My husband has a large and loving family. And it has been the tradition for a long time that we host Thanksgiving dinner. What was once a clan of 12 – 18 has grown to include most years more than 30 dear, wonderful relatives from ages 86 years young to a couple of weeks old. This family has been richly blessed as our children have grown up, married, and now many have children of their own. With ever larger numbers of little ones, and with most family groups needing to “eat and run” so that they can attend at least another Thanksgiving with their spouse’s family, it has become a rigidly timed day of high expectation and longstanding tradition which, more often than not, leave’s my heart longing for what really matters. I long for time to reconnect with one another in a way more meaningful that just catching up on the latest work crisis or the fabulous, amazing things that the grandchildren can now do: time to pause together, honor, and celebrate our struggles and celebrations; time to express our gratitude; time to just be with one another.
So this year, I decided to follow the longings of my heart and create a ritual that would create a bit of space and time for that to happen. We sent a message out a couple of days beforehand inviting everyone to participate in a Family Thanksgiving Gratitude Mandala, giving a heads up that it was going to be a combination of arts and crafts and nature and gratitude experience. We wanted everyone to have time to think about their blessings and mercies before they arrived, given the general chaos of the day. We also knew that it is next to impossible to get the entire group to be still, quite, and listen except during the blessing before the meal.
On Thanksgiving Eve, Glenn and I shopped for the flowers, gathered the supplies, cut the natural materials. On Thanksgiving Morn, we made a beautiful foundation, symbolizing aspects of the Christian faith: three center sunflowers for the Holy Trinity, surrounded by red roses for God’s love for us and our love for God and one another, bay branches for the cross, all surrounded by rosemary, for remembrance of their parents, brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles who are no longer with us, as well as the relatives who were not able to attend this year.
After lunch, the children were invited out onto the porch to make their prayer object to include in the mandala from an array of materials: sticks, stones, and magnolia pods for the base; feathers, acorns, wheat, berries, leaves, cotton bowls, etc. and a basket of colorful ribbons and yarns for embellishment. They were invited to consider their blessings and mercies as they worked, sealing their gratitude into their prayer object as they created it. Then they placed each prayer object carefully within the Family Thanksgiving Gratitude Mandala.
I offered myself as an example of choosing materials that held particular meaning: I chose green leaves, because I was thankful for the many learning and growth opportunities that I have had over the past year. And I chose to tie together a bundle of sticks, because I am grateful for the support and help of others as I have faced various challenges. It was OK just to choose what you were drawn to as what it might represent for you is often revealed in time as we ponder on it.
The children were completely engaged, some making four or five prayer objects. Most of the adults participated. The humming flow of creative, thoughtful, concentration filled the air. I felt held in the love and attentive pure presence that each family member contributed to the whole.
It was a lovely way to just be together, sharing our blessings, particularly for those family members who are less comfortable with the more public prayers. And the kids were definitely the most creative and adventurous in their creations. Imaginations going full tilt!
We are sending the pictures of our Family Thanksgiving Gratitude Mandala out to our entire clan so that we can be reconnected to our gratitude for one another all year long. It reminds us all that, if we are not mindful, tradition and expectation can be both a blessing and a barrier during the holidays. Meaningful, concrete rituals allow us to artfully and wholeheartedly express our hearts deepest longings and be present to one another, to experience what matters most.