The holidays are upon us, one each month of the last quarter year, creating a very busy stretch that all too frequently leaves us feeling spent, emotionally and financially. Increased spending on Halloween adds to Christmas in terms of cost and effort, so this week provides a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect on what we already have in our observance of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American festival that combines religious and civic sentiments. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sacred texts are filled with admonitions to give thanks to God, but the notion of a national day of thanks has historically been controversial. George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison each issued one-time proclamations, but Thomas Jefferson refused to do so.

It was in 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring an annual national day of thanks in hopes of “healing the wounds of the nation” through gratitude.

Whether in the midst of war or in the aftermath of one of the most contentious presidential elections in our history, we know that gratitude is good for us. Scientific studies have even been conducted on the beneficial effects of gratitude to happiness, frame of mind and overall wellness. So much has been said and written on the topic of gratitude that it defies originality and even threatens to be hackneyed and old.

But what if we try thinking of Thanksgiving as a verb rather than a noun? What if we think about the giving part as readily as the thanks? Religious texts call us to give thanks, and I would suggest this is not simply semantic. A study at Indiana University found not only that being thankful fosters happiness and a sense of well being, but further, that giving to others intensifies and strengthens feelings of gratitude and cements measurable and verifiable changes in the part of the brain known as the “neurological gratitude footprint.” Thankful giving strengthens our ability to live gratefully, and promotes the flow of goodness through us to others around us, actually making the world a better place.

In greater Portland, a free community Thanksgiving dinner is funded by donations and prepared by volunteers every year. It’s a great start, but just one day. Holiday giving may bring out our generosity, but again, it’s season specific. What about the rest of the year? Perhaps we can extend the season of giving thanks by resolving to live gratefully all year. This may include giving to others a portion of all that we receive – the principle of tithing (literally meaning 10%), giving to church or charity a portion of all income. My experience of this principle has shown me unfailingly that sharing from our abundance makes our lives more so. The more we give, the more we have. Living gratefully is living more fully, in every season. And the ripple effect of more grateful generosity would surely provide more well-being for us all, addressing persistent issues of income inequality and poverty across the land.

Maybe you don’t feel you have enough for yourself and your family, to say nothing of extra to give away. But the principle of giving thanks applies, and it works, no matter what. If money feels too tight your gift can be some of your time. Just a few hours a week will make a real difference for others and for you. Dozens of churches, projects, and agencies in Greater Portland depend on volunteers to do their good work. Greater Portland United Way ( or Volunteer Maine ( will happily refer you to one that needs what you have to give. I promise you, you will receive more than you give. Simply experiencing yourself as a person who gives to others enriches you in myriad ways. Whatever you give, whomever you give it to, giving is transformative for individual and community.

As we gather with friends or family this Thanksgiving to celebrate what we have received, can we be inspired also to celebrate what we can give? Can we open our hearts and our hands, becoming conduits of plenty for ourselves and for others? Could this help to “heal the wounds of the nation” at a time of deep discord and division? In hopes that it may, let’s resolve to make this Thanksgiving the beginning of Thanks-giving that lasts all year long.

Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.

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