The very first time I heard of Thanksgiving, I was a recently immigrated child in kindergarten with but a few words in my English repertoire. Images of a cornucopia and turkeys flashed before me as soon as Halloween ended.

My 5-year-old self asked, “Why the fuss?” I was told it was a tradition in America that originated from the unity of Native Americans and pilgrims many years before me, but something in me knew there was more to that story.

My peers spoke of delicious pumpkin pie and hot chocolate but didn’t mention a word about giving thanks. My developing English skills were enough for me to know that they were missing the point.

Thanks was a freebie, as it’s among the first words people learn in any language, and giving was easy enough. So there was my answer: It was a time to give thanks.

As a child brought to America from an impoverished town, my reasons to give thanks were reminded daily. From my mother’s cooking before dashing to work to my father’s hard-worked hands, these were things I appreciated but in my tender age had not assigned a source to.

I remembered singing a hymn in one of the early morning prayers my parents took me to that said, “And for the roof giving me shelter, and for his holy blessing too, and for the life he grants my parents, who sang me lullabies with love. For all those precious things he gives me, I will give thanks unto our God!”

That day something clicked. Each of the phrases in that song was something I received and each of them called its source God. I was born to a world that spoke about giving thanks but never taught me how to do it, as if learning to give thanks is a journey left for all of us to define.

There is a difference between Thanksgiving and giving thanks. Thanksgiving has an expiration day, it’s scheduled. Giving thanks, on the other hand, does not. Attributing success, prosperity, freedom to something greater scares some of my friends, but no matter how many Thanksgivings we live, if they lack the true meaning of giving thanks it loses its magic. Like forgetting to put salt in the turkey.

The best advice I received has been to be grateful not in a manner of my choice but with intelligence, learning how God or whatever you choose to attribute your gratitude toward, likes to be thanked. Once you know how to please the one you thank, do it every day.

My learning began in The Light of the World Church, where I’m taught to look beyond myself, learn from others and repeat Thanksgiving each and every day. Customs and traditions may have begun before our birth, but only we can bring real meaning to them, meaning that is more than a day on a calendar.

Abdi Lopez is a community advocate. Reach her at