Summer has ended and Fall has begun — maybe it was the change in seasons that prompted my husband to ask “What’s your favorite holiday and why?” It didn’t take but a moment to happily exclaim “THANKSGIVING!” 

I think it caught him a little off guard but my reasoning is simple — it hasn’t been taken over by commercialism and it’s all about gathering together with family, friends, neighbors and even strangers to share good food, good company and to give thanks for what we have. It’s usually a time when everyone is welcome and all pitch in on the feast, giving what they have to share. 

Some of my best memories are of the stories and laughter at the table or the pre-meal excitement of bumping elbows in a busy kitchen humming with the activities of potato peeling, pie making, or sweet potato mashing, while surrounded by the mouth-watering aroma of roasting turkey. Seems like most years someone will inevitably end the evening by saying “Hey, we should do this more often!”

Just the thought of Thanksgiving makes me smile — why is that? The holiday started as a day of celebrating the harvest, giving thanks for the blessings of the past year and showing gratitude for what we have.

Even though the Thanksgiving holiday only happens once a year, much has been written about gratitude and the actual, positive and proven physical and emotional effects it can have on us. Go ahead and Google the word and you’ll find a multitude of scientific research papers, articles and books all about practicing gratitude. 

“Giving thanks can make you happier” from an article title by Harvard Health or “31 Benefits of Gratitude: the Ultimate Science-Backed Guide,” from a site called Happierhuman.com, are just two examples. Weather you are thankful in prayer, by writing in a “gratitude journal,” in  thanking a coworker or even by making a mental list of things you’re grateful for, gratitude has many benefits. Studies have shown that, among other things, those who practice gratitude have a decrease in aches and pains, reduced stress, increased productivity, increased happiness, sleep better and even live longer!

Looks like based on all the studies, the Santa Margarita Community Church was on to something good when roughly 50 years ago, Pastor Gil Doebler and his wife Trish organized the first Santa Margarita Thanksgiving Dinner to thank the community. Since that time the event has gained in popularity and grown to include the Parkhill Community Church outgrowing several locations before moving to the Santa Margarita Elementary School Cafeteria where it had 220-240 attendees last year. Current Pastor Robert Campbell says that everyone is welcome to join in the annual dinner. 

“This is not an event for the church, for the needy or for those who have no other place to go,” he said. “It is an open community dinner welcoming  everyone.”

The Santa Margarita Thanksgiving Dinner is prepared and fully hosted by the church and it’s members on the Saturday before Thanksgiving as a way to thank and give back to the community. Some look forward to the event all year to see new people, gather with friends or to eat their favorite food items such as Bernie’s Rolls. Sometimes the unexpected happens like the year that the high school kids dressed up and waited on the tables.

The evening is always started off with a few words of thanks before dining begins with seniors served first. This year Mr. Henry Barba (106) and Mr. Harold Lowe (100) will be leading the way. 

It is a wonderful way for people to get to know their neighbors or others in the community whose circles aren’t necessarily the same — young, old, newcomers, longtime residents, any or no religious or political affiliation, it doesn’t matter and that’s the beauty of it. Especially in times of difficulty, there’s no better way to get us to open our minds and change the way we think or communicate with each other than to sit down across from someone to share a meal and talk about what we are grateful for. After dinner is finished the children serve the desserts while conversations continue, barriers are broken and friendships are made.

Pastor Campbell likes to encourage everyone to come in with a smile, welcome those you don’t know to join you at the table and start the conversation by sharing a few things that you are grateful for.

The Santa Margarita Thanksgiving Dinner is always held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and this year will be held Saturday, November 23 at the Santa Margarita Elementary School Cafeteria, 22070 H St., Santa Margarita. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. and will be served
until 8 p.m.

Getting through this together, Atascadero