For some of us, Thanksgiving with extended family only exists in memories. As a child I loved being at my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Even now I can remember the earthy aroma of her rosemary roasted vegetables and maple cornbread. But tragically, grandma died when I was 16 years old and so did many of our Thanksgiving traditions. 

Taking grandmother’s torch forward, I have been passionate about including her tastiest Thanksgiving recipes but have also encouraged my children to create their own. Even as 3 years olds, I enlisted my kids to contribute in some way. Over the years they have each become “the chef” of their own special dish: my youngest is the master of fresh cranberry sauce with pecans, mandarin oranges and cinnamon. And each year holiday decor falls into the creative hands of my middle daughter who draws and paints elaborate historical scenes from the first Thanksgiving. Her fascination with Native American culture often permeates our feast…the very sad stories and the happy.

When my children were young, it was simple cultivating Mindfulness in Lenox, Massachusetts. There were less distractions, no shopping malls, no cell phone stores. We were regulars at Kripalu Center for Yoga and spent weekends hiking, baking, growing vegetables and snow shoeing. As a psychotherapist and long time meditation practitioner, I made it a daily habit to appreciate our “country life.” The Berkshires was an idyllic setting, especially at Thanksgiving…

But after a decade that changed.

We had to relocate to Connecticut so I could commute to Manhattan for a new job. Luckily my kids were almost teenagers and the change intrigued them. But as our first Thanksgiving in the city approached we were a bit lost! Our lives had become densely busy and our quality time together had synthesized into check-ins, text messages and quick kisses goodnight.

Instead of adding in the usual pre-holiday stress we decided to cook together early Thanksgiving morning, each of us preparing our “specialties”. We could then take an afternoon hike at a local reservoir (20 min drive!) and return home at sundown for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Although being in the kitchen on top of each other in the early morning at first caused some bickering…eventually we found our places and got into our creative grooves. I noticed being together to prepare felt like a mindfulness exercise and the “flow” was palpable to all. Our hike also had a flow, there were stretches of silence as we walked through the forest. I realized our mindful walking reminded me of retreats I attended at Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery…magical! 

Long after sundown, Thanksgiving dinner “in the city” turned out to be much later than usual but we were deeply relaxed after a creative and active day! It was different than the usual “cooped up in the kitchen” vibe from the past. The experience that evening of giving thanks before the meal was a Mindfulness Practice of its own and one that came to us easily after a special day together with little distractions.

There have been many Thanksgiving dinners since our move from Lenox years ago and we have integrated new traditions. Spending one day a year: creating, walking, and being “present” together feels like a family Mindfulness Retreat. Whether we have lost loved ones, moved far away or have blended with new family – we can still cultivate meaningful traditions and have a Mindful experience this Thanksgiving!