I love that we have a holiday dedicated to the practice of giving thanks. And while it’s all well and good to create traditions such as family gatherings with turkey and pumpkin pie, the power of ritual comes from the intention we infuse into the activity. In fact, from my perspective, the first thanksgiving celebrations came from a deep connection with authentic gratitude:
A bit o’ history:
In the fall of 1620, the pilgrims arrived in what’s now Massachusetts on the Mayflower. Half the passengers had died enroute, leaving the remaining survivors malnourished, sick, and exhausted from their scurvy-plagued, disease-ridden, stormy journey. Over the course of the next year (and long before reality tv shows made such activities popular and entertaining), the group immersed themselves in a “wilderness survival intensive,” hosted by their new friend and guide Squanto, as the story goes. Of necessity, they learned how to grow corn, catch fish, extract maple syrup, and gather wild edibles to nourish themselves.
By November 1621, they harvested their first successful crop of corn. Most likely, they experienced a tremendous sense of relief and hope, realizing that they would probably survive the upcoming winter after all. As an expression of their profound gratitude, they organized a feast of “thanksgiving” – a festival to celebrate all they’d accomplished and received over the course of the year.
A couple of years later, their corn harvest was threatened by a long drought. When the rain finally came, they organized another feast of thanksgiving to celebrate. With survival at stake, there was much to celebrate in the arrival of the long-anticipated rain and the assurance of a continued food supply.
I don’t know about you, but those moments in which survival is at stake and you discover “I’m going to make it!” – those are the moments when I’ve felt genuine, heart-felt thanks emerge spontaneously.
So the game is: how do we cultivate that same experience of heart-overflowing “THANK YOU GOD! I’M GOING TO MAKE IT!” profuse thanks pouring from the wellspring at the very center of our being – and ritualize it on the fourth Thursday of November each year?
Short answer – it works best when you practice creating this state every day, not just once a year. (See Gratitude Games, below.)
A hundred and sixty-six years after the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving feast, George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation, inviting the newly-birthed nation to express gratitude for the end of the war, and the newly ratified U.S. Constitution.
A few decades later, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale urged leaders and politicians to establish a national day of Thanksgiving – campaigning for 36 years until it finally became so. (36 years! Thank you for taking on that mission, Sarah!) In the midst of the American Civil War, with the nation ripped apart both on battlefields and in hearts and families, President Abraham Lincoln did so, creating a Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863.
The full proclamation is included at the end of this article, but worth noting here is his clear and eloquent intention that the American people “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
Why it matters:
Survival. Drought. War. Illness. Lack. Conflict. Stress. Fear.
These were the conditions which birthed the community celebrations of thanks, which we continue to enjoy today.
The evolutionary friction, tragedies, catastrophes, chaos, and conflicts, as always, gave rise to a beautiful expansion of increasingly harmonious energies.
The human experience has historically, consistently, predictably played out a recurring pattern: conflict and fear are catalysts for connection and Love.
Even in the midst of the horrific bloodshed that we know as the American Civil War, Lincoln took a stand for unity, healing, and Oneness – refusing to succumb to the darkness of fear, despair, and conflict, and instead putting words to the highest possibilities for all — aligning his energies, words, and actions with the Divine Purpose that courses through the veins of us all.
Two hundred years from now, I wonder what our descendants will observe when they look back on our Thanksgiving celebrations of today?
Like all of us, they’ll see what they choose to see, depending on what assumptions they’re holding, what agendas they’re trying to prove, and what attitudes they’re bringing to the moment.
We each have the opportunity to make the “Thanksgiving” holiday into any experience we choose.
We can look back at the year we’ve lived, and like the pilgrims, give profound thanks for the abundance and health we now enjoy, having experienced valleys of lack, loss, and grief in our own ways throughout the year.
We can examine the intense challenges we face as a species, a nation, and in our communities — and from within the difficulties, rally our resources, connections, and hearts to come together in creative, generative ways.
We can let this day be an opportunity to give thanks for how we’ve grown, individually and collectively, because of our own “droughts,” “wars,” and ways in which we’ve been forced to learn to “cultivate corn”.
