It is part of Thanksgiving every year, whether celebrated on the traditional date or Columbus Day weekend, be it in Lowville or Martinsburg or Weston. Empty index cards are handed out while the turkey is roasting, wherever Quinns and Crosses are gathered for the three-day-long festivity called “Thanksgiving,” since we all know that everything included in our highly-evolved definition of the holiday cannot be crammed into Thursday alone.
No one eats Thanksgiving Dinner until the basket has been passed around, and each cousin, sibling, parent, aunt, uncle, and grandparent has dropped their written and folded card into it. My mom makes sure no one skips out on this important tradition. Her annual instructions to the procrastinators are the same as always, “Write what you’re thankful for. No dinner until everyone gives me their cards!”
At some point in the afternoon or evening, while bellies are still full of stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pie, the annual reading of The Thankful Cards is officially begun. Our dad has been the designated reader as long as I can remember. He takes one card at a time, and reads what is written. We do not put our names on these cards, so the rest of the family tries to guess who wrote each Thankful Card. Some family members try to express their gratitude in ways that will not “give themselves away,” too easily, while others do not care if their card is identified after the first word or phrase.
The history of Thankful Cards has included alphabetic lists, acrostics, transcribed random phrases from one-year-olds who didn’t understand the game at all, patriotic poetry, and other spurts of creativity. A dog or other pet, with assistance from their owner, might have contributed a card a time or two as well. It is a traditon that causes us to reflect, makes us laugh, sparks creativity, and points us to God, the Giver of every good thing in our lives.
Looking back to Thanksgiving’s origins, God brought the Pilgrims to the New World and blessed them, preserving their colony through great hardship. They worshipped Him by being thankful, celebrating, and spending time with each other and their new friends, Samoset, Tisquantum, and the Wampanoag people. God has brought each one of us on a journey throughout this past year as well, some more dramatic than others, but all involving both hardship and blessing. We too can worship Him by being thankful, celebrating, and spending time with the family or friends around us.
This year, on the fourth Thursday of November, I ate scrambled eggs and noodles and a carrot. It was the first morning I woke up in the adorable little house God blessed me with, which was a fun way to start Thanksgiving Day! In the midst of unpacking boxes and organizing and hosting an unofficial open house which started with a visit at 6 AM, food was not really a priority. My favorite Thanksgiving dinner menu items are not re-creatable in the jungle anyway. And although I love the foods that are consumed at a traditional Quinn/Cross clan gathering (we can fit lots of feasting and desserts and snacks into three days, after all), the holiday is not primarily about food or menus.
Thanksgiving is about two things – Thankfulness and Family.
And although my stomach was empty of turkey or cranberry sauce or stuffing or apple pie or peanut butter cookies or Italian sausage or lima bean casserole or pepperoni or coffee cake, my heart was full to overflowing with gratitude, joy, and thankfulness. Since last Thanksgiving, God has blessed me more abundantly than I could have imagined. How does He manage to bless me in new and surprising ways every single year? What a loving, giving Heavenly Father!
So of course I wrote a Thankful Card. Actually, I had typed it on the computer about a week before Thanksgiving, in hopes of getting a chance to send it to my dad, so he could write it on a card and put it in the basket for everyone to guess. That plan was a fail, because the temporary internet signal at the school outside the village stopped working, but at least I tried. We take this game seriously, people. And we are serious about being thankful. My cousin proved this fact as well. Although she and her new husband couldn’t travel to Martinsburg this year, the two of them sent their pre-written Thankful Cards with my aunt and uncle, along with a lovely, decorated box for my mom to keep the cards in afterwards.
Despite the thousands of miles between me and the dear ones I love, our simple, shared tradition of Thankful Cards connected us in a way that helped me feel just a little closer to them. Near or far, we are family, and family is forever.
Thanksgiving has passed, but it is never too late to stop, reflect, count your blessings, and thank God. Have you done that in the last week or two? Here’s a challenge for you. Grab an index card and a pen. Take a few minutes and write what YOU are thankful for this year. You can even post it as a comment here if you would like to share! If not, just do it for the sake of personal reflection, recording your life story, and thanking God. Here is what I wrote this year. (The underlining is to make it look sort of like an index card).
My Thankful Card
I am thankful for a new house, new job, new coworkers, new friends, new language, new adventures, new opportunities to grow and learn and change,
and for new challenges which push me far past the limits of my own wisdom and strength straight into dependence on the grace and enabling of God, my loving Heavenly Father.
I am thankful that although His mercies are new every morning, Jesus Himself is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I am thankful that God our Creator gave us His eternal Word, preserved throughout history and translated into our language. I am thankful that this Word continues to change and direct my life each day, and also transforms hearts and families and cultures around the world, all the way to the Amazon rainforest (had to throw that in somewhere!).
I am thankful that Jesus came to save the world from sin, and give new life to all who believe – abundant life in Him and through Him.
I am thankful for the dear family I love and miss more than words on a card could ever say, and thankful for the many traditional holidays, special celebrations and crazy memories we have shared over the years.
You are faraway in miles this Thanksgiving but are forever close to my heart. I am thankful to any of you who will eat (on my behalf, obviously) an extra bit of turkey, homemade roll, serving of cranberry sauce, spoonful of stuffing, piece of coffeecake, or slice of apple pie.