A year ago, the Classic book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott made a comeback in mainstream America. The motion picture gave society a glimpse into United States History in the 1860s. Little did we know, a year later, many of us would be experiencing some of the tragedy and suffering the “March family” experienced during the Civil War.
The book begins in 1863 during the heart of the Civil war during the holiday season, when men were gone from their families, women were on the home front, and children were being inventive with how to play with very limited funds. Four sisters with different personalities were being asked to make sacrifices.
Fast forward to 2020. In many homes, men and women are both on the homefront this year, we have a different war we are fighting, but we are still faced with adversity, lack of money, and differing opinions. Now, the holiday season is quickly approaching. Within these unusual times, how do we stay true to what the holidays really mean?
I love Thanksgiving, I always have. Every year I tell my family that this is the holiday that never wins the popularity contest. Few people decorate their house with festive lights for Thanksgiving and have yard displays. There are not very many Thanksgiving cards in the grocery store aisle, Black Friday over powers Thanksgiving, it even starts on the night of Thanksgiving to rush into the Christmas season. Few gimmicks or advertisements are on TV besides the turkey sale and rush on cranberries. Even my beloved Hallmark station bypasses the Thanksgiving season.
So, why do I love it so much? Scott jokingly says he doesn’t even really like the meal that much, in comparison to other great recipes we make in our home. Let’s take apart the compound word.
Thanks + giving. The act of being thankful. How many times have you heard be thankful for what you have? I feel like as a parent it falls on deaf ears because children can be self absorbent, comparing themselves to friends, to the commercials, to social media on what others have.
This Thanksgiving, more than any year before, as a society, we will need to find what we are truly thankful for. In 2020, the little things in the Iler home are the big things.
We are Thankful for. . .
Heat (the old furnace works!)
Walks in the neighborhood
Fluffy robes (we are clothed and warm)
A yard (to dig holes in and plant a garden)
Coffee (Could Starbucks deliver to every teacher daily before zoom?)
Essential Workers (our deepest gratitude to all the men and the women on the front lines)
Space to be Creative
The second part of the word is Giving. In the Merriam Webster dictionary, the meaning is the selfless act to “present (voluntarily) and without expecting compensation; bestow.”
During Thanksgiving, there are no strings attached. . . no money, no gifts, no popularity of which side of the family will be seen first. The lack of money or pressure to buy gifts is not part of this holiday. It is a time to truly come together and enjoy a meal. It is a time to give what you have and come to a table where each person is celebrated for their unique gifts.
In European countries, the act of enjoying a meal together takes place over hours, not minutes. I remember traveling to Italy, and the meal included 4-5 courses. I was used to the hustle and bustle of America, but after a week of settling in, I learned to enjoy the slower pace of truly enjoying the food I was eating and the people I was sharing it with.
It was a time to pause and just breathe. Can we pause in November of 2020, put aside our judgments and enjoy a meal together with family and friends? I think we all can.
This pandemic has shown us what it truly means to sacrifice, to dig deep for true values, prioritize the people you hold dear in your hearts, and what you are willing to give. In March, a dear family friend placed a stand with toilet paper on her lawn. She said there were only two people living in her house, she didn’t need all of these items. The sign said, “Please take one.” I remember the panic many people had in their hearts 8 months ago. Her simple act of giving brought calmness to the neighborhood.
If we go back to the beloved Louisa May Alcott classic, (honestly) I was a die hard Little Women fan before it was popular. In high school, I wanted to be Jo March, one of the main characters. I found her spirit of independence, her need to write and tell her story, her experiences of love and tragedy were relatable, and her ability to stand up to injustices using her words were all traits that I wanted to embody. I think each one of us have a bit of Jo March in us. We all have the ability to be beacons of light and fight for what is right.
In the opening pages of Little Women, Alcott wrote “You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly.”
What little acts of gratitude this year can you do for a fellow neighbor, a friend, a long distance family member? We are all going to need those glimpses of hope more than ever this winter. Is it writing multiple letters to cheer up someone, a painted rock placed along the road, or a special text message that encourages a colleague to not give up teaching on zoom. These are the acts of giving that will truly make a difference this year.
Gratitude and giving, two words that have exponential power.
By the way, Scott has finally admitted his love for the Thanksgiving cranberries.