The trend for the Christmas season to encroach or even bulldoze over Thanksgiving here in the United States is a growing one. The sales hit earlier, the music comes on sooner, and decorations go up faster each year. I am here to admit that I am guilty of the latter, but not in the way you think.
I’d like to introduce you to our Thankful Tree! She made her debut during Covid and has come out every early-November since. She has become a staple of our Thanksgiving holiday because she serves a dual purpose. Not only do we get a jump start on that beloved holiday soon to come, but she also holds a space for gratitude.
When the Thankful Tree comes out, we slowly adorn her with special paper leaves. These leaves each bear a token of gratitude. We keep a pile of blank ones close by with a marker or pen, and whenever something strikes us, we write down what we’re thankful for and put it on the tree. Over time she becomes more colorful and lopsided (as to be expected when kids decorate a tree), and I love it all. Then, once the day of thanks arrives, we collect each leaf off of the tree and read them aloud as a family.
Sometimes they say simple things like, “Mom,” or, “My favorite stuffy.” Other times they are reminders of fun trips we’ve had, or hard times we made it through. By the end of reading through them, we are enveloped in a feeling of abundance, humility and gratitude at having been so blessed. Without much effort, we find ourselves turning outward to those whose hearts still hurt, whose tummies are empty or whose homes are sad. It provides a natural segue into the spirit of giving that is Christmas.
I honor the fact that not all people feel this sense of abundance because of difficult life circumstances. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good when you feel like a speck of sand on the beach – lost and yet surrounded, relentlessly beaten by the waves of life, barely able to catch a breath. I also know that a sense of abundance can be developed with time and effort. Consider the breath you just took. The heart beating inside you. The technology you are using to read this now. Start there. Keep going.
This is the kind of exercise I try to use with my oldest when he finds himself spiraling in the negative. He gets stuck in his own mind sometimes (don’t we all??) and, for him, five is the magic number. I challenge him to find five things to be thankful for. Usually ‘thing number one’ is the hardest, but by the time he gets to five his mood is lighter and he can see his way out of the foggy darkness of negativity.
Maybe mounting a tree in your living room and covering it with paper leaves isn’t your thing. Perhaps it could be a naked paper turkey on your wall that you add feathers to instead! Even if neither of those speak to you, I still give you the challenge to name each blessing one by one and watch yourself wake up to the joy that is the practice of gratitude and finding abundance.