5 Thanksgiving traditions we love for an inclusive 2018
For a lot of us, the American tradition of Thanksgiving is a fraught holiday for tons of reasons- the pressure cooker of time spent a little too close to family, the stressful travel to family gatherings, the materialistic insanity of Black Friday shopping- to say nothing of the historical and cultural objections some people feel about the holiday itself.
Nevertheless, many of us will have a day or two off, and, whether they’re entirely thrilled about it or not, will come together with family, eat too much food, and try to be civil. Some vacation, huh?
We like the spirit of Thanksgiving- whatever its origins, whatever you may think of the modern craziness around it, the concept of gathering peacefully with loved ones- your birth family, your chosen family, your inner circle, or even a couple of feline or canine pals- and reflecting on the things you have to be grateful for is something we can get behind. Especially when that gratitude makes us aware of the good things we do have, and what we can do to make the world around us better.
Here are 5 of our favorite traditions- some new, some old- that will make Thanksgiving about more than sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows, going into a carb coma in front of football, or getting a black eye in a Black Friday brawl over goodies.
1. The Thankful Pumpkin
Started 7 years ago by children’s author Amy Latta, the Thankful Pumpkin was Amy’s way of trying to celebrate the holiday with her young son Noah in a way that avoided the stress and materialism that has grown up around the holiday, and focus on gratitude. Like a lot of Americans in autumn, Amy took her son pumpkin picking- and, building on a dinner-table activity where her family would take turns sharing the things they’re grateful for, the family would instead take turns writing a long, winding list of their gratitude around the pumpkin in bright marker, then display it proudly.
In the years since, the “thankful pumpkin” has caught on around the country with parents of young kids trying to spark an awareness in their children of their advantages and things they should feel grateful for- and avoid the messy catastrophe that often accompanies trying to artfully carve a pumpkin. Thankful pumpkins have been gracing office desks, front stoops, and windowsills ever since. It’s a simple way to create an attractive piece of November decoration and make a valuable mental inventory of the things you’ve got that make your life good.
2. Food Drives
Even in a year of record employment, 41 million Americans regularly go hungry. The causes are many: income inequality, lack of access to social services, scarcity of affordable nutritious food, and so on. Fortunately, when we think locally, it’s easy to help make a difference.
Donating or volunteering at food banks or soup kitchens has been an American tradition for centuries. Find a food bank near you or a religious or community center offering soup kitchen services, and assemble a collection of foods to donate- or, give an afternoon or weekend to help cook, serve, or warehouse food supplies. If you’re friendly with your neighbors, going door-to-door in the holiday season with a large empty box and a smile can gather together a surprising amount of food- but don’t just think of hunger during the holidays. If you have a great experience fighting hunger on Thanksgiving, consider setting aside some of your food budget (or free time) all year round to chip in and put something on everyone’s plate in your community.
3. Save A Seat
Ask people what the meaning of Thanksgiving is, and eventually, just about everyone will include “family,” even if that’s the part that makes Thanksgiving the most stressful sometimes! At its heart, Thanksgiving is about gathering together, often sharing a feast of a little bit from everyone – or a banquet made by the family’s one obsessive cook.
Let’s apply the theory of inclusive design here: does everyone have numerous, accessible, welcoming family? What about people who may be living in your city, town, or even country away from their family? What about people who have lost their family, or have even been ostracized or estranged from them? While we all begin life with some kind of family, not all of us are fortunate to have an intact one at all stages of our lives- and for people like this, a holiday like Thanksgiving serves to remind them how excluded and lonely they feel.
If you’re fortunate enough to be spending Thanksgiving with family, consider your friends, acquaintances, co-workers- anyone you’re even a little bit friendly with- who may be missing out. Invite at least one person to be a part of your Thanksgiving celebrations this year, even if you’re not very close- not only will you be committing an act of random inclusion, you may deepen a wonderful friendship in the process, or even add a member to your chosen family.
4. Renewing Bonds
The most essential form of fortune for humans is connection to others. Even if you don’t have much (or any) money, property, or good health, people with positive, healthy connections to friends are happier and live longer, even controlling for wealth and many other indicators of material privilege. Having good, faithful friends that build us up, support us, and give us unconditional love is probably one of the luckiest things you can have.
And yet, almost all of us are guilty of neglecting friendships, taking them for granted, or losing them in a sea of social network “friends” and weak ties to strangers or the ease of staying home and watching Netflix. Not only is this unhealthy for us, but when we consider what a gift real friends are, it’s the height of selfishness and disconnection- not very inclusive thinking!
As Thanksgiving approaches, we encourage you to get a dozen or so really great greeting cards- you can even use e-cards if you want to save trees- or even just an email, and send a message to everyone you can think of that’s been a real friend to you that you can’t remember the last time you acknowledged. These can be people you haven’t even kept up communication with- that co-worker from your very first job that introduced you around and helped you fit in and feel welcome, the roommate that used to listen to your relationship woes, maybe even the family members that were central to your childhood but are now only thought of around, well, Thanksgiving.
Give each of these people a short note thanking them specifically for being a friend to you. Whether you reconnect or not, you’ll be reminding yourself the value of your bonds with other humans- and putting a little gratitude out into the world.
5. Labor Thanksgiving (Japan)
When most people begin eating a meal in Japan, they say, “Itadakimasu,” which translates roughly to “I receive.” Ask a Japanese person what this means, and a lot of people will realize they don’t think much about it- but others will tell you that the meaning is to send out your gratitude to all the people in the chain of events that brought the food to your table- the farmers that grew the vegetables or raised the meat, the mom or cook that prepared it with love, the person who served you- all of them are owed a moment of acknowledgement for being part of you having something to eat.
Thanksgiving in Japan, called Kinro Kansha No Hi, is based on an ancient harvest festival called Niinamesai. Today, the holiday is called Labor Thanksgiving Day, celebrating the human rights of workers and the necessity to always be improving the fundamental dignity and protections for laborers. Unions and other local labor organizations sponsor activities on this day to raise awareness of issues around peace, civil liberties, and protecting the environment. School children also create handmade gifts for public workers that care for their safety, such as police officers, to acknowledge their everyday interconnectedness.
Take a little inspiration from Labor Thanksgiving and give a small gift, thank-you card, or even just a smile and a “thank you” to someone in your community that serves you every day- the driver of the bus you commute on, the cashier who gives you your coffee every morning, the crossing guard that walks your kids from corner to corner, or your letter carrier. Remind them, and yourself, that we’re all connected.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and inclusive Thanksgiving from all of us at Analogous!