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Time to rethink our Thanksgiving rituals

With the surging number of Covid cases nationwide, the Center for Disease Control advises against large Thanksgiving gatherings. And honestly, after all we’ve been through in the great garbage fire that is 2020, a day on the couch with kiddo, husband, Netflix, and takeout sounds pretty damn appealing to me.

But setting aside the tragic history of Thanksgiving for a moment -- we’ll get to that shortly -- a giant dose of gratitude is really what we need now more than ever. Research shows that experiencing gratitude has mental, physical, and emotional benefits, and can help people heal from trauma. Maybe there is a way to reimagine our Thanksgiving rituals to dwell in gratitude while helping our fellow humans, and the planet.

Here are six simple ways to change up your Thanksgiving rituals this year.

Online Open House

One upside of lockdown is that we are not limited by physical location and can connect with different households online throughout the day -- those of us who grew up in divorced families have mastered this. But this year we can connect with friends all over the planet via a Zoom open house. My friends James and Will sent out invitations to their friends around the world and will be inviting everyone over for a virtual cocktail party on Thanksgiving night using Slack, with different channels for different groups of friends (e.g. high school, college, family, different jobs, etc.)

Unstuff Yourself

Overeating is historically one of the end games of Thanksgiving, but what if we intentionally decided to savor it instead? At the beginning of the meal -- whether on Zoom or IRL -- offer a few words to focus this intention, inviting everyone to close their eyes and take a moment to appreciate all of the creatures, great and small, who made the feast possible. This one is particularly fun with kids speaking them out loud; Farmers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, truck mechanics, IT specialists who keep the data flowing, USDA regulators who ensure safety of processing, Trader Joe’s test kitchens who created the most awesome cornbread stuffing mix ever, the dog who licks the scraps off the dishes.

Then invite everyone to go slow instead of shoveling it down. Then, with all the money saved from consuming less, donate to a hunger relief organization or your local food bank to directly help your more disadvantaged neighbors.

Center Indigenous Stories

It is now fairly well established that the story we all learned in grammar school -- the friendly colonists shared a friendly feast with the friendly natives who taught them how to grow food in the New World -- was a big fat whitewash. With the racial reckoning that is 2020, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity to recognize and honor the indigenous grief that has long been ignored. Learn about the Indigenous people who lived on the land you currently inhabit, and center the food, stories, and worldviews they shared. With our world so far out of balance and starting from a place of gratitude, this wisdom offers many insights into deeper well-being.

Give Love, Not Crap

It is mighty challenging to resist the convenience, selection, and prices of Amazon. But what if we established a goal of supporting real humans -- farmers, shop owners, craftspeople, and artists -- over fast, cheap, and easy? This year, let’s redefine giving: Quality over quantity. It may cost a little more, but it cuts down on waste AND helps distribute money to humans. My friend Rebecca posted a request to her Facebook friends inviting them to refer her to any Etsy shops in her greater network. Another friend, Sasha, has committed to buying from Etsy sellers who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Not only will Rebecca and Sasha find super unique gifts without leaving the house, but they’ll also put money directly in the hands of their friends, communities, and favorite organizations -- doubling the impact of their holiday spending.

New Terms of Use

With this shift to Zoom Thanksgiving, we have the opportunity to establish new expectations about how people speak to each other that can be hard to enforce at home. If Uncle Jim starts spewing racist vitriol over the Thanksgiving Zoom, there are a host of tools at your disposal: You can mute him, or kick him off, or even ban him from the call permanently. Be sure to let everyone know your expectations and the consequences at the outset, so that nobody is surprised. Hell hath no fury like an emboldened racist.

Make a Gratitude Altar

Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving alone or with others -- safely, we hope -- creating an altar at home can be a way to support your intentions over the holiday season and indeed throughout the year. Clear away a corner or shelf and place objects, photos, and other memorabilia that feel sacred to you and represent things you’re grateful for. Even in this shitstain of a year, there must be something for even the most secular among us. Clean air, clean water, and good food? Loved ones and favorite bands? Even Netflix and takeout. :) I’ll be writing more about altars in next month’s post.

It sucks to be missing our normal holiday traditions this year, but we can reframe that as an opportunity to create a holiday that’s more meaningful for ourselves, our loved ones, and the larger world. There is a lot that’s wrong in the world right now, but living in alignment with our own integrity in the face of hopelessness is one of the fiercest acts of resistance there is.

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