In his book, The Gift, Lewis Hyde dissects gift-giving based on ancient cultures with gift-giving rituals.

One of the key things that makes a gift a gift in these cultures, is that the gift must be given away by their recipients. Ancient cultures understood that gifts weren’t given to be hoarded by the recipient, but to be passed along. Today I suppose we call this “paying it forward”.

This week Americans celebrated Thanksgiving. I had the opportunity to spend several Thanksgiving days in the USA, and let me tell you, Americans understand how to give thanks.

Not only by saying “thank you”, but in the “pay it forward” kind of way.

Thanks by giving.

Here are a few memories that I’ve been reflecting on in this regard.

There’s always room at the table

As a foreigner in the USA, I had no family to go home to for the holidays. Many students at the school I worked at went home for the occasion, which could have made it a lonely day for non-natives like myself.

But the American tradition of Thanksgiving is more than a celebration with your own family unit, it’s a community affair. I found myself welcomed into several family communities, often comprised of a collection of family, extended family members, friends, and friends of friends (which was often me).

The Thanksgiving table always seemed to have room for one more, even if the table had to be extended into all rooms of a house.

Because hospitality is essential to giving thanks.

Gratitude is a community event

One of my best Thanksgiving memories is volunteering in the annual “Daddy Bruce” Thanksgiving Basket Giveaway in Denver.

A Saturday or two before Thanksgiving, this annual event filled one downtown neighbourhood’s streets with a buzz of activity. Hundreds of volunteers packaged up thousands of boxes filled with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner for families who needed an extra hand that year.

One of my jobs as a volunteer was to help take these filled-to the-brim boxes to peoples’ cars in a grocery cart. The streets would be so packed and parking space so precious that we’d often walk 4 blocks to load the boxes into their car’s trunk. And they were always filled with gratitude.

And so was I.

After a day of heaving boxes, my arms would be sore, but I’d find myself energized by an atmosphere was humming with joy and generosity.

Because thanks is best expressed by giving.

We all have a lot to be grateful for, and somehow this always becomes more clear when we’re giving.

I hope this Thanksgiving weekend and in the impending holiday season that you would be filled with gratitude.

And that your thanks would be completed.

By giving.