It’s Not Just About the Food; Appreciating the Spirit of Thanksgiving

When I was a child, Thanksgiving was simply wonderful: a house warmed by a crowd of family and friends; the mouth-watering aroma of rosemary, parsley, and sage; happy chatter in the kitchen over hand-rolled pie crusts; and, last but not least, the thrill of time off school.

Thanksgiving as an adult, specifically as a mother with young kids, is not nearly as enjoyable. Why? Mostly because my role in the celebrations as a youth was just to show up, wash my hands, and remember to say “Please pass the mashed potatoes”. These days, Thanksgiving means planning, recipe-selecting, grocery shopping, housecleaning, cooking, baking, and don’t forget all the dishwashing! Weeks of hectic activity and hours in the kitchen culminate in about 30 minutes at the table until everyone has uncomfortably overeaten.

Simpler meals, with less dishes to prepare (and wash!), can be just as delicious and fulfilling. Check out some great plant-based recipes here that are easy to make and are healthier than some traditional choices. A lighter meal will leave your guests feeling more awake and happy, rather than just ready to head to the couch for a nap. Not all holiday traditions are worth keeping, after all.

I’d like to return to simplicity, specifically so that my family and I have the time and energy to reflect on a true Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, after all, is a verb—an action word. Historically, it is a harvest-time celebration; a time of abundance and hope, even in the midst of uncertainty for the future (the bleak winter months ahead). It should be a time to simply be thankful for what we have without dwelling on what we don’t.

Besides the health benefits of a lighter, easier-to-digest meal, gratefulness of heart can benefit your physical well-being as well.  A 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences indicated that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. Additionally, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has shown in multiple studies that gratitude reduces toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. His research convincingly confirms that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.

To restore the true spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s focus on joy and simplicity to make way for a sincere attitude of gratitude. This holiday season treat yourself to some healthy, ‘ono plant-based foods but don’t forget to fill-up on the sweetness of gratitude as well!