While much of Canada recovers from its turkey hangovers (it was thanksgiving here yesterday y’all) let’s take a quick minute to think seriously about thanksgiving as a holiday, regardless of country.
I doubt I’m the only one who’s not so great at really celebrating days like this.
Here’s how I generally spend such occasions: bingeing.
And then recovering, usually by lying on the floor and making sounds similar to that of a beached whale. There’s some family time, some football time, and perhaps even some talking about things were thankful for.
It’s an odd way to express gratitude this… bingeing.
When I lived in America, I joined in their revelries by shopping on Black Friday and buying lots of things I didn’t need. But it seems that whether we choose food, purchasing, watching sports, or nostalgic feelings, lots of us “celebrate” holidays primarily by some form of intensified consumption. Going overboard to mark an occasion seems to be fairly common across cultures and millennia of human history. Perhaps what makes us unique in wealthy modern democracies is that most of us have lifestyles already characterized by overconsumption and excess, so the usual behaviour of a festival struggles to take on the experience of celebration.
I think it’s why I find myself longing for more: wishing for rituals and practices that would move my heart and mind into gratitude that go beyond the act of overeating. I’m not trying to put down anyone’s chosen method of celebration. Maybe you feel profoundly thankful for food when your belly is full of it. If so, I hope you can find a giant plate and revel in the spirit of the day. But I wonder what else we might do that brings a rich sense of gratitude on the day we set aside on the calendar for the purpose of giving thanks?
I don’t exactly know what to do. I know that this year I’m not binging. It seems to draw my attention away from gratitude rather than toward it. Overconsumption isn’t enough of a break from regular life. I’ve talked about deprivation (or at least imagined deprivation) as a source of gratitude before, and it makes me tempted to fast or just eat rice as a personal way of realigning my thoughts and feelings. But I’m also wary of the way in which such things can become a point of contention when it comes to celebrating a holiday as a family or group. (Aunt Henrietta might not buy your complicated explanation about gratitude when you reject her pumpkin pie or feel hurt that you abandoned her famous green bean casserole when you’re normally good for seconds or thirds)
When I sat down to write this I was tempted to try to come up with something really big. Some kind of practice of gratitude that would blow your minds and usher in a new age of peace and joy throughout humanity. But what I realized is that my capacity to celebrate thanksgiving at a heartfelt level is related to my level of preparation.
Sometimes we try to binge on gratitude on thanksgiving day – fooling ourselves that we can shift our attention for a few minutes in between the epic meal and playing charades, to give a nod to a few things we appreciate in our lives. Having spent the last few months contemplating and writing about gratitude, I’ve come discover it as discipline and practice in which the level of commitment I make to it has a direct effect on my ability to experience it.
In our food induced delirium on thanksgiving day, we often think we can just jump right in to gratitude and have a profound experience of it without doing the hard work and training first.
For me this year, Thanksgiving as a holiday has been a richer, deeper experience because of my journey in recent weeks. Like most of us, I’ve tended to think that preparation for a feast involved making a list a few days ahead of time and a prolonged period of cooking and cleaning. What I’m learning is that preparation for a feast that involves true celebration takes weeks of preparation of my heart and mind.
We often forget the wisdom of many religious rituals that affirms this truth. For millennia, Advent has been a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas, as has Lent for Easter. Similar periods of “getting ready” emotionally, physically, and spiritually are also true of Ramadan, Hannakah, and Dawali. It seems we humans have at times recognized that we often need this extended period before hand to make ourselves ready if we really want to be able to celebrate something as profound as gratitude.
So here’s my not-so-new, not-so-earth-shattering practice of gratitude that will henceforth be known as “the turkey hangover”.
Begin today your preparations for next year’s thanksgiving celebration. Alter your course in life by one or maybe two degrees and head in the direction of more regular and intentional practices of gratitude. Don’t leave it for one day each year of bingeing; whether it be turkey or thanks itself. Let thanksgiving day be the occasion on which you gather with others to mark a year-long journey of your own practice of gratitude. Let the celebration be the culmination of a year’s worth of work rather than trying to acquire the skills of being thankful right on the day that’s been set aside for it. And let your happiness of “happy thanksgiving” be a time in which you celebrate all of the good ways gratitude has been changing you and the world around you.
Your turkey hangover is the simple reminder to begin again. Mark this day as one in which you draw your attention to the gifts that surround you and begin again developing and inviting gratitude into your daily life.