Thanksgiving is always one of those holidays that seems more like a speed bump. Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, it’s sometimes looked over. There are no special songs and hardly anyone gets excited about decorating their house with turkeys and pilgrims. Besides the one glorious day of gorging oneself with the best homemade food your mama’s ever made, it’s over and done — with five pounds gained — and then on to Christmas.
My good friend Hilary Weeks started a tradition a few years back that I think helps capture the meaning of Thanksgiving perfectly. In her book “Bedtime and Naptime and Bedtime and Naptime,” she says this about her family’s new annual Thanksgiving tradition:
“I bought a big piece of white butcher paper and taped it to a wall in the kitchen area. At the top I wrote, ‘Things We Are Grateful For ’ and I placed colored markers nearby. Each time we thought of something we were thankful for, we wrote it on the poster. Even friends who visited our home were invited to write something. Our gratitude poster was filled with words — big, small, cursive, printed, bubble-lettered, misspelled, and most of all heartfelt.”
I love this simple, visual display of gratitude.
In the wake of superstorm Sandy, pop superstar Lady Gaga donated a cool $1 million to the Red Cross.
"Please accept this gift on behalf of myself, my parents Joe and Cynthia, and my sister Natali; with our deepest gratitude New York for raising us," Gaga posted on her Little Monsters blog. "Thank you for helping me build my spirit. I will now help you rebuild yours. Sincerely, Lady Gaga and The Germanottas.”
This month as we celebrate our blessings, I think it’s important to have both an attitude of gratitude and be moved to action by giving thanks. It’s one thing to feel grateful about something. But instead of just acknowledging blessings, wouldn’t it be awesome if our gratitude actually moved us to show our thanks?
My husband and I decided to make more of an effort to show our gratitude by giving thanks this month. Every Sunday — and I mean every Sunday — we switch off between family dinners at my parents' or his parents' house. We usually (try to) bring a dish to contribute to the family dinner. It’s always a warm, wonderful time to strengthen ties and laugh, cry and let the worries of the world stay frozen outside for an hour or two.
Last week, we did something different. We decided to invite our family over to our own house for dinner. It didn’t go exactly as planned — we had a few people skip out because of sickness, and the gravy we made turned out to be rather soupy, but by spending the day preparing the food, cleaning the house, setting the table and doing the dishes, we felt so happy serving those we loved. By cooking and cleaning for our family, we expressed our thanks for the many, many years they have done that very thing for us.
My husband is in the executive MBA program at the University of Utah right now. While I am very grateful for the opportunity he has to go back to school and get his master’s in business, it has been a huge transition for our little family. Late nights, long weekends and study group sessions have certainly been challenging to deal with.
Something I have done to show my thanks for all the hard work and extra hours my husband is putting in by working full time and going to school is reading out loud to him. I am a huge bookworm — my husband not so much. By reading out loud, he says it helps him stay focused, and I feel like I’m learning right along with him. Reading on the couch by our fire together on cold evenings has actually been something I’ve enjoyed doing. We get to discuss his readings, spend some much-needed time together and feel like we’re doing something much more stimulating than sitting in silence watching yet another episode of “Mythbusters” — which we’re totally addicted to!
Giving thanks and showing gratitude don’t have to be as huge as donating a million dollars. Small and simple things such as making dinner, reading to your kids (or spouse), or calling a friend just to tell them you love them and appreciate their friendship can be exactly enough to show someone how grateful you are that they are a part of your life.
Give thanks. I’ve found it only makes you happier.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.