Thanksgiving is a special holiday in the United States. Most Thanksgiving traditions focus on family, friends and great food. We're visiting friends we've known for more than 30 years, first in New York and then California. This year that doesn't feel like enough. The world is changing in ways that are hard to imagine. While it would be easy to forget what's happening beyond our homes, I simply can't do that.
There are many sad things that have happened to me personally and to some of my friends. Yet, when I step outside my personal bubble to look at the global landscape, I realize we have so much to be thankful for in the United States.
Security with a Place to Call Home
Most people can remember when the housing bubble broke just a few years ago. It was horrible lose their homes due to the greed of big banks who were never penalized. Most (not all) Americans have recovered but there are hundreds of thousands who lack the security of a place to call home this Thanksgiving.
- More than half a million people in the US are homeless, including veterans and single youth/young adults. Plus 50% of the homeless population is over the age of 50 (see 2016's Shocking Homelessness Statistics for more information).
- Even if you lost your home, most people were still American citizens with a country to call home. Many aren't as lucky. The plan to force the Dreamers out of the US, to countries they know little/nothing about is sickening. Here's just one story, DACA Twins are Spending Thanksgiving Fighting their Parents' Deportation.
- Now the Haitians are being told they're no longer welcome in the US, and what about the American citizens who live in Puerto Rico. Citizenship and taxes don't seem to be good enough when for whatever arcane rule prevents them from voting!
How Immigrants Adopt Thanksgiving Traditions
At this point I must admit I'm ashamed to be an American.
My father came to the US from Germany, after escaping from a Nazi work camp. My mother's parents also came from Europe. I have the utmost respect for the European countries who've accepted their role in the European migrant crisis.
My family's Thanksgiving traditions were like most American families.
- A huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
- Family and friends joined us for dinner.
- My favorite part was going to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade each year. We'd leave home early, watch the parade and then pick up my grandmother who lived in Manhattan. So at 6:15am this morning, I was watching the parade this morning, from a hotel room in California.
Make Pay It Forward One of Your New Thanksgiving Traditions
As you think about Thanksgiving, maybe you'll want to add a few new Thanksgiving traditions to your holiday? I love the collage above from a college, because there are lots of ideas that require very little time or money. The idea behind “pay it forward” isn't that you have to adopt a child or family, it's that you commit to open your eyes to the people around you and help where you can.
Thanksgiving Traditions that Help Others
Here are some of my personal and family activities that come to mind, especially when I think about the special holidays that happen at the end of the year. Pay-it-forward can happen any time of year, although it's more important during the holidays when people focus on family, food and giving gifts.
- Not everyone has a warm, loving home to go to for Thanksgiving. Listen to your friends and invite someone who's feeling left out.Serve the homeless a hot cooked meal – When visiting my older son in Seattle, rather than going to a restaurant for dinner, we joined other volunteers to serve meals to the homeless in a huge armory.
- Gift clothes you don't wear – A favorite year end activity is cleaning out my closet. What hasn't been worn that year (jewelry too), gets taken a SafePlace (find your location) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (or similar community non-profit serving mothers and young adults).
- Donate toiletries to the homeless – When traveling I always bring home the soap, shampoo and other toiletries, a habit started when I lived/worked in Asia (loved the packaging). Right after Thanksgiving, they all get donated to a local non-profit supporting the homeless.
- Share holiday decorations with seniors in nursing homes – One year I decided to clear out all the flower vases above the refrigerator. I invited friends to bring their own vases and unwanted decorations. My decorator picked up evergreen branches and taught us how to make big, beautiful bows. Another friend dropped about 15 decorated vases off at the nursing home where her mother lives.
- Meals on wheels – This concept is amazing once you need the help, as I had to sign my mother up this year. It's not just the food. Many housebound seniors are lonely so a visitor if only for a few minutes, is appreciated.
Holiday Traditions that Fit Your Budget
As you scan the activities above, you'll see there's almost no cost to you beyond your time and gas money. Here are a few more activities I enjoy that cost more and they're well worth it.
- Adopt a family for the holidays – We don't exchange gifts, a tradition started by my son when they need help paying for dinner. So I love adopting a family and shopping for a list given to me. Today my family is part of Singleton Mom's Santa program. There are lots of ways to find families or grab a star off one of the gift trees at the mall.
- Donate an old car instead of selling it – In southern NH, there's a network of churches that house and feed the homeless. We donated our last car to them after getting it tuned up, cleaned and I had fun wrapping a big red ribbon over the roof. Be careful with which organization you pick, as the one before this sold the car which made me angry.
- Boxes of groceries – When my boys were little, they loved going grocery shopping with me. The each got a cart to fill for “their family”. I put the boxes in first to save time, and they had fun shopping like a grownup. I only nixed one item – boxes of chocolate straws and I set a limit of one box per boy.