Living in the United States was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I married in Fort Worth, Texas, my children were born there as well, I learned to speak English and found wonderful friends. The States were my home for twelve years and that means that I have spent most of my adult years there surrounded by the American culture, its charm and challenges.
There are so many American traditions that we love and treasure! And even though we left the United States five years ago, we still practice many of them on a regular basis. It is important that our children know and appreciate the culture of their birth country… I think it is part of their cultural baggage.
But from all of these traditions, the one that better resonates with us is the celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that keeps coming back to us and that means something very personal to us. It is our opportunity as individuals and as a family to consciously appreciate the wonderful things we have, the amazing personal traits we were born with, and the many experiences we live regularly.
It is a time to say ¡GRACIAS! Thank you!
Gracias is such a powerful word in the Latino culture. It is the term of choice to appreciate good service, to close business deals, end a telephone conversation or to simply show how important someone is to us.
Gracias isn’t just one more word in the vocabulary list my children review every week to further their Spanish skills. Gracias takes a whole new meaning during the holidays of Thanksgiving, and this is how we experience it at home:
The blissful acronym G.R.A.C.I.A.S
G stands for GRATEFULNESS. We encourage our children to think of things and experiences they are grateful for. How do we do it? Starting the week before Thanksgiving, we make a list of the things we appreciate: material things, experiences, flavors and aromas, lyrics, and so on. The main goal is to practice gratefulness daily and learn to appreciate the beauty of the small details.
We write down very specific things, for example: I’m grateful for my beautiful curly hair or my brown eyes. Avoid being too general or you will run out of reasons to be grateful for and your children will not experience the power of finding grace in little and simple things. Be precise.
R stands for REACHING OUT. Living far away from relatives and American friends means that we need to make our best effort to communicate with our local friends in order to involve them in our Thanksgiving celebration. That means inviting our friends for the big feast or simply having and afternoon of coffee, tea and biscuits to celebrate friendship and strength our relationships with people from the host country.
If you don’t live abroad, this is the time to try to reach out to your relatives, friends and colleagues to show appreaciation for their friendship and to makes them feel special. For us is very important to help and appreciate others to achieve truthful happiness, that’s why we like to share our Thanksgiving traditions with the ones with love and care about. Even with the ones with different traditions.
A stands for ACCOUNTING. Today’s generation need to be taught to be responsible for their actions. This includes the great responsibility of being in charge of our own happiness. During Thanksgiving week, we make time to seat on the couch with a warm blanket and background music and chat about the different ways we can achieve inner joy and help others to reach their potential.
By brainstorming, we encourage self-reflection practices. Together we reckon the amazing things we have, the goals we have met and the ones to be achieved, the negative words we have said and the steps to take to improve ourselves.
C stands for CARING. As an expat family, we pay close attention to our relationships to stay strong and united. Throughout our mobile life, my husband and I have become best friends and our three offsprings have built a strong emotional net that allows them to endure transition with love and optimism. We care about each other and during these holidays we make an effort to do it even more.
We all have our own list of things we can do for the others that will make them happier, healthier and more grateful. This year the boys have chosen to help each other with school work, and my daughter is buying snacks for family movie nights. She is using her allowance and she feels very proud! I decided to pack healthy lunches for my hubby during this week and he is doing amazingly well by rubbing my awfully dry heels with coconut oil every night before bed. (I wish this will last the whole year!)
I stands for IMAGINATION. Connecting with others implies to disconnect ourselves from technology gadgets (as much as possible) and going back to the simple things. This isn’t easy at all and requires tons of creativity.
I have lost count of how many times I have given my children ideas to entertain themselves without electronics! Oh boy! But for the last two days it has been a blessing to see them using their imagination to play board games, paint paper rolls (still don’t know what they plan to do with them), write a poem, learn a new piano song and so on. Then we reward ourselves at night with a family movie, snacks and hot cocoa.
A stands for ACCEPTING. Relationships aren’t always a walk in the park. And that is a fact our children need to understand since they are young. Arguing, disagreeing and struggling to accept somebody else’s opinion are part of healthy relationships as well. That‘s why we motivate our little ones to accept each other just the way they are. Obviously, there are limits set for offensive behavior and hurtful language. But it is important they learn to appreciate diversity and develop tolerance.
Thanksgiving holidays are the perfect time for accepting. Being tolerant is easier when we recognize the good in others. Appreciation anyone? Thanks to the GRACIAS practice, we have seen a more peaceful and tolerant attitude in our family during these days. We are more loving and caring, we don’t react as much and we act with respect.
S stands for SHARING. Happiness is deeper when we share it with somebody else. Pumpkin pie tastes sweeter when eaten with friends and family. This is all part of the Thanksgiving spirit. Innovative ideas to share at home?
Since our motto for the last years has been “buy less stuff, enjoy more experiences”, when we approach sharing at home we focus mainly in distributing our time to live life fully, for example, reading a story for the family to enjoy, alloting part of our day to help a neighbor in need, helping brother with his geometry homework or seating by the fireplace with daddy. These days are all about sharing our emotions, time and skills. (Also sharing cookies and a spoon of chocolate spread is always a good idea)
So this is how we experience Thanksgiving at home, four Americans and a Venezuelan mamá living in Germany. This is how we started giving the Spanish word GRACIAS a deeper meaning. This is how we combine our cultural background to find happiness and promote gratefulness and tolerance.
What’s your “word” for this Thanksgiving?