My family always does some sort of Thanksgiving ritual, a practice of counting our blessings, expressing our gratitude, giving thanks to God and each other for the bounty in our lives. In spite of my painful awareness that the Pilgrims and Indians fairy tale I was told as a child is a grim fiction, Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday. Given that Native Americans honor the fourth Thursday in November each year as a National Day of Mourning, perhaps one day we will banish Thanksgiving or give it a makeover so as not to rub salt into a raw wound of genocide, land theft, and colonization. Maybe we will all make it a day of grieving, in solidarity with our Native American countrymates. I would fully support that- and I get why it must be hard for Native Americans to see white people celebrating such a brutal history.
Even still, with that agonizing awareness, as an ancestor of European colonizers, I have a lot of happy memories from Thanksgiving, and it’s still one of the few American holidays that hasn’t been hijacked by commercialism and materialism. One of the only truly spiritual holidays, focusing on food, family, gratitude, and God, it always feels so expansive to sing and praise and focus on the good stuff.
But this year is a little different. I’ve been writing a lot about spiritual bypassing and how we can have a tendency to use our spirituality to bypass our painful emotions. So many of us have been brainwashed to avoid our painful emotions through our spirituality, but 2020 is causing a lot of emotions to break through even our most anchored spiritual practices and beliefs. A deeper, more embodied, emotion-friendly spirituality is good medicine right now.
I’m actually teaching a whole class about spiritual bypassing and a richer spirituality beyond that tendency in December- Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 101. Learn more and register here.
So with that in mind, how do we count our blessings as a family when we’re doing it on Zoom this year? How do we honor how much it sucks that we can’t be together- how sad and scary and infuriating 2020 has been- while still genuinely appreciating every single one of the many blessings we still have? What kind of Thanksgiving would let us feel all the feels while also honoring the emotion at the heart of this holiday- gratitude?
I spent some time pondering how to create a different kind of ritual this year, one that could boost family intimacy, still focus on gratitude, and also make space for the vulnerability of other emotions that might ride shotgun with gratitude. I thought I’d share it with you, in case you want to try doing this with your family, in person or via Zoom.
An Embodied, Emotion-Friendly Thanksgiving Ritual
1. Make two boxes- the God Box and the Gratitude Box. These can be simple shoe boxes or you can let the kids have a ball decorating them with glitter, cut up paper, paints, glue guns and rhinestones, whatever.
2. Have paper and something to write with. Colorful markers are fun but a pen or pencil is good enough.
3. Lead a short prayer or meditation, inviting the group to think about all the things that have been hard in 2020. Encourage them to feel whatever feelings they feel regarding the challenges of 2020. Invite them to make a “This sucks” list, or if the kids are really young, someone can scribe for them. Give them permission to be messy, sad, angry, scratchy with their marks- let loose. Encourage feelings of disappointment, fear, anger, sadness, despair. The “This sucks” list can be private or you can share. If you want, you can dance to something that helps you burn off some of the This Sucks energy. I like Feel Invincible by Skillet (on Spotify) for energetic release of hard feelings. (Kids love an excuse to headbang!)
4. After everyone settles down, acknowledge that there are things beyond our control in 2020, things we need God to help us with. Invite everyone to put the This Sucks list into the God Box as a way of humbly asking for help with what’s hard and surrendering to the Great Mystery, to God’s will, to the Divine Plan, whatever you want to call it. People can shred the This Sucks list, crumple it up, make it into a paper airplane, scribble all over it, anything that feels good. One by one, everyone can do this while the others quietly bear witness. (Playing a song while everyone does this can help evoke healthy feelings. I like Karen Drucker’s Morning Prayer:I Will Surrender- On Spotify or YouTube.)
5. Now lead a short prayer or meditation, inviting everyone to focus on the unexpected blessings 2020 has brought. Make a second list of all the good things that have happened this year. Offer perspective. As much as things might have sucked in 2020, some have more privilege and more blessings than others. Without bypassing the legitimacy of all the feelings evoked by the This Sucks list, invite everyone to focus on the blessings.
6. Make a Gratitude List. Invite everyone to share their gratitude list. Once everyone has shared, one by one, in silence or with music playing, put the Gratitude List in the Gratitude Box. (I like Karen Drucker’s I Am So Grateful/ Gratitude Vamp- on Spotify.)
7. If you’re in a safe place to do so, you can burn what’s in the boxes or bury them or otherwise ritually offer them up to God as a prayer.
8. Dance! I made a whole playlist on Spotify called Sweat Your Prayers that ranges from slow embodiment dances to fast-paced upbeat songs. One favorite for Thanksgiving- We Are All Earthlings by Michael Franti.
Interested in learning more about spirituality without spiritual bypassing? Listen to the free group healing I did with Internal Family Systems founder Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. here. Or join us for our upcoming class Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 101.