Sometimes it feels nearly impossible to raise a grateful child in America.
Everywhere you – and they – look are images encouraging them to want more; to clamor for the next big thing; to compete for possessions they don’t really need or want.
The advertising messages that besiege children at this time of year undercut the lesson in gratitude that parents and educators struggle to communicate year-round.
This is true despite the fact that the religious holidays that many of us celebrate this month are based on priceless things that are relatively free: family, friends, good food, music, quiet traditions, and service to others.
One way I tried to remind myself – and encourage my child – to be grateful for the wonderful things in our lives is by creating a gratitude chain. My son and I cut out thin strips of multi-colored construction paper and then wrote one thing for which we were grateful on each strip.
Our entries ranged from typical (we are each grateful for the other) to the relatively silly (we are also grateful for peanut butter cups) to the mundane (I am profoundly grateful for my reliable Toyota Camry!).
It also encouraged a conversation about what we value. I wrote down the name of my favorite book and urged my son to do the same.
He wrote down the name of his best friend – and reminded me to do likewise.
We can’t inoculate ourselves or our children from the blinding commercialism of the season. But for a few quiet moments we can focus on what – and who – we do have.
After we completed our gratitude chain we hung it up in our living room, next to the Christmas tree that come Christmas morning will tower over many beautifully wrapped gifts.
But I hope that for a moment we will be reminded that our real gifts aren’t laying under the tree; they’re found in every corner of our lives.
Corny, yes, and for that I’m grateful.
Filed under Holiday, Learn
Photo UC Davis Health System
Few holidays have more of a food-focus than Thanksgiving.
Ask any child what the most remarkable thing about Thanksgiving is and they’ll tell you it’s the quantity of food that is consumed around the dining room table, from the massive turkey to the creamy pumpkin pies.
But it is important to remember that the real message of Thanksgiving – for harried parents and hungry kids – is gratitude, and gratitude is a common sentiment across cultures.
While there may not be Pilgrims or cranberries fresh from a can, many nations have some sort of “thanksgiving” celebration in which they show their gratitude for a successful harvest.
Pongal is a harvest festival in South India that celebrates the contributions of people, the sun, the rain, and even the cattle in providing a successful harvest.
The Pongal Festival lasts for four days in mid-January. On the first day, old clothes are thrown away or burned to indicate that a new life has begun.
On the second day, rice or milk is boiled in new pots until it boils over. This signifies the hope that the new harvest will produce plenty of food for everyone.
On the third day, families wash and adorn their cows and buffalo to show their appreciation for the animals’ labor in producing a good harvest.
Finally, on the fourth day families celebrate with a picnic.
In China and Vietnam, families celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, in September with a feast.
The highlights of the meal are mooncakes, spongy cakes made from bean paste or lotus and imprinted with designs.
The holiday is also marked by carrying lanterns and revering the moon.
Many people in Africa celebrate in late August when the first crop of the season, the yam, is harvested.
People wear masks, often made from grass and leaves, listen to music, and dance.
In Ghana, the celebration is called the Homowo Festival and it literally means “hooting at hunger.”
However and whenever you celebrate, it’s always worthwhile to give thanks and share with others.
IndoChina Oddyssey Tours