Despite the original reasons for our big days and celebrations, brands and businesses have turned most of them into commercial ventures capitalising on the opportunity or motivation to make money. It sounds harsh, but no restaurant is going to close its doors to Mother’s Day guests and a stationary shop would be foolish not to sell Valentine’s cards. Does the money making (and spending!) take away all the meaning?
Is Mother’s Day less special because flowers are much more expensive in the week leading up to the special Sunday? How do you not invest in chocolates, Champagne or roses on 14 February? And even when you value Christmas for its true meaning, how do you not get caught up in the festive cheer and images of families around a table or little smiling faces under a tree?
Is balance the problem? Do we forget the real reason for the celebration and get caught up in the trimmings? Is the menu and cooking more important than the people around the table or is the size of the gift more important than the gesture? Perhaps silly tunes, games and too much to drink take away from the true occasion? I don’t believe that cooking a special meal, opening a treasured bottle or buying your loved ones something they’ll appreciate is wrong – if we remember why we do it. And usually, the why is gratitude.
Although not celebrated in South Africa, the American Thanksgiving celebrations are familiar to us thanks to the movies and television. We know all about turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce – even the football game! But I think Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition – a special occasion for gratitude. Similar to our annual Blessing of the Harvest ceremony, Thanksgiving originates from a harvest festival (1621), but regardless of whether the occasion is about the blessing of a harvest, the love of a parent or partner or religious beliefs, the reason behind them is predominantly gratitude. Perhaps in our everyday challenges, we forget about gratitude and need these days as a reminder of all we have to treasure.
Gratitude should, however, be part of our daily lives. Expressing gratitude is associated with a host of mental and physical benefits. “Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease.” (Read more) And as blessed as we are, gratitude is not necessarily something that comes naturally to us all the time. Sometimes it takes a little effort and focus to bring gratitude into our daily lives and to override everything we are troubled by and that we are trying to solve. Gratitude doesn’t mean a lack of action; it just means recognising and expressing the positive – and perhaps writing a card or buying a gift.
Black Friday is upon us. Another US tradition, this is the day after Thanksgiving and the first day of the festive shopping season, luring consumers to the shops with special offers and discount prices. Perhaps we are thankful to get our monthly staples at a better price or that we can afford an appliance on offer, but this occasion is purely commercial without the spirit of gratitude that one expects from our big days.
Perhaps our expectations have changed, but I believe a flower from your own garden can be as meaningful as an expensive bouquet. Giving someone their favourite bottle of wine (or even a beautifully wrapped bread I’ve learned recently!), can also be a treasured gift when it comes from the heart, in appreciation and as a thank you. And remember, gratitude in gifting is good for your health too! Something to remember this festive season.