Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I live far away from my blood kin, so we created a new extended family right where we are. The same eight adults and eight children have celebrated Thanksgiving and other holidays for over twenty years together. We’re larger now that most of the kids have partners and some have babies. We’re pretty much like any other blood kin of aunts, uncles, cousins and great-grandparents, complete with both beloved and annoying traits. On a holiday these are often one and the same.
This year, as usual, those who can come will be invited to our table, along with anyone else we think to include. The menu is pretty well established. It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Grampy’s cinnamon rolls or Grammy’s yams, for instance. New dishes come and go as the table expands. So do rituals of gratefulness, like a new song or toast or prayer.
But one activity has lasted all these years. Every year someone brings autumn-colored leaves shaped of construction paper. Somewhere in the hubbub of greeting and meal preparation, each of us steals away to a little quiet place and scribbles a leaf of gratitudes. While we’re digesting the feast, we gather and pass a basket full of leaves. Each of us reads a “gratefulness leaf” as we sit and listen and absorb the inspiration of these little offerings. We began this ritual as a project with school-age children, but it’s one activity that has lasted. It’s been the younger generation that began to keep it alive, and one of the “cousins” now makes and shares leaves every year in her fifth-grade class room.
I notice each year my season of gratefulness extends as I begin thinking ahead for my leaf. I keep a gratefulness journal most of the time, which provides a big list. As I think of the holiday my list narrows. This year I’ll share a list of specifics for my seasonal leaf, like watching the sky grow light in early morning silence.But more and more, the list of gratitude includes the parts of life that aren’t so welcome but still bring great gifts, like grieving for a departed loved one.
So my toast this year will be one I heard many years ago from a Danish friend. “To life as it is.”