Thanksgiving is a special holiday in the United States. Most Thanksgiving traditions focus on family, friends and great food. Sometimes you host the holiday at your house, while other times you travel to see friends over the long weekend. Once we moved to Arizona, we're started visiting friends in San Diego, neighbors in New York who we've known for more than 30 years.
Now that I've moved to Florida, it's time to create some new Thanksgiving traditions. I'm looking forward to sharing this holiday with my grown children, their families and friends. At the same time, it's important to recognize the world beyond my family.
The world is changing in ways that are hard to imagine. Many sad things 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 to see thousands of people lose their homes. 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).
- 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 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 arcane rules prevent them from voting!
- Thousands of potential immigrants are being held in/around the southern border. Some in our country built by immigrants, no longer want immigrants to join us … it's truly sad!
Immigration & 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. When this was happening, it seemed strange that more immigrants from the middle east and Africa weren't coming to the US. Now it's clear US immigration comes primarily from central and south America.
Many family traditions are passed down from your family. Other traditions are based on where you live and sometimes, the type of work family members do. My family's Thanksgiving traditions are similar to many American families, especially those who live in/near New York City.
- A huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings, including family dishes like green beans with onions and sweet potato, passed down parents and grandparents.
- Family and friends (grandmother, aunt and uncle) always joined us for dinner.
- The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. We'd leave home early to watch the parade. Then we'd pick up my grandmother who lived in Manhattan. So every year I watch the parade, even if I have to get up early on the west coast.
Making Pay It Forward, A Great Thanksgiving Traditions
As you think about your Thanksgiving traditions today, have you considered adding a new tradition? There are many ways suggested in the collage above, where you can help others with very little time or money. The idea behind “pay it forward” is very simple.
Pay-it-forward can involve helping someone you know … or don't know. Take a meal to a senior living near you once a month. Adopt a needy family for Christmas and play Santa. The choices are endless and only need you to open your eyes to the people around you, helping where you can.
Thanksgiving Traditions that Help Others
During the holidays I've always reached out to help others, and teach my boys to do the same. Here are some ideas that make my family's holidays special 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 to a SafePlace (find your location) 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. 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. My friends brought vases and unwanted decorations. My decorator picked up evergreen branches and taught us how to make big, beautiful bows. We took 15 decorated vases to a local nursing home.
- Meals on wheels – This concept is amazing once you need the help. After signing my mother up, I realized it's much more than 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 needed help paying for dinner. So I love adopting a family and shopping for their list. 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. They 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 (allowed one box per boy).