ReligionLink offers story angles, background and Web links for a half-dozen fresh approaches to the holiday.
Home alone for the holidays
At Thanksgiving, volunteers flock to soup kitchens and donate sacks of food for the hungry and homeless. But also lost in the shuffle are Americans who are alone on the holiday. They may be young singles who couldn’t travel to their families, people who are divorced, singles who haven’t developed a social network after a recent move, or older folks without family nearby.
The number of single-person households grew by 21 percent in the 1990s – to 26 percent of all households. In 1950, only 9 percent of Americans were living alone. In response, more religious groups are reaching out by offering special get-togethers or having members drop by. They’re also beginning to redefine singleness as an acceptable state of life instead of a transition before marriage.
What are groups in your area doing to keep those alone on Thanksgiving from feeling lonely?
- Unmarried America, an information service for America’s single people, posts statistics and articles on being single, including topics on spirituality.
- The U.S. Census Bureau collects statistics about singleness in America.
- The website for National Unmarried and Single Americans (USA) Week lists facts about singles.
- Helium, a how-to website, shares ideas about including people who are alone in Thanksgiving celebrations.
See a Feb. 4, 2012, New York Times story about the increasing number of people living alone.
Enough food for all
This Thanksgiving, many tables will be piled high with food and refrigerators will be stuffed with leftovers. At the same time, millions of Americans don’t have enough to eat.
Thanksgiving stories often feature meals provided for the hungry and homeless, but there is a growing push to end hunger in America through political solutions. Much of the motivation comes from faith. Studies show that requests for emergency food assistance – one of the most common forms of outreach for religious organizations – are steadily rising.
Advocates for the hungry are pushing to create political momentum to end hunger instead of simply providing weekly meals or turkeys on Thanksgiving. They argue that hunger is a solvable problem if the political will exists to get food to the people who need it.
How are people in your area asking local, state and national governments to help end hunger in America?
- Bob Dole and George McGovern wrote a book with theologian Donald Messer called Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2005).
- Grassroots groups such as Results and Bread for the World are mobilizing efforts to end hunger.
- College students are getting involved. Oxfam America, which fights to end poverty, encourages universities to host “hunger banquet” simulations, with the poor getting rice and beans and the rich a three-course meal.
Read a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, which found that 14.9 percent of the nation’s households did not have enough food for at least some time in 2011.
Read the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 29-city survey on hunger and homelessness in 2011.
Focus on Native Americans
Thanksgiving always brings recollections of the role of Native Americans in the first celebrations of the holiday. While researchers have tried to correct clichéd images of American Indians in history, contemporary Native Americans still say their spiritual practices and lifestyles are often misunderstood.
Some are invited to churches for Thanksgiving observances but decline. Some work at retreat centers sharing their spiritual practices, while others think such workshops denigrate their traditions. November is American Indian Heritage Month in addition to the month of Thanksgiving – a good time to explore current issues involving Native Americans.
Visit the Center for Research on Native American Issues to learn more.
A retreat from the classic Thanksgiving
At the classic American Thanksgiving, loved ones gather at home to celebrate their connectedness and feast on delectable foods that the cooks have slaved over. But several religious organizations offer Thanksgiving retreats where individuals, families and other groups can escape the chores of cleaning, cooking and hosting, and relax together while enjoying food, community and a spiritual atmosphere, often in beautiful settings.
Here is a sampler of Thanksgiving weekend retreats:
Saint Christopher is an Episcopal conference center on Seabrook Island, S.C.
Kanuga is an Episcopal conference center in the mountains of western North Carolina.
The interdenominational Christian Renewal Center in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon has an annual weekend retreat that features holiday dinner, inspirational speakers and children’s activities.
Rabbi Goldie Milgram, founder and executive director of Reclaiming Judaism, has spoken at a Thanksgiving Spiritual Health Retreat at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.
The White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif., offers a Thanksgiving yoga retreat at its center in the mountains.
Natural disasters redefine 'family'
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 displaced thousands of people, and survivors have landed in every state in the country. Experts say the strength of social networks can be a prime indicator of how well people adjust to new circumstances.
Were they able to connect to a network of extended family, friends or fellow members of a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious organization? What sort of “families” will hurricane victims spend their Thanksgivings with? How are religious organizations sharing a holiday about feasts with those who have experienced a famine in the upset of a natural disaster?
- The Social Science Research Council created a Web page with articles about Hurricane Katrina. One essay discusses how social networks help survivors relocate and rebuild their lives.
- The Mental Health Association in New Jersey Inc. posted links with suggestions about helping people heal following Superstorm Sandy.
Thanks to gratitude research….
From a child’s simple prayer to exclamations of “Thanks a lot!” the business of being grateful seems like straightforward stuff. Yet in recent years, research and therapy has increasingly targeted gratitude and other positive emotions.
The findings? People who are grateful experience less stress and depression and are less materialistic and more spiritually connected. A sense of gratitude also has been found to speed healing for people who have experienced loss or trauma.
This Thanksgiving, consider writing about the concrete ways people practice gratefulness the other 364 days a year and how they benefit.
- Read the websites of two professors whose focus is gratitude research: Michael E. McCullough, associate professor of psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami and Department of Psychology, and Robert Emmons, psychology professor at the University of California, Davis.
Read Gregg Easterbrook’s Beliefnet column on gratitude research.
Read a Nov. 21, 2011, article in the New York Times about gratitude and Thanksgiving.
Read a Nov. 22, 2012 Huffington Post story about the health benefits of gratitude.