The happiness of Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Why? One reason is that it is one of the very few days we have saved just for families and friends. We have done a better job of keeping the Thanksgiving holiday from getting away from us. It has not yet taken charge of our lives. No dressing up with new clothes, no cards to mail, no gifts to buy and wrap, no parties, no alcohol, no high expectations to be crushed, no embarrassing failures to do the right thing. Somehow we have mostly kept it centered around our family dining table.

I like Thanksgiving because I still own it.

All of this distinguishes Thanksgiving from Christmas which we have let get away from us. We are slaves to Christmas and it is a hard master. It sometimes works us into such a state that the season’s most rewarding moment is its concluding one.

Thanksgiving’s central theme is the happy ritual of the family meal. It brings back a time when we sat down together more often, serving each other, passing the food, carving the main dish, saying prayers of thanks, and listening to each other’s stories. Is it, though, merely a remnant of times past? I think it is more than that. It may be our own private family sacrament of remembrance, reunion, renewal of connections, and thankfulness for life’s blessings.

If Thanksgiving is so good, why do families so seldom sit down formally at their own dining room tables to take meals together these days? Is it because our schedules drive us in so many directions—apart from each other? Maybe, but even when we are at home together some favorite TV program calls us to the den to bring our plates and watch. And when we do eat together at a table, it is more likely to be in the kitchen than in the dining room.

So, being all together at the dining room table is a big part of the reason I like Thanksgiving so much.

There is another reason—a simple one.

Thanksgiving encourages thankfulness. And being thankful is good for us.

Let me try to explain. First, I don’t want to argue that Thanksgiving always or automatically puts us in a state of thankfulness. The formal public prayers we say on that day don’t do the job. We can get through a Thanksgiving Day without really being grateful for much of anything other that the meal.

But the day prompts us. It reminds us to be grateful. We remember how thankful the Pilgrims were for food and shelter. These things we usually take for granted. On Thanksgiving we sometimes remember how much more blessed we are than the Pilgrims.

If we let it, Thanksgiving can do more…If we let it move us to say our private prayers of thanks—avoiding the pompous stylized prayers we say for other people to hear….If we let it encourage us to aim our prayers straight towards God….If we use the day to make a long private list of things we should be thankful for….If we keep adding to that list all the time.

If Thanksgiving moves us to do such things, we might begin to feel really good.

Why does being thankful make us feel so good? I think it just flushes out all the bad, negative, mean-spirited thoughts that have piled up inside us. There is no room in a thankful mind for pettiness, jealous feelings, anger, and disappointment. Thankfulness drives out the junk.

Thankfulness equals happiness.

Of course, all these good things don’t have to end when Thanksgiving passes. If times get tough on any other day our private prayers of gratitude can drive away the negative trash that loads up our minds. Prayers of thanks for spouses, children, parents, our old scout leaders, coaches, teachers, principals, friends we can trust, good health (or if good health is not with us, as my mother taught us, be thankful for the good health we once had), warm fall days, favorite animals, music, books, problems to solve, people to help, good food, warm baths and on and on and on.

Feels good doesn’t it?

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

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