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Opinion: Thankful for Thanksgiving

(Illustrations courtesy of Jean Wei / For The Times)

Imagine this: your mom is seasoning a juicy turkey and the doorbell rings. You open the door and all 24 of your relatives look at you with wide smiles, each carrying a fragrant, mouth-watering dish. Everyone greets each other and gathers at the dinner table, stuffing their faces full of mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie and creamed corn.

For many, Thanksgiving is the one time of the year to connect with extended family, express gratitude and most importantly, eat a surplus of food.

Yes, the history of Thanksgiving is not what most your elementary school teachers might’ve taught you: a peaceful congregation between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. It was actually quite the opposite. 

According to the Huffington Post, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by John Winthrop, a leading founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, after he and several other Puritans massacred 700 Pequot Indians.

Despite the origins and theories of the first Thanksgiving, this extremely popular holiday has evolved ever since it became a nationally recognized holiday, creating a new meaning for itself. 

Sectional tensions continued in the mid-1800s, but popular magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned for Thanksgiving to promote unity and won the support of Abraham Lincoln, according to Britannica.

In the modern world, people continue to promote unity within their families and communities, whether it be volunteering for the homeless or bringing distant relatives from across the country together. Not only is Thanksgiving recognized for strengthening familial and community relationships, but it is also a time to reflect on one’s blessings. 

You probably remember tracing your hand in elementary school, writing down your most important blessings on all five of your fingers, outlined to resemble turkey feathers in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Well, as activities like this may seem trivial, research shows that it is extremely beneficial for overall health, especially in stressful everyday life.

Teens’ lives are not as carefree as they were in elementary school. We have to worry about maintaining stellar grades, attending numerous club meetings and finding the time to participate in extracurricular activities. So, stressful lives and environments are correlated with anxiety and depression, but you may be wondering how this plays into why Thanksgiving should continue to be a celebrated holiday.

In a study published by Harvard Health, one group wrote about reasons to be thankful based on their week, and the second group wrote about things that irritated them. The study found that those who wrote about gratitude felt better about their lives, were more optimistic, exercised more and visited their physician less than those who focused on aggravation. 

In addition to uniting with family and reflecting on blessings, eating is a great pleasure that most look forward to. While overeating three meals a day for 365 days is not beneficial, indulging once in a while can increase overall wellness.

Several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, involved in regulating food intake are implicated in food’s rewarding effects, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Especially in today’s world, it can be difficult to look past our extravagant and complicated lives, making Thanksgiving all the more important to humble ourselves. So this Thanksgiving, tell your friends and family just how much you love them, pay tribute to the innocent Native Americans lives’ lost and taste all 50 different fall pie flavors. Happy turkey eating (sorry vegans)! 

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