And we can allow the energy of deep gratitude, abundance, celebration, and joy infuse our being – by orienting our perspective, words, attitudes, and actions toward kindness, self-compassion, connection, and love.
And whether you’re watching football with in-laws, taking in the Macy’s day parade, concocting a vegan pumpkin pie, volunteering at a soup kitchen, playing board games with family, battling your own physical or emotional challenges on your own, or creating your own unique experience of the holiday, my deepest wish for us all is that we embody the spirit of gratitude in all that we do and all that we are – and if I may add three words to Abraham Lincoln’s eloquence: to “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds within ourselves and of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
If you’re reading this, you’re likely one who takes “be the change” seriously, and you’re showing up and doing your part to bring higher levels of consciousness to our world – one family gathering at a time, one community celebration at a time, one moment at a time. Knowing you’re out there doing what you do, being who you be, makes my heart swell up with even more gratitude and appreciation. Thanks for being you.
And lest we take ourselves a bit *too* seriously, here are 17 ways to gamify your gratitude practice tomorrow and every day – to amplify, embody, and activate the powerful energy of Oneness through gratitude and joy.
17 Gratitude Games and Practices
- Start each day with the original Gratitude Dance! Get the good vibes flowing in your cellular structure through high-energy movement and fun here and here.
- Play Gratitude Ping Pong with a family member – “ping pong” the gratitude ball (real or imaginary) back and forth, with each person saying one thing they’re genuinely thankful for every time they get the ball (or “ball”). Continue until everyone is smiling from ear to ear, someone has burst into tears of overflowing joyful appreciation, or you’re dancing with glee, feeling like “I LOVE THIS LIFE!”
- Gratitude Stuffing (for your turkey): Every time your knife chops the onion, celery, etc, say “thank you” silently or outloud. Infuse your meal with intention, imagining that your turkey is “stuffed” with the energy of gratitude, appreciation, wellbeing, and peace.
- Gratitude Grease (for all cooking): Each time you pick up the olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or any related product for baking, frying, or sauteeing, call it “Gratitude Grease” and give thanks that you are blessed with such an abundance of delicious ingredients for preparing your nourishing meal. Bonus points if you say “Please pass the Gratitude Grease” instead of “butter” at your dinner table. 😉
- Gratitude Miles: if you’re driving to a Thanksgiving gathering, let every mile marker be the reminder to say something you’re thankful for, or simply take a breath of presence and appreciation. By the time you arrive at your destination, you’ll be the epitome of Zen, unflappable and radiating calm joy for the benefit of all! (If you’re flying, not driving – adapt this by giving thanks every time you spot a traveler with a black carry-on suitcase, a blue jacket, or wearing a hat, as examples. Pick your target!)
- Gratitude Gallons: when you put fuel into your vehicle, let every gallon of gas represent one dinosaur or other prehistoric creature that furnished the “fossil fuels” which are allowing you to zip around town at your leisure. Give thanks to the species and eons of evolution that have come before you, on which the foundation of your very existence has been grounded.
- Gratitude Goals: if you’re watching football, every time your team gets a first down, it’s your reminder to give thanks for the goals you’ve met this year (or in your life) – and celebrate the collective advancement of humanity “down the field” via our collective accomplishments and evolution. One team might have the ball, but we’re all winning!
- Gratitude Groceries: as you walk around the grocery store, look at where the items have come from. Cranberries from Maine, potatoes from Idaho, pineapples from Costa Rica, sweet potatoes from Texas, pie crust made from wheat grown in Kansas, gluten-free pie crust made from garbanzo beans grown in Washington, and so on. Give thanks for the farmers who harvested the produce, the factory worker who worked on manufacturing the tractor that plowed the fields, the grocery store employee who stocked the shelves last night so you could shop today, and feel yourself connected with the vast global economy of other humans who are making your current experience possible.
