The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 to celebrate a successful harvest. A lot of things were on that menu, but not turkey. As a matter of fact Indians brought venison as a gift. Pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes were also not on the menu, since those vegetables were not introduced to New England till much later.

It just so happens that Thanksgiving did not become a yearly tradition till the 19th century when an American writer, Sarah Josepha Hale (well known for nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb”) was inspired by a book on pilgrim life; she campaigned for 30 years to make Thanksgiving an annual holiday. She was also the one who published recipes for pumpkin pie, stuffing and turkey. It was not until 1863 that President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Now, you may be saying to yourself: ‘OK that is a wonderful history lesson, but what is it doing in a yoga publication?’

Good question.

I love history and was truly surprised to learn about the relatively recent birth of this holiday. In my research, I found a lot more facts about this holiday, but I instead want to focus on the idea of giving thanks.

At the Thanksgiving table, it is customary to say what we are thankful for in the past year. But too often thinking about gratitude turns into an ego exercise, where we try to look our best in front of our family and friends.

We, yogis, may also go to Thanksgiving yoga classes where we meditate on gratitude. But gratitude is not an intellectual venture. We either feel grateful or not. We all have been in a situation where we say, “I am so grateful that that has happened, I would not be where I am,” or “I am grateful that I learned that lesson.” But are we really grateful? Or are we simply trying to make the best of a difficult situation? We may look grateful on the outside, but inside we cannot fake gratitude.

So, how can we develop gratitude within? Gratitude brings inner joy and peace, but it can be elusive. Life can be difficult and it is simply human to be less-than-grateful sometimes. But there is good news: we may not be able to think our way into gratitude, but I believe giving thanks is the answer. Instead of meditating on gratitude, step into action; write a letter to a family member or a friend — a real letter handwritten saying thank you. Help someone or volunteer in a soup kitchen. Don’t simply give money to a cause, step into action and help. We instantly find gratitude when our actions produce a smile on someone’s face. It is that human-to-human interaction — knowing that we have done something good that makes us feel good. In a way, charity work is not really charity, it is a mutually beneficial exchange of goods. Giving thanks and giving in general is like a giant superhighway to gratitude.

In the end, it’s not really about the history of the holiday; it’s about time with family, gratitude and reflecting on the previous year with a thankful heart. Make sure to give thanks to someone today.

[Photo by Amy Giziensi – CC BY]

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