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Thanksgiving Traditions

It’s interesting how traditions begin. Years ago, for our growing family, the Thanksgiving weekend was a time for scrambling around, seeing grandparents and trying to get started on some Christmas shopping. Thanksgiving Day itself was all about the food and the football. Our Thanksgiving traditions were to eat way too much and to watch the Macy’s parade in the morning and as many games as we could find all afternoon and evening. It was nice because everyone was together, but other than the blessing on the food, our day had very little to do with Thanks or with Giving or with anything connected to gratitude.

Then one year, something happened quite by chance. The parade was getting a little long, the turkey had another couple of hours to cook, and the kids were a bit bored. Wanting to make something happen, I grabbed a roll of calculator paper —that tells you how long ago it was—and yelled, “Hey, let’s play a game while we wait for dinner.” The game was making a list of everything we could think of that we were thankful for.

What made it work was that we have a bunch of competitive kids. They each got caught up in putting more things on the list than anyone else. Someone would yell something out, and I would write it down and number it on the narrow, unrolling paper. I would yell out, “Forty…fifty!” as the list grew.

The first few things on the list were obvious—”freedom,” “parents,” “shoes,”—but as we went over one hundred, some of them got a little obscure—”doorknobs,” “potato peelers.” I would say something like, “Come on, are you really thankful for that?” and the kids would say, “Sure, how would we open doors?”

That first year, we got to five hundred. (That number became our goal at about four hundred, when someone said, “Let’s keep going, we are almost to five hundred.”) We strung the list up like crepe paper above the dining table, and the spirit and conversation of gratitude held up throughout the meal. A tradition was born.

The next Thanksgiving, of course, we had to break our record and we got to six hundred.

We kept all those rolls of paper—all those lists of gratitude—each a testament to the blessings and the joys of a year almost past.

As our children got older, and as Thanksgivings were spent with extended families and friends, the thankful list evolved into a thankful game: Each person makes a list of ten unique things he is profoundly grateful for, and then each list is read out loud. Any blessing that is also on someone else’s list has to be crossed off so that each person’s score is the number of things listed that no one else thought of.

Well before either the “Thankful List” or the “Thankful Game,” the two of us had decided to send out Thanksgiving cards rather than Christmas cards. Part of our reasoning was a bit selfish—we figured that everyone who received a Thanksgiving card from us would be reminded to send us a Christmas card, which would brighten up the rest of our holidays.

And with that decision, we began a tradition that has now lasted for more than forty years. Each year as the days shorten and the leaves change from green to brilliant red and gold, we try to refocus our thanks-giving and to construct some kind of a poem or greeting that both gives and expresses gratitude, and that perhaps reflects some new perspective on the art and the joy and the practice of genuine thankfulness. The backlighting of gratitude puts our everyday lives into sharp relief, and we feel more and love more.

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We all know that an attitude of gratitude helps each day be a little better. When times are difficult and challenges abound, having a thankful heart is the catalyst for the abundant life. The …

The Thankful Heart

Richard and Linda Eyre

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