We are just one week away from Thanksgiving and many people are already gathering special foods and planning for the big day. Thanksgiving is often considered one of the most popular holidays of the year because it usually involves lower expectations and causes less stress than some other major holidays. Thanksgiving is one of the simpler and easier holidays to celebrate.

America’s tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving is related to a three-day harvest festival dating back to 1621. That was the one involving the Pilgrims and the resident Native-Americans like Squanto. The Pilgrims were suffering while trying to adapt to their new home in North America while the Native-Americans were trying to figure out how to adjust to their new neighbors presence.


Many people think Squanto is a myth but there is some biography about him. Apparently, he was born in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts but was abducted by an earlier explorer and taken to Spain, where he was sold into slavery. He escaped enslavement and made his way back to his home where he eventually served as an interpreter and intermediate between the Pilgrims and his resident Patuxet tribe!

Thanksgiving was remembered sporadically in the United States after that first Thanksgiving celebration, until George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1789. For many years following this designation, each president would “proclaim” a date for Thanksgiving until 1941 when congress officially made it the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving began as an austere time of prayer and contemplation to express gratitude to God for a good harvest. But even then, it was also remembered for the three-day feast that involved celebrating the many good things life offered as well as efforts to create peace between people. In modern times, most of us think of Thanksgiving as a chance to relax, eat well, spend time with loved ones and nap!

There are many shared Thanksgiving traditions like watching a parade, having turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie for dinner, playing touch football with family and watching movies together. Whatever the activities are for the day, they usually involve people who are close to us and who we appreciate having in our life. Because of the theme of gratitude and its origin as a peaceful celebration, it is also a time to consider making amends to friends and family who may have fallen out over the years. Thanksgiving is not just a time for expressing gratitude, it is also a time to practice forgiveness!

These emotions of appreciation, gratitude and forgiveness fill the holiday with meaning as the day urges us to pause and reflect on what we are most grateful for in our life. It is also a time to try and restore meaningful relationships that may have fallen by the wayside. As it turns out, gratitude, appreciation and forgiveness are some of the most powerful emotions that we can experience. They are considered healing emotions because research has shown that experiencing them and emphasizing them in our life, improves our physical and emotional health.

Many people wonder what it is that most people are grateful for. I often remember with humor my parents’ chagrin when my older sister answered that very question at the Thanksgiving dinner table with “having a good time!”

It turns out, she wasn’t far off as research has found that people are most grateful for their family and for their health and for enjoying life. Polling results has found that a desire for health, for everyone to get along, and for safe travel home leads the list of Thanksgiving wishes.

Next week’s holiday offers us the opportunity to take some time to consider what we appreciate about our life. It also gives us a chance to reach out to others in a loving and generous way and to be forgiving of others. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to celebrate our good fortune as well as to contemplate the importance of other people in our life which supports the time honored saying that “Happiness does not create gratitude, gratitude creates happiness!”

After all, if Squanto — after escaping kidnapping and enslavement — and the poor pilgrims, struggling to survive in their new home, can celebrate with gratitude, appreciation and forgiveness, we can certainly do the same!

Scott E. Smith, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist with Spectrum Behavioral Health in Arnold, Annapolis and Crofton MD. To contact Dr. Smith, please call 410-757-2077 or write to him at 1511 Suite 202, Ritchie Hwy., Arnold, MD. 21012