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The True Meaning of Thanksgiving: Freedom from Want

Thanksgiving in America has become synonymous with a bountiful feast for family and friends – yet what does the holiday really mean? Historically, it’s a harvest festival in the tradition of similar celebrations held for centuries around the world. As such, our American Thanksgiving echoes evocations of gratitude for abundance that were going on long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1621, and then benefitted from the good will of Native Americans, who taught the newcomers how to plant and reap in preparation for the winter ahead.

That’s why, for me, the iconic Norman Rockwell image that accompanies this article epitomizes the true meaning of Thanksgiving. The painting, called “Freedom from Want”, pictures three generations gathered together to give thanks. It graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and was inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address in which the President described the Four Freedoms.

Yet today, more than seven decades since Roosevelt’s speech, there is still hunger in America. As you make your grocery list or your travel plans for Thanksgiving 2016, consider the possibility of eventually volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating non-perishable goods. In fact if you are one of the countless Baby Boomers and Beyond who live alone and won’t be able to share Thanksgiving this year with those you love, perhaps connecting with others as a volunteer on Thanksgiving Day could be the answer to what may have become the burden of loneliness. Studies have found that volunteering, especially for older adults, boosts health and well-being. That’s a win-win for sure! You’re helping others and helping yourself as well.

On a lighter note, why not just kick back and enjoy the fact that Thanksgiving can be the least stressful of holidays? Keeping in mind that the true meaning is “Freedom from Want”, there’s no reason you can’t simply enjoy an excuse for feasting and conviviality devoid of pressure to wear a spooky costume or buy gifts for everyone. In fact if you’re an Empty Nester who did your time preparing Thanksgiving dinner and you’re now no longer the chief cook and bottle washer, good for you! On the other hand, pehaps you’re still welcoming the clan to your place as they traipse over the river and through the woods or fly from far-flung places to be with you. That’s great as well! Either way, raise a glass if that’s your wont and dig into the turkey. You can do your volunteering down the road to ease the hunger crisis should you so choose. For now, why not just let yourself give thanks for whatever is sumptuous about this season of your life and hope for your own version of “Freedom from Want” as the future beckons.

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of thirdAGE.com.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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