always consider God’s great love and mercy even in our want. And so, when God’s gifts were abundant, it was that much more apparent. My mom would also share our bounty with anyone who had no place to go, and God would always multiply it somehow. There was always enough to go around and even some left over. My fondest memories of Thanksgiving begin with my mom up early in the tiny kitchen of our mobile home, with the Thanksgiving parade on television in the background, knowing the day would be full of laughter and love.
God has blessed my family and my children far beyond my wildest dreams. I have come a long way from that trailer park and the hope of extra goodies from the Food Bank, but Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite days of the year. In an effort to instill the same virtue of gratitude in my children, who know such abundance, we spend days leading up to Thanksgiving spending a little extra time remembering what we are thankful for. We resist the urge and pull of the world to start celebrating Christmas in October, and we spend the days leading up to Advent considering how we are inundated with blessing upon blessing in our lives, and especially in our family.
Thanksgiving may not be as significant to you and your family. It may be a day with lots of carbs and football and not much else, but this year maybe it can be a catalyst of new traditions and the incorporation of gratitude in daily life.
The practice of gratitude is the best gift we can give our children. When my children fight, I make them stop and say something they are grateful for about their offender. When they whine about dinner, I ask them to think of something on the table they are grateful for. When they feel caught up in desire for a new toy, I ask them to find a toy they have that they love. I am not one hundred percent consistent, and they certainly spend time being ungrateful, but they are also learning that a life of gratitude leads us closer to the heart of God, and a heart resting in gratitude is a heart at peace.