Written by our Founder and CEO, the Celebrations Pulse letters aim to engage with our community. By welcoming your ideas and sharing your stories, we want to help you strengthen your relationships with the most important people in your life.
If you’re like my family, on Thursday you’ll be enjoying turkey, stuffing, lots of side dishes, and too many desserts all wrapped up in a large serving of Thanksgiving rituals. Those activities – repeated year after year – are what make the holiday feast different from just another family dinner. They help build anticipation for the event and ultimately become the foundation of our memories.
The most fascinating part of rituals is how they evolve. Each year, we gather in anticipation of something familiar but keep layering on new activities and meanings. The rituals are grounded in the present, look to the future, and are rooted in traditions across generations.
Years ago, my sister Julie started one of my favorite rituals. As the dinner host, she required everyone to share one thing they’re grateful for before diving into the feast. Over the years, the answers have shifted from jokes and “no comment” to stories that trigger tears and deep reflection. It’s a great way to catch up with everyone at the table.
A more recent McCann family ritual is Papa’s Turkey Tacos. It started during the pandemic when we celebrated Thanksgiving in the backyard, and I got a bit creative. The tacos were a hit with the grandkids, and they started looking forward to them as soon as the leaves began falling.
But even this new ritual has changed over the years. After ruining a few appetites on Thanksgiving Day, we moved the taco celebration to the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The change gave us something to do with leftovers – and more importantly, extend the holiday celebration with family and open it to neighbors and friends.
Extending your Thanksgiving rituals
At a time when loneliness has reached epidemic proportions, we should be thinking about our rituals and how we can invite others to join in. I was reminded of this by Jay, a community member who shared a Thanksgiving memory:
I happened to be all alone on Thanksgiving five years ago, and a friend of mine sent out a blast text that said, ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ I responded with a nice note, and she wrote back and asked what I was doing. When I said ‘nothing,’ she invited me to her home, and so I went. There were 14 women, and me. When I walked in, I almost died, but everyone could not have been nicer. It ended up being one of the most memorable Thanksgivings I’ve ever experienced.
Jay’s story serves as a reminder that not everyone has a place to go on Thanksgiving. In fact, it can be one of the loneliest holidays for people who are far from their families or have lost their relatives, among other reasons. That’s why it’s important to use your power, like Jay’s friend, and reach out to friends. If someone has no plans, consider extending your table – and rituals.
Even if you can’t extend an invitation to dinner, think about other ways you can broaden your holiday rituals. If you decorate your home, why not do it along with a neighbor? Or if you partake in post-Thanksgiving celebrations or donate leftovers, why not invite a co-worker or friend to join you?
Psychologists point out that rituals are profoundly important to our lives. They weave together our culture, identity, and shared experiences, providing a structure for us to express emotions. They also create a sense of community – whether it’s just the extended family or the whole society. Very importantly, rituals foster a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!