Thanksgiving and our ancestral voices

In Cultural Commentary by Dr. Keith Witt

 
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It's a running gag in America that holidays generate emotional conflicts like the Caribbean generates hurricanes. Red/blue political arguments, intoxicated relatives, old family wounds exposed, social obligations grudgingly met, and on and on.

All this happens--family gatherings can trigger destructive family patterns--but such problems obscure the fact that Thanksgiving and other family rituals are priceless, timeless reflections of our needs to gather with the tribe and renew our love and connections.

All mammals have social ceremonies, from mating rituals, to migrations, to even funeral rites for some elephant clans. We have instincts to bring the tribe together during certain times and after certain events to connect and be part of a social entity larger than ourselves.

When you attend your Thanksgiving, consider surrendering to the ceremony. Serve the group emotionally by giving and receiving attention. Praise the hostess and host. Volunteer positive memories and stories. The three kinds of stories that most move us are creation stories, challenge stories, and connection stories. At your holiday you can share or elicit all of these like:

  • Creation stories of how the house was found and bought, the garden planned and planted, or the family vacation conceived and executed.
  • Challenge stories of how hard times of illness, financial setbacks, or family tragedies were met with effort, struggle, and eventual triumph.
  • Connection stories of how couples met, babies were born, or friends were found or cherished.

When I participate in a family ceremony my purpose is to serve the group by giving and receiving love, saying "Yes!" to those ancestral instincts for social rituals, and recognizing that we come together to feel how we and our tribes are connected now, and somehow always connected.

If you relax into the ceremony, it usually makes for a better time for everyone, including you!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Keith

 

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