The Meaning of Thanksgiving
The Webster’s dictionary defines thanksgiving as:
1) The act of giving
2) A prayer of expressing gratitude
3) A public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness
There is no mention of turkey, football, nor vacation days away from school and work. This definition relates to the common noun thanksgiving without the capital T.
When I think about the meaning of thanksgiving, my first thoughts are actually not directly related to the holiday. I believe the above definition reflects the true meaning of what the holiday is supposed to represent — giving, gratitude, and celebration of divine goodness.
It has taken me many years to reach this level of understanding and appreciation for the holiday.
I can remember my early childhood days when the word Thanksgiving was solely defined by the holiday traditions. It meant holiday crafts and activities at school, class parties where we dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans, my mom busy cooking in the kitchen, and relatives coming to visit.
When I reached my middle school years, the importance of school crafts and cute activities disappeared, and I got excited about Thanksgiving because it meant a break from school, a big feast with lots of fabulous food, and extra time for me to see my family and friends.
My high school and college life was consumed with sports and November was basketball season – prime time for holiday tournaments. Therefore, Thanksgiving during this time period of my life meant basketball tournaments and traveling. Although we still enjoyed our share of traditional Thanksgiving holiday food, the location of the festivities changed depending on where the tournament was located. I was lucky enough to have a very supportive family who traveled with me; no matter whether we were in a big city or a small town, in 10 feet of snow or 80-degree weather, as long as we were together, we celebrated.
It wasn’t until I was about 24 that a major shift occurred in my definition of the word thanksgiving. I was playing professional basketball in Germany and was living far away from my family and friends. When November came around, there were no turkeys, pumpkins, or cornucopias on display in the shop windows because they didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving like we did in America. I did not have the opportunity to indulge in a big Thanksgiving feast, and for the first time, I was not surrounded by family and friends during the holiday season.
I had a choice to make. I could wallow in my sadness and disappointment – this would have been easy to do considering November in Germany meant grey skies and a chance of rain every day, German basketball was just not the same level of play as American basketball, and I couldn’t understand a word my Hungarian coach said. Or I could appreciate the fact that I was even being given the chance to play the game I loved as my profession and experience life in a different culture while I built relationships with new friends.
With this new perspective, it become hard to even waste time being upset about missing turkey and mashed potatoes considering all I was blessed with. I was surprised by the feeling of joy that still remained within me despite the absence of the holiday traditions, food, and family and friends that I had grown accustomed to having.
When the actual holiday was removed from life, I was finally able to take time to reflect on why we even celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place. I realized it was bigger than the turkey, football, vacation days, or even celebrating with family and friends.
It is a time set aside for us to reflect on our lives and celebrate all of our blessings.
It is a time to appreciate and embrace all the challenges we encounter and recognize how these moments provide us opportunities to learn, to grow, and to ultimately become better people.
It is a time to say thank you to others and find ways to give back, to show our gratitude for all that we have been given and all that we have received.
It is a time that should not be reserved for the last Thursday in November, but rather should be a way of living every day of our lives.
Thanksgiving is not about a holiday, but rather a spirit that should exist within each of us on a daily basis.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John F. Kennedy