Are We Losing Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I’m afraid we are losing it. I walked into a local health food supermarket right after Halloween and was shocked to see the entire front of the store already decked out for Christmas and Hanukkah, with shelves and displays full of red, green and blue holiday candies, gifts and decorations.

What happened to Thanksgiving? This is a food store — one that brands itself as fresh, local, sustainable and a B-Corp no less. Of all the supermarkets in town, I would expect this one to be doubling down on Thanksgiving with the abundant harvest and all the yummy meals that come with it. But no. Halloween’s over and now it’s all about Christmas and Hanukkah.

Whereas the cultural (not religious) celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and other end-of-year holidays is increasingly focused on shopping for, giving and receiving gifts, Thanksgiving is different. And it’s my favorite holiday because is based on two of my favorite things: gratitude and food.

The tradition of Thanksgiving is about putting down our differences and celebrating the harvest bounty by sharing a meal together with family and friends. Today it is a one-day antidote to our grab-and-go lifestyles. It brings us back to the kitchen and back to the table together. And, best of all, at its core Thanksgiving is not about giving or getting anything — it’s about being grateful for what we already have. Our family. Our friends. The roof over our heads and the food on our table. (If we have these things, we have a lot to be thankful for.)

What’s more, Thanksgiving is actually good for us. While some of the foods we stuff ourselves with may not be considered healthy, the act of thanks-giving most certainly is. Studies show that Gratitude (and I’ll capitalize it here for emphasis) is one of the most powerful emotions for our health and well-being. According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, the act of recognizing and expressing Gratitude has been linked to many health benefits including: stronger immune systems, decreased stress levels, better sleep quality, lowered blood pressure and increased feelings of joy, happiness, forgiveness and compassion.

Who knows, a few minutes of experiencing sincere Gratitude — not just saying grace, but actually feeling it — might even help us digest that big Thanksgiving meal. Last year I gave everyone at our Thanksgiving table a little notebook to use as a Gratitude journal. Gratitude journaling — spending just a few minutes as little as once or twice a week writing down a sentence about something or someone we are grateful for and why— has been shown to decrease depression and stress. Participants in a 2015 study who did this twice a week for four weeks not only felt better, they maintained decreased levels of depression and stress for at least three months after the study was over. It’s amazing that something so simple can have such profound results.

So before we skip over Thanksgiving altogether, or treat it as just another family gathering that’s really the “Gateway to Black Friday,” let’s give Thanksgiving its due. Go to the kitchen. Create a meal that celebrates the harvest. Share it with people you love and appreciate. And, most of all, feel the Gratitude. Because that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.

Jennifer

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