- Gratitude Leaf Piles: If your holiday includes raking autumn leaves and creating leaf piles for kids to play in (please tell me you’re doing this, yes?) give thanks for the sunlight that grew the leaves, the winds of seasonal change that caused the leaves to fall, and the cycles of nature that you are a part of. Give thanks for all that’s “falling off the branches” in your life currently, to make room for new blossoms come spring. And remember that whatever is falling away, offers an opportunity to “rake the leaves” into a pile and play… just for the joy of feeling alive.
- Gratitude Generations: if you’re gathered with family, invite everyone to give thanks for something they appreciate about each generation – the small children, young adults, middle-aged adults, seniors, and those who have already transitioned. Extend appreciation to the grandparents, great-grandparents, and ancestors who lived experiences that made it possible for you to exist. Continue extending appreciation all the way back hundreds of years and see what emerges in your awareness related to your past.
- Gratitude Smiles: Every time see someone else smiling, tell them something you appreciate about their smile, their energy, who they are. Invite them to do the same. See if you can create a mini-movement within your family or holiday community, a culture oriented around smiling and appreciation, and notice what happens.
- Gratitude Triggers: Every time someone triggers you into feeling tense, annoyed, judgmental, or contracted, give thanks for the reaction within yourself – it’s Love showing you where you’re being called to shine the light of self-compassion, healing, and presence within yourself so it can extend to others as well. “Thank you, family of origin, for being the evolutionary friction that catalyzes my own growth and evolution!” That annoying comment by your mother in law that makes you inwardly roll your eyes? “THANK YOU, eye roll, for showing me my unconscious habits of judgment and separation and letting her be a mirror for the parts of me that are calling for lovingkindness, attention, and awareness.” Bonus points if you do a round of silent ho’oponopono on the spot.
- Gratitude Pumpkin Pie: Before you take a bite of pumpkin pie, give thanks for the life energy that infused aliveness into the pumpkin seed, which grew into an enormous orange orb, which then transformed into goopy puree that is now entering your cellular structure, and through a series of ordinary miracles is now transferring that same life energy into your cells, so you can breathe, walk, dance, sing, speak, hug, and laugh. Give thanks for the awareness that, at the most fundamental level, you are an expression of the cosmos, now eating itself. Give thanks for the way in which some part of your life has been, like the pumpkin, baked and mashed into a goopy puree that is unrecognizable from its original form, and yet carries with it the essence of aliveness that matters–and is even better now that you’re adding cinnamon.
- Gratitude Gas: The post-holiday-meal digestion offers ample opportunity for gratitude – when else do the hundreds of species of microbiota and the quadrillions of bacteria in your digestive tract get ANY attention – except when something is “wrong” and they get the blame? Give thanks for the gazillions of processes at work right now within your very being, giving you energy and nutrients to carry on as “you” – the colonies of individual cells, always working without recognition, unwaveringly, on your behalf. Gas gratitude is a powerful way of infusing the energies of alignment and wellbeing into your physical form – and can bring a bit of humor to the accompanying physical or social discomfort as well.
- Gratitude Garbage: as you’re clearing your holiday plate, notice what you’re throwing way and give thanks, not only for the immense abundance that allows you to simply discard what is beyond your current needs, but for the fact that you live in such a time and environment in which sanitation companies, landfills, and societal systems exist to handle the disposal of excess. Give thanks for the abundance of having so much more than you really need. And give thanks for the emergent solutions that innovators are working on right now, to bring greater sustainability and balance to our consumerist habits and the inherent waste disposal challenges therein.
- Awesome Gratitude: This is one of my favorite games and table blessing activities. Invite each person at the table to express something they’re grateful for, and then go around the table again and invite each person to express a “wouldn’t it be awesome…” desire that they’d love to see or experience. Everything that we give thanks for today, is something that was once a “wouldn’t it be awesome” spark of an idea in someone’s awareness, so putting together gratitude and desires is a way of reconnecting with our own creative power, imagination, and authentic desires.
- Gratitude Grace: At some point, simply stop. Surrender. Allow life to live you, live through you, live as you. Give thanks for the opportunity to “be still and know that I Am.” Open to grace.
Here’s the full Proclamation of Thanksgiving, as written by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. I’m grateful for his propensity for run-on sentences, for it makes me feel less judgmental of my own.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State