Tara Bone, contributing writer
It’s not your imagination. There’s actually a term for the phenomenon you witness each fall when Christmas ads appear and retail stores whip out the holly berry while there’s still Halloween décor up at your house on October 20. It’s called “Christmas creep”, and the official definition is “the inexorable tendency for the commercial aspects of Christmas to appear earlier every year.” In the rush to bring on the reindeer, what happened to the holiday wedged in between Halloween and Christmas?
Now don’t get me wrong, Christmas is magical. But in a world of social media comparison and a rise in youth depression and anxiety, a growing number of parents and even researchers are asking themselves where the focus on gratitude that typically accompanies Thanksgiving has gone? In the last decade, a slew of science-based research has shown that gratitude behaviors improve mental health and levels of happiness.
Cache Valley Family Magazine reached out to Cache Valley parents to ask what they’re doing to instill an attitude of gratitude in their homes during November and found many who are working to push back the Christmas Creep. Melanie Arkoudas of Nibley is a mother of 11 children ages 1 to 23. Thanksgiving is Melanie’s favorite holiday, and she feels the opportunity to practice expressing gratitude is special and essential family time.
The Arkoudas family from Nibley.
Though she’s always loved the Thanksgiving season, the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp changed Melanie’s perspective on gratitude. Their family implements the concept of sharing 1,000 things they’re grateful for. But these aren’t just the “easy” things. Melanie believes there are levels to gratitude and each of us is on a journey to find gratitude in the simple day-to-day things and even in the hard.
“We set out to make a list of 1,000 things we’re grateful for,” Melanie said. “It’s finding the joy in the simple, like watching the bubbles while washing dishes, or finding gratitude in the hard with the attitude that this too shall pass and asking ‘what am I learning’.”
The Arkoudas family gets a notebook for everyone to access and they start listing, sometimes starting in the summer, to see if they can get to 1,000 by Thanksgiving Day. But this isn’t all, at dinner they actively reflect on gratitude. Each person shares the best and worst part of their day. They discuss what their reactions were to the hard, and how they can improve with a focus on learning and growth. “It can become a daily habit if you work at it,” Melanie said.
Something else the Arkoudas family does is set a big, white pumpkin in the middle of their dinner table with a black sharpie nearby, and throughout the season they start at the top and write around the pumpkin things and experiences they’re grateful for. They invite friends and family who visit to do the same and Melanie has found that when they have to fill it up, they’re required to look deeper.
Looking deeper through challenges really hit home to Melanie when one of her sons was hit by a truck seven years ago. Through the challenges, she found herself finding gratitude through trials, specifically when neighbors served their family. “When we serve others, it helps us see the hand of God in our lives,” she said. “In the practicing and trying we gain healing.”
This Thanksgiving season, push back the Christmas creep and start a journey of finding gratitude. Share your table with someone who is struggling or away from family, look for joy in the bubbles, and find the silver lining in the challenges. Make this a season of gratitude for your family.
WAYS FAMILIES CAN FOCUS ON GRATITUDE:
• Give Gratitude Gifts: Encourage children to make handmade gifts for each other “just because.”
• Invite others who don’t have a place to go to Thanksgiving to join you at your table.
• Start a Gratitude Jar where you collect thoughts of not only things, but memories and experiences you are grateful for.
• Implement best-part-of-day/worst-part-of-day discussions.
• Participate in a Gratitude Photo Challenge.
• Create a Grateful Board.
• Write in a Gratitude Journal.
• Practice Gratitude Meditation.
• Make Gratitude Rocks to place around as a gratitude reminder.
• Create Gratitude turkeys or trees: Add feathers to a turkey or leaves to a tree with things you are grateful for written on them.
• Write gratitude thoughts on a pumpkin.
• Read “thankful” books.