Thanksgiving is my favourite American holiday, because in its essence it’s an officially recognized celebration of that great universal truth: It’s good to be alive, and we have a lot to be thankful for.
Sometimes the amount of Excel spreadsheets, laundry lists, and insurance appointments in my life makes me temporarily forget this, which is very foolish of me, so I made a list for myself of things to do to remember. I’ll be spending this Thanksgiving thousands of kilometers from North America, but this list, and the wonder of the world, is no less applicable.
1. Find something beautiful that’s free. Revel in it, by yourself, for an hour.
2. Find a small child and remember being in awe of being alive.
3. Take a walk through a place where things grow wild.
4. Turn off the internet, the television, and your phone for 24 hours. Take a break from the digital world.
5. Have a cup of tea with a friend.
6. Write a long letter to someone who lives far away and who would like your words. Mail it to them next time it’s not a federal holiday.
7. Write a postcard to a stranger and wait for one back.
8. Bake pumpkin pie. Bake other types of pie. Almost everyone likes pie.
9. Draw something, paint something, write a song, create something. It doesn’t matter if you’re bad at that kind of thing. I myself am quite bad at that kind of thing. Kurt Vonnegut has something pretty great to say on the subject:
If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
10. Go see a play, a concert, an exhibition — anything that represents the expression of another human being. Try to see what they were getting at.
12. Do something active: Ride your bike, go for a run, do some yoga, throw a frisbee. Revel in natural endorphins that work somewhat like party drugs but are ultimately better for you. Preferably do this in the morning hours, before the food coma sets in. (A great way to do this in a Thanksgiving-themed way is to run in a Turkey Trot! Turkey Trots are community Thanksgiving races that put little emphasis on winning and lots of emphasis on dressing up, being silly, and running with other people. Also, no matter your running ability, there are likely to be people slower than you. Never fear!)
13. Call your grandmother. Call your mother. Call someone who will appreciate being called.
14. Find your favourite music. Blast it as loud as you can, keeping in mind any neighbours you may have.
15. Find a dog to hang out with. My friend Elliot once told me he likes dogs because they’re an animal you can overwhelm with happiness, which is something I grin to myself about . (If you want to make life better for a dog no one wants, you can foster or adopt a dog at your local SPCA. You can also just volunteer there and take those dogs for walks, if your life doesn’t permit permanent or semi-permanent dogs.)
16. If you like the football, watch it. But turn off the television, or at least the sound, when new commercials start using the latest advances in psychology, digital imaging, and the pseudoscience of cool to sell you things you don’t need. Do I sound like a grumpy old man? So be it.
17. Copy down a poem that you actually like and memorize it. Poems aren’t just for tenth grade lit review. If, in keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, you’re feeling like appreciating things that are great about America, Walt Whitman might be a good place to start.
18. Give your hand-copied poem to someone else, or post it on the bulletin board of your local library.
19. Find a sweater, a rocking chair, a glass of something delicious, and a pipe, if you’re into pipes. Spend quality time pretending to be your grandfather, or alternately, being a grandfather, if you’re actually a grandfather.
20. Get really drunk with someone you love.
21. Dance in your kitchen, at the bus stop, in a dance hall, alone, with a friend, or with your dog. Whatever. Dance. Here’s a good song to start dancing to, if you’re looking for inspiration.
22. Make a fire and sit around it with friends, watching the flames.
23. Make walnut boats. This is actually a Czech Christmas tradition, but I like it, and I want to do it more often.
24. Build something with your hands. Here is a good place to look for things to build with your hands, and how to build them.
25. Find a copy of your favourite book and leave it on a park bench for a stranger.
26. If you are American or Canadian, recognize that though Thanksgiving is a nice family holiday, the history of colonial relations with First Nations peoples was often not nice at all. Think about the legacy this leaves in the present — for example, the Idle No More movement reacts to issues facing First Nations communities today.
27. Kiss someone, hug someone, hold someone’s hand. Make the universe feel a little less cold and vast.
28. Donate money to a cause you believe in.
29. Better yet, donate your time to a cause you believe in. If you’re not sure where to start, public libraries and local newspapers often have volunteer postings.
30. Donate food to someone who needs it — volunteer at a soup kitchen, or find a community box.
31. In general, find things that you have and don’t need. Find a way to give them to someone who needs them.
32. Make a list of things that you are thankful for. Update it often.
33. Keep a notebook of memories, people, and things that make you happy. Reread it often.
34. Plant something that will grow. This will only work if you have a warm house or live in a place that is not about to get bloody cold for the next four months. If this is not the case, plan to plant something when it’s not bloody cold. If, like me, you are bad at keeping plants alive, basil is a relatively foolproof place to start.
35. Take a roll of photos with a film camera and have it developed. Put the photos on your wall. They may not be “good,” but they’ll be a testament to being alive.
36. Consider participating in Buy Nothing Day. Do not stampede Walmart. Do something else instead. Really, almost anything.
37. Actually, do you want to read about why Walmart is very messed up, and what you can do to change it? There’s information here.
38. Make a giant meal, share it with people you love, then take a nap. Oh, you mean that’s how Thanksgiving normally goes? That is really pretty great. Carry on.