Thanksgiving traditions transform a bit each year. This year the feasting was quite a global experience. Hearing perspectives from those raised in different cultures helps to expand everyone’s viewpoints. Sharing their gratitude for events of the past year melted the collective hearts.  

Living halfway between my adult children, used to mean they’d each travel several hours and convene for turkey at my place. This year the table was missing family members, both those who had moved on and my son, the sheriff, who had to work so his wife and kids didn’t join us.

I was pouting a bit until a friend pointed out that cheerfulness is a choice. Counting blessings is a way to invite the grace of gratitude. I knew I had to choose to focus on gratefulness in order to allow happiness to bubble up into my experiences. 

A Thanksgiving greeting from another friend included a text message she forwarded from her brother who lived in Paradise. Though his home and children’s schools are gone, he’s grateful his family is alive. He left for work that morning and by evening his town had burned to the ground. 

His poignant losses didn’t leave him complaining. Instead, he chose to be grateful for his siblings and their offers of a vehicle and a place to live. He apologized for having taken for granted the loving connections of his family ties and support. 

Those of us not living in Paradise, can’t even imagine what they’re going through. The news tells only snippets of their poignant stories. Though the rain cleansed the air and doused the fires it posed difficulties for those displaced and living in tents which makes me more grateful for my home.     

My daughter and her husband, both self-employed business owners, needed to attend to work obligations over the break so Thanksgiving moved to their house. Three people didn’t seem like enough to eat all the turkey that was to be deep fried so more were invited. 

My daughter’s friend from Kenya invited her friends from Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Burkina Faso. As they arrived and nibbled on appetizers, conversation centered around the world map on the wall where they located their countries and towns for each other. 

 Since they were graduate students, conversation drifted to descriptions of their field of study including electrical engineers and plant botanists. They talked about their length of stay in America and when they’d last visited home. As we sat down to feast, they discussed holiday traditions in their home countries. 

Zhaslan mentioned clearly defined gender roles that meant he didn’t step into the kitchen. Reminiscing about childhood holidays included naughty antics and embarrassing moments. Though Livingston moved to California from St. Louis, his journey started in Kenya. He described school for him there which resulted in comparisons about when national exams were given and who financed education in each country.

Talk turned to politics, race and religion without causing arguments. Several spoke multiple languages and joked about accents as they restated phrases for clarity and explained cultural references.

 Idioms do not translate well.  Mehmet said, “That’s Greek to me.”  Cesaire replied, “In my country we say it’s Chinese to us.”  The conversations were punctuated with a great deal of laughter.  Happiness and joy seemed to bubbled up unbidden.  

Intentionally shifting my focus away from those who were missing around the Thanksgiving table to those who showed up resulted in storytelling, connections and contagious smiles.  Each shared moments and events they were grateful for this year. 

After six hours of conversations about our cultures, we felt more connected. After desserts and drinks, folks were about to leave, so a picture was taken of everyone in front of the world map. It’s unlikely this group would ever reconvene in this exact configuration, but memories of our exchanges will linger.  

I take for granted many of the blessings I enjoy. Folks in Paradise are more aware. Gratefulness is a moment to moment decision because the gift within each moment is the opportunity it offers to enjoy it.

 Choose to embrace reality even when it’s hard like moving to a new country and studying in another language. Shifting your focus from counting burdens to counting blessings sounds simple, but takes diligence.  

Cheerfulness is a choice and gratitude is a path leading to that destination.  Continue your journey to happiness by appreciating even the difficult moments like changes around your Thanksgiving table. 


Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at

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