Today we celebrate our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday, a celebration that had its beginning among the 38 English settlers of Berkeley Plantation in Virginia in 1619 and the more familiar Thanksgiving celebration of the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts in 1621.

The Virginia group’s charter “required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.” The Pilgrim’s celebration was a three-day celebration feast of their harvest, which they attributed to “the goodness of God.” Surely many of the people of the Plymouth Colony were merely grateful for life itself. Of the 100 or so men, women, children and infants who arrived on the Mayflower, or were born shortly after the ship landed, only about 50 of them survived to that first Thanksgiving.

Having an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving begins with being aware. Please pause for a moment to be aware of something in your life for which you are thankful. You would not be consciously thankful for it if you were not aware of it, be it the oxygen you are breathing that is keeping you alive, a loved one, or life itself. It is our being aware that our gratitude and thanksgiving begins.

We may be aware of a person, a memory or a possession. Maybe we’re aware of a feeling or an ideal or value by which we live. Maybe it’s a kindness, gesture or effort given or made by another. It might be our awareness of a moment in the past that holds special importance to us or of a blessing, gift or grace we received. Maybe it's our awareness of a blessing, gift or grace a friend or loved one has received. Whoever or whatever it is, it is our awareness that opens us to the feeling and expression of gratitude and thanksgiving.

But it is not only our awareness of someone or something that brings the gratitude and thanksgiving. It is our being aware combined with our reflection, appreciation and response to thanksgiving. The feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving always ends with a response — always.

The response may be as subtle as a feeling of being humbled or a smile breaking forth on our face or our heart; a simple, spoken “thank you,” a “praise God,” or a gift we give another in honor and appreciation of the blessing and gift we received, be it from them or another.

If we do not express these feelings in some way, then you and I do not have an authentic feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving because true gratitude and thanksgiving always expresses itself.

Also, I would have you realize that if you have no appreciation for what you have, then your awareness and reflection could just end up filling you with envy, which is the opposite of a thankful spirit. In fact, one cannot feel thankful if one is feeling envious, just as one cannot feel envious if one is feeling thankful. As Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon have written in their book, Urgings of the Heart: “... envy is always found wherever gratitude is absent. ... Since gratitude and envy are mutually exclusive, the way to heal an envious heart is to replace it with a grateful heart.”

We can become aware, reflect on and appreciate by ourselves or with others. We can do it in silence, conversation or moments of remembering — be it around the dinner table, while looking at mementos on a shelf or photographs on the wall, standing before a grave, holding a loved one, sitting on a chair, or in many other places and ways. We can do it anywhere our heart, mind or spirit is moved to being aware, reflecting on, and appreciating. It is at the core of what we are to do, today, on our Thanksgiving holiday — but not only today.

Now, I have been watching football on Thanksgiving Day since I was a child 60 years ago. I have been eating a Thanksgiving meal for more years than that. Some of you will even go shopping for Christmas specials today. But none of those activities is as important or as meaningful as that which gives us gratitude and thanksgiving.

A deeper, richer meaning and more fulfilling gladness and joy will come to you and me from truly spending some time being aware of, reflecting on, and appreciating the many and varied blessings of our lives. As Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon have written: “Grace comes to us when we begin to appreciate the good that is already ours, even if what we possess does not include every possible good in human life.”

The Rev. Donnley Dutcher, pastor emeritus, St. John United Church of Christ