My favorite part of Thanksgiving is ironing the tablecloths and napkins, setting the table, arranging flowers and falling into quiet, meditative actions. It’s the calm before the social whirlwind ahead—my chance to think about my family members and curiously anticipate their arrival.
I want to create a safe, beautiful space for all of my guests, so this time is my opportunity to call upon the energy required, because lord knows I need some help there.
I search for meaning in the trivial, remembering that gratitude and kindness bring levity to everything. I celebrate autumn, deciding to view the wave of holidays with determined optimism.
Yet I’m always a little worried when I send the email expressing my desire to host Thanksgiving. Is there too much going on to add Thanksgiving dinner to the to-do list? It’s a lot of work. The coordination, the preparation and all the unnoticed details usher in feelings of apprehension that obscure the life-giving power of serving others.
In our culture, traditions are becoming less and less important as corporate America hijacks each and every holiday, replacing natural beauty with kitschy, plastic, manufactured decorations.
I have come to the conclusion that Thanksgiving is a celebration of autumn, a time of togetherness and a genuine attempt to exhibit gratitude. Being thankful is no easy feat: Life is hard and we live in a time in which we are seeing the light go out for so many. When others are suffering, there is a guilt that comes with celebration. Even the concept of gratitude has been co-opted by so-called spiritualists who sell the belief that we can cultivate “abundance” through gratitude and that a $125 goopy facemask will deliver us to gratitude and self-worth.
What happened to the age-old wisdom that caring for others is how we care for ourselves?
This time of year, I wade through the cultural sludge, holding fast to the offerings of our beautiful Earth. I love the colors, flavors and cooking traditions of autumn and have a deep appreciation for the brisk weather and my wood-burning stove. I have respect for the tenderness of an embrace, the laughter of friends and family around the table. I dive deeply into craft, building my traditions with the work of my hands. Learning old recipes, researching new ones, peeling, chopping, cooking, waiting, tasting and smelling—there is a world of value in these small acts of kindness and service.
Let’s not be too rosy; these days are indeed accompanied by work and stress, onions to chop, a house to clean, dishes to wash and the general pressure of personal differences. For many, spending extended time with family is overwhelming.
Each holiday and family gathering gives us an opportunity to see and reflect on our own maturity. I know I’m not perfect, so I hope to be forgiven for my shortcomings while I learn to accept others for who they are. For me, this space and peace of mind comes from gratitude for the people in my life. I remember the humanity in all of us, and, when necessary, set boundaries to protect myself from negative energy. Most times, our kindness is a huge relief to others, no matter the situation. Act first; love trumps hate.
It’s wonderful to reshape the commercial meaning of conventional holidays and give it new blood. When the heart becomes the center of our actions, the cultural baggage dissipates and our ideals work more symbiotically with the realities of life.
The thoughtfulness we pour into our homes—opening our doors and showing up for others—will breathe new life into our spaces and spirits. If we want our world to heal, we must seek healing in our families and relationships. As part of this, we share food, stories, games and laughter. This is the knowledge that we teach our children through the way we live; a type of knowledge that will not let them down, regardless of how complicated the future may be, cultivating childlike wonder while preparing them to live in a culture predicated on dissatisfaction.
Lois Volta is a home consultant, musician and the founder of Volta Naturals. loisvolta.com