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Remembering what Thanksgiving is all about: Gratitude

How my family’s “thankful tree” tradition reminds us to think about how lucky we are.

Gracia Lam

Every year, on November 1, my daughters remind me with excitement that it is time to put up our Thankful Tree. The Thankful Tree is a felt wall hanging I bought several years ago, kind of a Thanksgiving countdown calendar similar to a Christmas Advent calendar. It's a brightly colored tree with 30 pockets sewn into its branches. But rather than stuff the pockets with candy, each day of the month we write down something we are thankful for on a piece of paper and tuck it into that day's pocket. We have saved all of these notes over the years and have fun rereading them at the beginning of each November.

We started this tradition in 2011 when my older daughter was about to turn 3 and her little sister was a year and a half. Only the 2-year-old participated that year, and her ruminations on thankfulness reflect the general interests of your average toddler: "apples," "pigs, horseys, and sheep — baaa!" "birdies and butterflies and . . . butterflies," "daddy, square cereal, and cups. That's it. We do another one tomorrow." Lots about hugging mommy, daddy, and sister, too.


In year two, we had two perspectives on gratitude, one more influenced by grown-ups than the other: "I'm thankful for parents, because some people don't have any" from the older daughter, "my cribby" from the younger. "Having a nice bedroom, because some people don't have bedrooms" from the older, "candy" from the younger. "Having yummy strawberries, because some people don't have strawberries" from the older. "Fruits, vegetables, and . . . chocolate" from the younger.

I like that the Thankful Tree gets us all to focus in a tangible way each day on how lucky we are. It's easy to fall into the trap of wanting more: more money, more clothes, more toys, more stuff. But the truth, reflected in these 30 notes each year, is that we have all we need: "warm blankets on cold days," "our beautiful flowers in summer," "shooting stars," "animals and the moon," "all the seasons," "Maine in the summer," and of course, most important, "my best mama," "hugs and kisses from daddy," "snuggling with my sister," "our family."


When I was a kid, my mom had what I thought was a strange habit: Periodically, as our family of four sat down to dinner together, which we did almost every night, her eyes would fill up with tears. "I'm so happy we are all here together, having dinner together," she'd say. As a kid, I was completely puzzled by this . . . where else would we be? And as a teenager, I am sure I rolled my eyes and sighed. But as an adult and a mother, now I get it. She knew what I hadn't figured out yet: Children grow up and move away; our life and health and the lives and health of those we love are precious gifts that can be taken away at any second; and even the best of moments, the ones that make us wish we could freeze time, are fleeting.

I hope to raise my daughters with a spirit of gratitude. And while I fully expect that someday they may roll their eyes and sigh at our Thankful Tree, I do hope that by learning to be thankful for things like apples, horseys, warm blankets, and square cereal now, they will develop the habit, over time, of being appreciative for all the good things in life — no matter how big or small. For that perfect day on the empty beach in July when they played tag with the waves; for the way an oak tree looks in late October when its leaves are flaming red and glinting in the bright sun; for the warmth of gathering around a table with family — talking, eating, and sharing; for here, for now, for this.


Laura Shea Souza is a writer and communications professional in Stow. Send comments to

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