When I was thirteen, my family emigrated to the United States, and I lived there through my high school years. While the United States and Canada are close neighbors, and on the surface, our cultures look a lot alike, there are differences in our cultures that can be quite radical. And being so close, and yet so different at the same time means that Canadians and Americans invest a lot of energy into obsessing over how we are different, and wishing our neighbors were more like us.
The fact of the matter is that it is where we are closest that we are at our most virtuous. Both Canadians and Americans value being individuals; we appreciate, as cultures that we all ought to be allowed to do “our own thing,” as long as that thing doesn’t hurt other people. We both value persuasion, fair dealing and honest business over forcing people to do what we think is right. We both – when we are at our best – would rather have a meaningful conversation than an argument. I think we also share the exasperation, as peoples, about how our governments, and the worst elements of our culture have run away with all the power. We both also celebrate gratitude.
Today is American Thanksgiving, a celebration of a historical agreement between the early colonists and the natives. Canadian Thanksgiving happens in mid-October, and is an Anglicization of an old Iroquois harvest festival. Whatever date you put it on the traditions are very similar: you gather with family and close friends and share a feast. You take the time to pray together, if you are religious, and whether you are or not, you especially take time to practice gratitude by listing the good fortunes, blessings, and meaningful relationships you have experience in the past year. For Americans this Holiday may well be more important to them than Christmas, in terms of how important it is for them to be with their loved ones and observe tradition.
When I moved to the US, my family worked hard to mix our own traditions with the traditions of our new home. One of the ways we did that was to celebrate both thanksgivings, complete with turkey feast (we’d barely finished the leftovers first bird from October, when the November bird would be on the table!) A few of my friends thought this was a little excessive, but the reasoning we had for embracing both the traditions was simple – you can never be too grateful.
I learned early in my life that gratitude is a powerful thing. It is emotionally cleansing. To say “Thank you,” and really mean it, causes all your stress and worry to melt away. it clears your mind and brings you into the now – you have no room for brooding or worry. Being in the Now means that you can experience only two emotions – joy and curiosity, both of which are energizing and healing feelings.
I perform a daily practice of gratitude in my life. I take a little time out of every day to stop and think about five things that are good in my life, and say “Thank you,” for them. I don’t even thank anyone in particular – I don’t know if I believe in God, and if I do, I doubt very much that God looks, thinks, or feels anything like we do, but perhaps I am thanking her. Or perhaps I am thanking myself for the good results of the decisions I have made. The act, the feeling is in many ways more important than who we are thankful to.
This year, my family is a little larger, and I have so much more to be grateful for. To see it and acknowledge it is a powerful thing.