The True Traditions of Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks and Giving Back

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Ho, ho, hold on folks!  December isn’t even here yet, so why is there such a rush to deck the halls?  It seems as if every year the gap between Halloween and Christmas grows shorter and shorter.  With considerable attention placed on the spectacle of the season, it is easy to forget the significance; including the importance of giving thanks and giving back.  Thanksgiving, which has become somewhat of a celebration of food and football, was not always recognized as a singular event.  Before the establishment of a federal holiday, during the period of American Revolution, national days of thanksgiving were declared at least twice a year.  And it seems, if only in hindsight, that years past placed more emphasis on an entire season of gratitude than just one day of giving thanks.


To rectify this situation, communities across the country are working hard to remember just what Thanksgiving used to mean.  An increased number of major retailers are opting to remain closed on Thanksgiving, and encouraging employees and consumers to spend time instead of money on those they love — at least until Black Friday.  Taking a page from this same book, patrons are using their free time to make memories with friends and family, as well as give back to those in need. In Howard County there are many opportunities for you to honor the meaning of Thanksgiving, now and throughout the holiday season. Just take a look below!


What’s Thanksgiving Without a Turkey and Trimmings?

According to the Maryland Food Bank, “Marylanders collectively miss more than 134 million meals a year.” Additional statistics collected by Feeding America in the year 2014 show that those Marylanders include more than 22,000 residents of Howard County.  These residents make up a percentage of the population that the Department of Agriculture defines as “food insecure,” or without access to enough nutritional food for a healthy lifestyle. Donating canned goods is certainly an option, and there are many participating locations at which to do so, but don’t forget that these organizations also need manpower! Volunteers are an essential part of the process, especially on Thanksgiving when meals need to be assembled and distributed.


Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland allows individuals to volunteer on a last-minute basis, filling in for regular participants who are away for the holidays. Non-food contributions are also collected throughout the year, including health kits for seniors and homemade scarvesUnited Way of Howard County also ensures that low-income families have a great holiday by providing a complete dinner to qualified participants through their Harvest of Plenty program. Starting a team to raise money with your family, co-workers, or neighbors is a great way to build camaraderie with those you know while helping those you don’t.


Imagine Having a Place to go, but no way to Get There

In a modern world with app-accessible transportation, it seems simple to get anywhere you want to go. However for a growing number of senior residents in Howard County, getting around is not as easy, or affordable, as it appears to everyone else. On a busy Thanksgiving Day, finding a way to get everyone together is often stressful or financially impossible for some families.  In addition, even if festivities aren’t on the agenda, residents who need to go grocery shopping, receive medical care, or complete typical tasks, are limited by holiday business hours and minimal staff.


Sometimes the spirit of giving extends to a stranger, and other times it’s to your neighbor.  Neighbor Ride is a volunteer-based transportation service located in Columbia, MD.  The organization aims to help senior citizens remain active and connected members of the community by providing them with safe, reliable, and affordable transportation throughout Howard County. Flexible volunteer positions are available, and demand is likely higher leading up to the holidays, but significantly the office is closed on Thanksgiving Day.  This season, consider also independently reaching out to seniors in your community in regard to their transportation needs. You never know how this simple gesture could mean the difference between a holiday alone and a holiday at home for someone in need.


Doing Good for Yourself in Order to do Good for Others

There is no greater blessing than that of good health, and recognizing your good fortune with friends and family is an important part of Thanksgiving as well.  Before the aforementioned food and football lead you into a couch coma, consider getting out and getting active with another treasured tradition: the Turkey Trot.  On Thanksgiving Day, the Howard County Striders are hosting a “prediction run 10K” at the Jeffers Hill Neighborhood Center (6030 Tamar Drive) in Columbia. In a prediction run, the goal is not to finish fast or finish first, but to finish as close to a pre-determined timeframe as possible. In this year’s case, that time is 11 a.m., which leaves just enough left to shower and change before the Lions take on the Vikings. Registration is just $12 for a family if you’re not a member of the Striders, but who knows? You may choose to make this Thanksgiving ritual a regular event!


Winding Down After a Long Day of Service

There are no set guidelines for Thanksgiving, a truly American holiday.  The food, the location, and the activities are all up to you.  What matters most is that you acknowledge the season of thanks and giving in your own way, and if you don’t want to cook a large meal or travel a long distance, don’t worry.  There are plenty of local restaurants still open for business and happy to serve you, including some in Historic Ellicott City where your patronage post-flood is sure to be greatly appreciated.

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