Thanksgiving is Remembering to Remember

A French proverb states that gratitude is the memory of the heart—it is the way that the heart remembers. If you want to be a grateful person then you must remember to remember.” (Emmons in Gratitude Works)

At the core of these practices is memory. Gratitude is about remembering. If there is a crisis of gratitude in contemporary life, as some have claimed, it is because we are collectively forgetful.” (Emmons) 

This is essentially what holiday celebrations are about. Holiday celebrations give us great opportunities to “remember to remember,” because to remember and exercise memory like a muscle, we need a pause. We need a moment to re-focus on good and meditate—even if it is for a second—on the gifts entangled within the drama of life. We need space to think and not run. 

If we don’t stop, life will run over moments and trample them under the chorus of, “We want” and “Why can’t I have this?” 

But, it is like Our mind wants to run and jump from one thing to the next. Our thoughts are like water that flow into grooves eroded into the soil. Without effort, our thoughts sink into envy and entitlement, and we chase after stuff. 

That’s why God established:

  • The peace offering, or thanksgiving offering, of Leviticus 7,
  • the constant singing of praise after David brought the Ark into the Tabernacle in 1 Chronicles 16,
  • and the Lord’s Supper of Christ at the Last Passover underscore the importance of remembrance. 

Without celebrations of remembrance, we would ruin our hearts with pursuit of what we want and desire. Actually, that is what many of us are doing because we never pause. Therefore, we become brittle and hard as stone, and we crack under the pressure of the world. 

So, we need this…

It’s natural to be forgetful, envious, and resentful. It takes a moment of discipline to stop and wrestle your mind from the narrow and envious thoughts that crowd in.

Putting on the brakes and being present is hard, but we need it. 

We need the sabbath. We need eucharist. We need holidays and celebrations to remember. Take them! Don’t resist the pause. Lean into them and conceive of new traditions for your family. 

Build in a system of memory that lands in gratitude. This is what celebrations are meant to be. Absent gratitude, celebrations are meaningless, empty gestures. Annoyances.

Celebrations anchored in gratitude create bonds. This is why they are so important for families. Celebrations become bonds and points of connection. And these points of connection become symbols that represent the bonds that are made strong by gratitude and memory. Without gratitude, these symbols of celebration are vain and empty. They mean nothing. 

In our family, we drop pieces of popcorn into into a large jar with a candle in it every Thanksgiving. When we come to the table, each of us has three pieces of popcorn on our plate. Then before we eat our meal, we go around the table to give each person the opportunity to say what we are thankful for over the last year and then drop in one piece of corn into the jar around the candle. We go around the table at least three times. Once everyone has said three things they’re thankful for, each of us have the opportunity to add more if we want to keep going, but there’s no obligation.  When we did this last night, a couple of our kids went to 5 and 6.

Now, after many years, there is a lot of corn in this jar which serves as a constant visual representation of our thanksgiving and the bond that we share as a family.

There is nothing exceptional and unique about the corn or the jar or the candle. What makes it special is thanksgiving, and the fact that it is now a symbol of the bond we share as a family! It sits on top of a shelf that we all see the entire year reminding us. 

Your family could do something similar and what would make it unique is your bond and your memories—your thanksgiving. 

These sort of celebrations are powerful. If you do them multiple times, they become tradition. 

Pause + Remember + Gratitude = A Bond in Celebration

This is the formula for how you don’t waste a holiday with family. You create traditions anchored in gratitude. Whatever they might be! They don’t have to be overly creative, but they will be special and unique because it is your family doing them. Matter of fact, do lots of them. This season is the natural time to institute them.  We do another one around Christmas that I will tell you about another day.

You can have many of these celebrations throughout the year. They don’t have to be anchored to a holiday. Celebrations like this provide opportunity for pause and remember and to be grateful and they bind your family together. 

I know it is past the Thanksgiving holiday, but it is not too late. Go ahead and gather your family together. Share what you are thankful for and then mark it in some way. Write it in a journal, or put up a tree and write them on index cards and hang them on the tree with paper clips. I don’t know. Create your own celebration that fits your family.

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