Thanksgiving takes place here in the US in just a few days—but, for most of us, it won’t be a typical holiday. While we’re used to traveling and gathering in large family groups (and/or hosting Friendsgiving the weekend before), that likely won’t be happening this year. And while most of us are healthy, a great number of our fellow citizens are sick with COVID-19 (including two dear friends who are members of my spiritual writers’ group here). There is still much to be thankful for, but many of our usual ways of celebrating this holiday just won’t be the same.

Such thoughts led me to ponder the feelings of those who participated in the first American Thanksgiving. (Yes, the stories we learned as kids were mostly tradition, with little substance or journalistic truth. Yet there still would have been moments when the early Plymouth colonists were thankful for their harvest and for Wampanoag Native Americans who shared their own bounty with starving white people.) Half of the colonists who arrived on the Mayflower had died during the past year, and there was a lot of uncertainty about the future amongst those who remained. In that sense, we share more than we realize with those American ancestors.

All this doesn’t mean we should spend the day depressed, longing for what isn’t happening. Instead, I see this as an opportunity to explore some new ideas and possibly create some new Thanksgiving traditions. Obvious ones include virtual family gatherings via video (I’m definitely giving thanks for the Internet!), or online CookAlongs with treasured family recipes or new discoveries. But folks are getting creative, and I came across one such instance in my own neighborhood: the “I’m Thankful” Tree.

This tree, shown above, is clearly bright and cheerful; I particularly like the multicolored trunk wrapping, which reminds me of old-fashioned knee-high knitted socks or leg warmers. The branches of this “I’m Thankful” Tree are filled with brightly colored pompoms, along with a message to take one and share it with someone you are thankful for. I’ve taken one, and already know who’s going to get it (though it will be a few days before the delivery time is right).

I invite you to consider creative ways that you can express who and what you’re thankful for in this challenging year. Even—perhaps especially—in times of death and deprivation, it’s important to find ways to give thanks for the many gifts we do have.

Also, please take some time to pray for those who have died over the past year, and their loved ones, along with those who will spend this Thanksgiving sick and/or isolated because of the pandemic. Thank you, and a blessed Thanksgiving!

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