Giving Thanks Throughout the Season

Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday. Not all family gatherings are harmonious. There might be pressure to prepare “the perfect meal” just like a parent used to make. Then there is that business with Europeans spreading their empire and claiming new lands – even though those lands were already inhabited – that should cause us to pause in our celebration. Despite all that, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

My African-American culture never played up the historical part. Thanksgiving was a time for family to be together to express our gratitude for our blessings. As a child growing up in the projects of Birmingham, in a household headed by a single mom who worked six days a week as a cook in a nursing home, you might think I didn’t have much to be thankful for.

You would be wrong.

I loved my life. I was always aware that there were families worse off than mine. I was never hungry or without shelter. I had a loving family and great friends. I got good grades. I was grateful.

Sometimes having only a little makes you more grateful for what you have.

In 2005, spent several days in Honduras with Heifer International. Our accommodations were simple, but still better than most homes in the area. Our host prepared us local dishes, always served with bottled water to prevent dysentery, all fruits and vegetables washed and peeled. No one wanted to get sick and spoil the trip.

We visited sites of local projects. One stop was abuzz with a great deal of activity, people chattering away and coming in and out of rooms behind us while we talked with village leaders. After the talk, an elderly woman spoke to the interpreter, who turned to us, with mock distress, saying, “Oh my! They’ve killed and cooked a Heifer chicken for us!”

We were ushered into a room where a long table had been set, with over a dozen mismatched chairs, plates, silverware and handmade lace tablecloths. Dishes of wedged cucumbers and tomatoes, beans, and stewed chicken awaited us. Beside each plate were tall glasses of water, also mismatched. It was beautiful. For a moment, I could not move, I was so humbled.

The spell was broken when one trip participant leaned over and whispered to the group, “Can we eat that? Raw vegetables? And we don’t know where that water came from!” Another participant and I exchanged glances, pulled out chairs and sat down for the meal.

I admit: I have never had dysentery. It is probably awful and I know it can have serious complications if untreated. But what could be worse than refusing such spontaneous generosity from people who had so much less material wealth than we had?

Sometimes having only a little makes you more grateful for what you have.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I hope you will have something to be grateful for. Even more, I hope you are able to carry the feeling of gratitude with you throughout the season and the year.

Jessica York serves the Unitarian Universalist Association as director of the Faith Development, Office of the Ministries and Faith Development.