Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Thanksgiving Tree

Last year, around this time, I introduced my family's "tree of thanks" on this blog. I started a tradition four years ago of drawing a tree and posting thankful leaves on it throughout the month of November. My intention is to instill a sense of gratitude in my daughter and to promote a family tradition that she will remember for the rest of her life. The tree also allows us to look back at changes and growth in our lives.

My house is a great big mix of traditions. My husband and I were raised with different faiths. We were both raised outside of New York City, but now live in New England. Though in distance we haven't settled that far from the place of our birth, what is accepted as "traditional" in New Hampshire is often foreign from what we experienced growing up. For example, this time of year, my neighbors place bales of hay and cornstalks alongside their mailboxes. To me, such things belong on a farm and are not materials for decorating. So, creating some traditions that are all our own, that do not seem unusual, is important to me.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I welcome the opportunity to remind myself of the things for which I am grateful and to share that gratitude with other. I have saved all of our thankful trees thus far. They are folded and rolled in my closet alongside my archives boxes filled with family papers. Looking back at the trees of  past years shows me changes in my growing daughter's handwriting and changing interests. It also shows consistencies as we remain thankful for friends, family, books, "hugs and kisses."

We invite those who visit us to contribute to our tree. Some of their postings are humorous. For example, one friend who spends a lot of time with horses wrote that she is thankful for "Shampoo and soap! (really!)" Some of the postings are hopeful. "I am thankful for an honest mechanic," reminds me of when I switched to a new garage that stopped telling me that my car was broken every time I brought it in for a regular checkup. The postings sometimes remind me of larger historical events as in leaves indicating that their poster was thankful for election results in 2009.

Our trees are a valued part of our personal archives. This year's will be especially poignant...

Last week, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center had a table set up in the hall near where I had a scheduled appointment. A large tree held leaves of thanks. I was happy to extend my gratitude out from my home and to connect to a larger community.  I wrote on the Dartmouth tree that "I am thankful for my health and for my good doctors."

I just completed my last cancer related surgery on Monday and for that I am very, very grateful. My home tree has become a place to remember all of the good things that remain, have come back to me, and that I have found on this journey. I am also thankful that I can close this chapter of my life, share my experience with others, and perhaps help others feel gratitude for the traditions that keep us going. I am thankful that I can find some good in what I have gone through and that I can show my daughter that illness is a part of life from which we can often learn, grow, and move on.

This blog post begins my holiday celebrations. I wish you a wonderful holiday season and hope that you may find some peace and gratitude no matter what you now face. Focus on the traditions that help give our lives meaning, savor them, record them and make your memories strong. My postings over the next month aim to be lighthearted and filled with the gratitude that I feel right now. Happy almost Thanksgiving!


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. Family traditions are so important and it is harder to hold to them as your children grow older and move away. This year our oldest may or may not be joining us for the holiday meal. And it will the the last Thanksgiving with our youngest son for the next two years as he is leaving for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps next March.

    But no matter who is around the table and where we all are, your post is a reminder to be thankful for the gift of good health.

    Good health to you always, Melissa.

  2. Melissa,

    Thank you so much for writing this wonderful post. I love the idea of this tree becaue it gives an entire different meaning to "holiday tree." This tree has meaning and impact. I'm so glad to have met you!

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing...I would love to start this tradition with my family. I pray for continued good health and many blessings upon you and your family.