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Make Your Thanksgiving Matter

Ideas for choosing holiday foods and actions that mean something more than just heartburn.

When planning a holiday celebration, there are really two main issues: what we eat and what we do.  As I’ve focused on having “conscious holidays” the past several years, I’ve found that being intentional in both of those areas -- eat and do -- has been liberating, meaningful and actually quite fun.  

Many of us do “what we’ve always done” on Thanksgiving (which may include too much stress and too much food). This year, perhaps it’s time to revisit those traditions a bit, and create an intention to make everything you eat and do truly matter to you, to those you spend the holiday with, and to others you may not even know.

Here a a few simple tips to help you make a positive difference with what you eat and what you do this Thanksgiving.

Ways To Eat That Matter

Tip 1:  Choose compassionate.

Call it compassionate, cruelty-free, vegan or plant-based, there are so many ways to have a delicious, satisfying Thanksgiving meal without harming any living beings -- because living matters to turkeys, too.  (And, I promise, you will still get plenty of protein!)  Why not try a plant-based holiday feast this year -- food from the earth’s bounty?  

Delicious vegan Thanksgiving recipes abound online.  I’ve been cooking a vegan Thanksgiving for several years now, and non-vegan guests love the food, too, always telling me they don’t miss the bird on the table!  If you’re nervous about it, try a potluck, where everyone brings one vegan dish to share. 

Tip 2:  Choose organic.

If Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we have, and for the natural world around us (a huge part of Native American tradition, of course), it’s a good idea to leave the chemicals, pesticides and genetically-modified ingredients out of the the equation.  

Having an organic Thanksgiving is pretty simple (especially if you follow Tip 3!), way healthier for our bodies and our planet, and really just takes going shopping with your conscious hat on.  Sticking with in-season produce can help you economize on buying organic, and many natural groceries have pre-holiday sales on seasonal organic ingredients.

Tip 3: Choose simple.

To save yourself a ton of stress and keep your focus on what matters, remember these three words: keep it simple.  Nobody needs a dozen dishes on the table; just make a few, perhaps in larger portions if you have a big crowd.  I usually make one main dish (perhaps winter squash stuffed with nuts and cranberries, or a lentil loaf), maybe three veggie sides (like mashed cauliflower or potatoes with mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce and cole slaw), and vegan pumpkin pie with coconut whipped cream for dessert.  

Our friends tell me they feel so good after eating this way -- and none of us end up with the bloaty heartburn we remember from our Thanksgivings past!  Decorations can be as easy as mini gourds and pumpkins and leaves from your yard.  Keeping it simple also keeps your energy on what’s most important: who you are with, how you are helping others, and what you are grateful for (see other Tips below!).

Things To Do That Matter

Tip 1:  Acknowledge those not on holiday.

Many people don’t have the day off on Thanksgiving -- mostly those who are helping others in jobs that never stop. One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions (which I came up with because I couldn’t safely bring my food-allergic kids to help in a soup kitchen) is picking one group of those on-duty people, and bringing them a surprise gift basket on the holiday morning.  Think the local fire or police station, a nursing home, a hospital.  

Consider the people who keep us safe, who care for those who have nobody else to care for them, often doing hard or dangerous work.  How might they feel to be acknowledged on the holiday; and how might you feel to acknowledge them? My kids still talk about making a big basket of goodies at the Wednesday Carlsbad Farmer’s Market and bringing it to the firefighters on Thanksgiving morning last year!  (Helping at a soup kitchen is of course another great choice, too, as there are no holidays for the homeless.)

Tip 2:  Take time for true gratitude.

I’ve been at plenty of Thanksgiving celebrations where the “gratitude” of the day consists of the five minutes it takes before the meal begins for everyone  around the table to make an impromptu speech about what they’re grateful for. This is lovely, don’t get me wrong. But what would it look like if we slowed down and practiced a more thoughtful practice of gratitude?  

Even if the pre-meal gratitude included writing things down, or playing a gratitude game, it would just bring a bit more focus to the concept.  Think about ways you can infuse the entire day with gratitude.  Leave gratitude notes in front of bedroom doors to kick off the morning. Our family tries to get to the beach on Thanksgiving morning and read Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message; you could also read this at your holiday table.  Wouldn’t it be great to kick off a “month of gratitude” and commit to each writing down three gratitudes a day? The possibilities are endless; all it takes is the intention.

Tip 3:  Create a charitable tradition.

As Thanksgiving traditionally kicks off the “season of giving” for Americans, what better time to start a new tradition of charitable giving for your family?  I know some families like to “adopt a turkey,” rather than eat one, on Thanksgiving.  Other families “adopt a family” to sponsor during December.  

In our house, Thanksgiving is the day we begin our conversation about what charities we will donate to as part of our holiday giving.  (Each of our kids’ uncles gifts them Christmas/Hanukkah checks to use solely for donations -- a tradition we started years ago to cut down on the “stuff” in all of our houses -- and the kids love to research and ponder which causes top their list each year.) Charitable giving can also be more active than just writing a check, too, such as volunteering or organizing an event. Consider a way that works in your house to create a new tradition of charitable giving in the month ahead.

I hope these ideas help you to keep it simple and make it matter this Thanksgiving -- and enjoy the day!

Lynn Marr November 14, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Thanks for the compassionate, informational article.
Angela Herrera November 20, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Wonderful ideas. So looking forward to surprising someone with a basket of fresh goodies on thursday morning.
Megan Pincus Kajitani November 20, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Thanks so much, Lynn and Angela!
Sharle Kinnear November 20, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Your huge, compassionate heart shines in your article, Megan! Thanks so much for reminding your readers to reexamine the true meaning of Thanksgiving - and to reinvent the way the holiday is celebrated. Namaste . . .

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