A Dominican Vegetable Market is the Closest thing You’ll find here to a traditional Thanksgiving “Cornucopia”

Cultivating Thankfulness

How to make the world a better place by spreading the value of thankfulness despite the other values that prevail in the world around us.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

When I was a kid, it seemed like everyone’s favorite holiday was Christmas. I think it was a combination of all of the excitement of getting to open presents, along with the christian environment I grew up in and the fact that it’s “Jesus’ birthday”, so it’s naturally “supposed to” be the best holiday. Thanksgiving was so close in the year to Christmas, that it just seemed to be an extra holiday tagged onto the front of the Christmas season.

But as I got older, and the high expectations of Christmas started clashing with the reality that I felt more lonely than I thought I was supposed to, Christmas started to become more depressing and Thanksgiving began to become more important to me. On Thanksgiving, I was encouraged to “Count my blessings”, and it seemed like everyone else’s mood was boosted by the same advice; the atmosphere is cheery and thankful, and people are generous and appreciative. (Granted, the mood is usually destroyed the next day by Black Friday, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Thanksgiving isn't celebrated where I live.

Last year I moved to the Dominican Republic. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here at all, much less in the traditional ways that I grew up with. Though I missed the atmosphere that I grew up with a little, what I missed even more was the fact that the local community wasn't joined together by publicly celebrating a spirit of thankfulness.

I am thankful that I grew up in a culture where we all agree on a day set aside to give thanks. Though my personal beliefs lead me to give thanks to God, I love that Thanksgiving doesn't exclude people of different religious beliefs. Even those who don't believe in God are invited to participate in giving thanks, and I believe that God receives their thankful hearts as an act of praise to Himself. I have to wonder if maybe Thanksgiving isn't a precursor to what the Bible says about every person someday praising God—it’s at least progress toward loving our neighbors regardless of our differences.

And that is a value that I believe transcends culture and religion—a value that I want to pass on, no matter which values are celebrated in the world around me.

Celebrating thankfulness within our communities.

Last year, the multicultural community of people that I work with decided to come together and celebrate with a traditional US-style Thanksgiving dinner. It was an enjoyable experience to get to share that part of my culture with friends who hadn't experienced it before, but to be honest, I think may love mangú more than mashed potatoes and gravy. What my heart really yearned for last year was to share the spirit of thankfulness that comes along with our Thanksgiving traditions.

Dominican Mangú from a local restaurant, La Tinaja. Dominican food totally blows thanksgiving dinner out of the water. #PlatanoPower

But, like I mentioned earlier, even in my home-culture, the spirit of thankfulness on November 25th is overshadowed by the spirit of greed on Black Friday. There are forces working in our world, regardless of our culture, that actively oppose thankfulness. One of the gravest injuries that we allow to be caused to thanksgiving is allowing our tendency to greed overpower it. We have to fight to preserve it in our cultures and communities.

To that end, this year, regardless of the prevailing cultural traditions where I am, I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in two ways, with the intent to spread the spirit of thankfulness in the world;

1) Celebrating a Whole Month of Thankfulness

I had the privilege of preparing typical Dominican food for 60+ students this semester. #ImThankfulFor the students’ amazing undeserved gratitude and patience.

Instead of remembering to count my blessings on only one day, for the whole month of November, I am going to be intentional about being thankful. Every day* I am going to post one Tweet or Instagram photo of something that I am thankful for with the hashtag #ImThankfulFor. I invite you to join me and thousands of other people who are already doing this as a way to share thankfulness with the world around us.

*Ok, I don’t use the internet every day, but every day that I do, I am going to intentional spread thankfulness.

2) Passing on My Blessings to Others

The spirit of thankfulness thrives when we bless others in the same way that we've been blessed. I am thankful to have been blessed by several people over the last year and a half who have enabled me to work at Doulos Discovery School by supporting me financially.

Sponsored students at Doulos Discovery School. Photo Credit: Ruth Cruz.

So, instead of a mad shopping spree on Black Friday that undermines thankfulness, I’m going to contribute $50/month toward sponsoring students’ education at Doulos. I encourage you to join us in cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving by contributing $50/month to our “Class Sponsorship + Staff Support” fund, or to the charity of your choice.

Thankfulness is a value that transcends culture, and Thanksgiving is a time for us to pass on that value, no matter which values we find in the world around us.

This November, my challenge to you is this;

What are you doing to cultivate and celebrate a spirit of thankfulness in your life and community?

Josiah Sprague is the Media Coordinator and Communication Teacher at Doulos Discovery School. This article was written as part of a campaign for student sponsorship at Doulos and is also available in Spanish. To learn more, visit his website or the Doulos website that he created.