Our family has a long-standing tradition. On Thanksgiving Day, everyone comes home and gathers at a table groaning beneath the weight of food that will add weight to those who consume it. Before the prayer and the big meal, everyone shares something for which they are thankful. Very few times has the fourth Thursday in November come and gone without the observance of this ritual at the Playl house.

There have been a few rare exceptions. One year our family gathered at a condo in Hilton Head and cooked turkey and the “fixins” to devour at the beach — after giving thanks. On another occasion, Sammie and I went to Williamsburg with no children or grandchildren. But the custom has been for most of us to be together, sharing what we are most thankful for.

Through the years, our inventory of blessings has included such items as clothing, shelter, food — especially a favorite dish — and perhaps some other special “thing.” These “things” are usually serious, but they are sometimes humorous. Often things are listed that are not things at all. These are the most important. Health, friends, joy, peace, love — especially God’s love — family, perhaps a new family member, whether grandchild or in-law. A child being potty-trained or mastering some other new skill has sometimes made the list.

This year, Thanksgiving Day was a little different. There weren’t so many of us around the table. Only one daughter and son-in-law were with us. Other family members were celebrating in other places. Still, we gave thanks for our family and counted our many blessings.

Thanksgiving is, perhaps, my favorite holiday, and sitting down together to break bread — and carve the turkey, pass the dressing, “could I have another piece of pumpkin pie, please” — is hard to beat. However, to be quite candid, a special day, a specific place or a time-honored tradition are not required in order to practice thanksgiving. We can share our gratitude in words and deeds every day and in many ways. No matter when or where we say it, how we demonstrate our appreciation, or the amount of emotion that goes into it, we should always be thankful.

Whether or not we attempt to name things while gathered at a table as a family, we should continuously seek to become more aware of our countless blessings.

Scripture tells us to “give thanks in everything,” “enter His gates with thanksgiving” and “always be thankful.” The subject of giving thanks, being thankful and practicing thanksgiving is one of the greatest themes throughout the Bible.

When I learned that most of our children and their families could not be here on Thanksgiving Day this year, I was disappointed, even a bit fretful. Then verses came to mind that I have quoted often to others: “Don’t be anxious about anything, but always pray … WITH THANKSGIVING … and the peace of God that transcends our comprehension will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God’s peace — peace that I can’t even understand! — That’s going on my list. I just have to remember to always pray, with thanksgiving, not just on Thanksgiving Day but every day.

Thanksgiving Day, the holiday, has passed. Christmas is almost here, and we are looking forward to the whole family being home. Every day, in every way and in everything, give thanks to God.

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Steve Playl — chaplain, columnist, college instructor and former pastor — can be emailed at playlsr@yahoo.com.

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