Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's harder to be thankful the week after Thanksgiving.

"O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness."
- William Shakespeare .

Act I of “Holidays circa 2008” is over. Our college kids have gone back to school for a few more weeks. The left-overs are gone, except for the turkey carcass awaiting its final destination in turkey vegetable soup. Americans are collectively hauling out the Xmas decorations, and trying to find reasons to be cheerful as recession bears down on us. Even the weather doesn't cooperate. In fact today the skies in Colorado are in a putty gray funk. The only cheering is going on up in the high country as snow accumulates at the ski resorts. (Which I personally think is a very great thing!)

We gear up for celebration this time of year (many major religions, in fact, share this season of celebration) and most of us are surprised by the odd sadness that can arrive this week. This is an emotional time of year. Our expectations run high. Our memories of holidays past add extra glow to old traditions. Most of us can't possibly measure up to the holidays we hope to create. We stress and fret and in the end disappoint ourselves. And not just because the coffers are low and we're frazzled by crowded malls or grim job prospects.

I think it is because for many of us, we lock thanksgiving into a single day; then we check it off our “to-do” list and move on to the next calendar event. There's a reason that thanksgiving comes when it does in the grand pageant of the year, not the least of which is that it follows harvest time. The difference between saying “I do feel grateful” and “I don't feel grateful” is two letters, an apostrophe and our actions. We are meant to do something. “Thanksgiving, after all,” as W.J. Cameron notes, “is a word of action.”

We aren't meant to relegate Thanksgiving's meaning to the traditions of a single day! Oh, we chuckle when Erma Bombeck notes: "What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving ?"

Yes, but....I've spent the past several days, amidst the hubbub of Thanksgiving really considering what it means to be grateful and what I'm to do with what reveals itself. Cicero said that "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."

So in that case, a grateful heart leads to other acts of character; like compassion, integrity and generosity. U.S. President's thoughts on Thanksgiving are recorded because they annually issue a proclamation of Thanksgiving. But they speak profoundly: Teddy Roosevelt commented that “True homage comes from the heart, and not just the lips.”

Other quotable folks have gone on record that gratefulness isn't just a matter of the heart, it's a case of the soul. Aesop Fables instructs us that “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”

Aesop is not alone in that opinion. John Fitzgerald Kennedy noted that “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

It's Act II of Holidays 2008. I know that this year it is more of an effort than most years. But that is what will make it the most special holiday for us all if we get out and MAKE LIGHT, not just soak it in. Take time to DO something to act grateful, not just profess it.

Me, I've begun on my list of gratitudes: I've signed up to walk in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk ( ) on December 14th here in Denver to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. Join me or find a walk in your area to raise money for research programs to help fight the single most debilitating cause of disability in America. I've vowed to not miss a single Salvation Red Kettle in any store I enter this year, even if I've only got a quarter on me to contribute. I've prepared bags of out-grown coats for Good Will and this year I'm going to find one of those mitten trees that help kids in need and grab a couple of mitten wishes to fill. It's a start on a grateful heart.

©Jan Johnson Wondra

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