Giving thanks

I am about five years old and am sitting on my dad’s shoulders in my one-piece red snowsuit and big winter boots.  I’m waiting with great anticipation for the parade to start.  My dad said Santa will be here!  It is Thanksgiving and we are at the parade of all parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  The energy is palpable.  The crowd is thick.  I’ve never seen so many people in one place.  There are people as far as I can see.  People are clutching cups of hot chocolate to keep their hands warm.  Street vendors are selling balloons and hot pretzels.  Steam is rising from the subway grates and the noise of the crowd is almost deafening.  I hear the music of the marching band coming our way and I see clowns on roller skates and they’re throwing confetti.  The balloons are huge, and the floats are so beautiful.  My dad is grinning from ear to ear and I love to see him so happy. 

That was a very, very, very long time ago but over the years going to the parade in New York on Thanksgiving became our family tradition.  My mom stays home to prepare our feast while my dad and his three “girls”, as he still likes to refer to my sisters and I, get up before dawn to don our cold weather gear and make the thirty minute drive to the city.  It’s one off my dad’s favorite days of the year and he demands to have a front row spot for the festivities.  To make my dad’s desire come to fruition we have to leave the house no later than four a.m. and then we wait patiently for four plus hours for the parade to start.  To be honest, it’s a bit exhausting.

I will admit there were times over the years when I just wanted to sleep in, when I wanted to avoid the crowds and the discomfort of not being able to go to the bathroom for eight hours.   More than disliking those things though I love going to the parade because I love seeing my dad so happy.  I love seeing him smile and tell the people standing around us that he and “his girls” have been coming to the parade for since we were just toddlers.  I love how excited he gets when the clowns in the parade high five him.  I love that we’ve been standing on the same street for so many years that we know other “regulars”.  I love spending this time with my dad, my sisters and now my nieces and nephews too.  I love that it is our family tradition, and I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without it.

Like for many you, our Thanksgiving tradition will not be happening this year. This year, due to Covid, the parade will be held virtually, and spectators are not permitted to attend.  Since the parade first started in 1924, it has only been cancelled three times, in 1942, 43 and 44 due to a helium and rubber shortage.  My dad is 76 now and while he is still in good health, I am afraid this may be the end of the tradition and Thanksgiving will never be the same.  It has not quite sunk in yet that not only will we not be going to the parade, but I will also not be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner and all the usual shenanigans with my family this year.  I already seem to be grieving the loss. 

I anticipate that this holiday season might be challenging for you as well, so I wanted to share some strategies for how I plan to navigate this difficult time.  I hope you will choose to join me as I:

  1. Show up to my emotions, including negative emotions:  One of the ways I show up to my negative emotions without letting them control me is to practice mindfulness and acceptance.  Learn more about how accepting our negative emotions is critical to a happy life here.  
  2. Engage in activities that recharge me instead of just numbing me out: The things that truly recharge us do require a deposit of energy, but the long-term gains are well worth it.  Check out this short article to learn more about the differences between recharging and numbing.
  3. Be intentional to ward off loneliness:  This includes connecting with myself and with others with intention…think quality over quantity.  Learn about three strategies to combat loneliness in this podcast with former Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. 
  4. Practice self-compassion: Self-compassion means being kind and understanding with ourselves when faced with difficulty.  Join expert Dr. Kristin Neff for a five minute guided self-compassion break and feel more grounded, peaceful and resilient.
  5. Reach out for support: This could include EAP or the many resources available though Cigna including TalkSpace, Happify or iPrevail.  Find out more about these resources in your school-specific resource guide

So much has changed for us over this last year and while our current situation may not be what we want, we have a choice in how we show up and respond.  This holiday season I invite you to join me and show up to what is, to engage in activities which recharge you and feed your soul, to be compassionate with yourself and others, to be intentional about how you choose to connect with yourself and with others and give thanks for all the wonderful blessings we still have, even if there is no parade or big family dinner.

Take care.  Stay well.