Opinion: Giving thanks on Thanksgiving and beyond
Nov. 23, 2023
On the mantel in our family’s home sits a small circular tin can. The can has a narrow slit on top, the type of opening in which one might drop a few coins; the pocket change left over from a day of work at the office or from running errands around town. The coins casually slipped into such a can might be the humble offerings designated to eventually reach some charitable cause or another.
But this particular tin can contains no such coins. Rather, its contents are small, seemingly insignificant scraps of paper. Usually numbering about a dozen, these notes are scribbled throughout the day by members of our family, mementos of gratitude for both the trivial and the momentous alike: A parent got a promotion at work? Write a thank you note and drop it in the can. A child got a good mark on a school exam? Write a thank you note and drop it in the can. Gas prices finally decreased by a few cents? Write a thank you note and drop it in the can.
In our family we have a ritual. As we gather around the Sabbath table for our weekly festive meal, my daughter brings this little tin can to the table. The colorful glossy paper label glued to the circumference of the can reads in stylized letters, “Thank You God.” Those slips of paper inside are thank you notes addressed to the Creator, a small gesture of acknowledgment and praise from His creations as we gather for our Sabbath feast. It is one of our personal rituals that we look forward to as a family every week in our house.
Rituals are important. While sometimes viewed as cumbersome or arbitrary, it is the rituals in our life, deeply ingrained in our psyche and codified in the cyclical patterns of time, that lend their unceasing and never-wavering rhythms of meaning to our existence. My family’s weekly “Thank You God” note reading is one such ritual. Another is our nation’s annual observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.
What would Thanksgiving be without its always expected, never-disappointing observances and rituals? Whether it be a parent’s special cranberry sauce recipe, that eccentric relative’s always reliable presence at your Thanksgiving table, or just relaxing on the couch while watching the Cowboys and Lions on television, it is the ritualized observances of the holiday that make Thanksgiving such a highly anticipated and much-appreciated respite for so many Americans.
As we gather with our families and friends this Thanksgiving season, let us remember that the theme of the holiday is just that: giving thanks. Let us also keep in mind that the practice of giving thanks should extend beyond the narrow confines of one weekend in November.
Not only do we have so much to constantly be thankful for, but we have so many to be thankful to as well. While the little paper notes in my family’s tin can are addressed to the Almighty, it would do us well to constantly be cognizant of all of the people in our lives to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Whether it is a loving spouse, a nurturing parent, an attentive child, or a patient co-worker, the list of people whose blessings grace our lives can be near-exhaustible.
Don’t forget to periodically thank them for those blessings.
This year, as we celebrate this most American of holidays, let us keep in mind how important it is to give thanks, both on Thanksgiving and beyond.