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    A Time to Give Thanks

    By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.–

    The holiday season is upon us. Consider this as a time to give thanks to friends and family, and to be grateful for what you have. There are numerous opportunities for us to share with those who are important in our lives as well as with those who are less fortunate and are going through difficult times.

    Many of us often, for example, forget to meaningfully thank those who help us through services such as mail delivery, the management of the city and county in which we live, protection of neighborhoods, cleaning streets, and the numerous benefits we receive through our social networks. At AGUILAS, my nonprofit organization located in the SF LGBT Center serving the Latinx LGBT community, we take time in November—through a Thanksgiving social event scheduled for Thursday evening, November 18—to recognize and give thanks to those who have helped the agency and its participants by volunteering, as well as to the staff for their dedicated work throughout the year.

    Fall Holidays in Latin America

    In Latin America, various countries start the holiday season right after November 2, which is All Souls Day or Día de los Muertos as highly recognized in Mexico. Each country has their way of starting the holiday season with gifts, holiday seasonal foods, and gatherings.

    December 12 for many Catholics of Latin heritage is the day to recognize and celebrate la Virgin de Guadalupe or la Virgen Morena (the Brown Virgin), who is now known as the blessed virgin of the Americas as declared by Pope John Paul II in 1994. Although several countries have an image of the Virgin Mary with which they uniquely identify, the Roman Catholic Church has only recognized three appearances or apparitions of the Blessed Virgin. These recognized apparitions are respectively known as: Our Lady of Fátima, who appeared at the Cova de Iria in Fátima, Portugal; Our Lady of Lourdes, who appeared at the Massabielle Grotto just outside of Lourdes, France; and La Virgen de Guadalupe or la Virgen Morena, who appeared on a hill called Tepeyac in Mexico City, Mexico.

    Many towns and cities throughout Latin America have patron saints who are celebrated during Las Fiestas Patronales. These fiestas in honor of particular patron saints can occur over a week’s time throughout the year with fairs that include parades, rides, venders at various booths, music, and a wide range of foods for participants to enjoy.

    These celebrations, combined with the recognition of La Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12, enhance the year-end holiday season. For many Latin American countries, this season starts on November 3 and continues until January 6, which is the day of the Epiphany or Día de los Reyes. This day recognizes the visitation of the three wise men, or whom some refer to as the three kings to the holy family. It is on January 6 when Latinx families give various holiday gifts to their children. After January 6, several Latin American countries start preparing for the Carnival celebrations in each of their towns.

    In this season of giving thanks, here are some helpful tips to engage, to be grateful, and to give thanks. An important first step is to focus on oneself; to establish a level of self-love and respect, and to be grateful for all that you have. Some may think this is selfish or self-indulging, but it can help to make you feel satisfied and better able to interact and engage with others in a meaningful way. People sense the joy within you as you share and partake in the season of giving thanks. With that in mind …

    Treat yourself well.

    Spend time doing things that you enjoy, and treat yourself well. Once a day, try to have a sit-down meal using the plates and glassware you reserve for special guests. This is a simple way to treat yourself and enjoy your meal.

    Do some activities that you enjoy, such as going to the movies, theater, museums, visiting friends, and more.

    Invite friends to your home for a visit and enjoy their company.

    Exercise either at home or at a gym. This will help to elevate your mood and keep you healthy.

    Give back to others.

    There are numerous organizations you can volunteer for, assisting others who are in need. You can check the internet for various organizations that are in need of volunteers during this holiday season.

    Re-engage with friends you might not have seen for a while and whose company you enjoy.

    Keep in touch with family members who love and care for you, and try to do the same for them.

    Try new things and explore other cultural customs.

    Explore how people of other cultures give thanks during this season.

    Re-engage with your own traditions and customs.

    If you decide to travel, consider Puerto Rico. As of September 30, 2021, Puerto Rico is among the three jurisdictions in the U.S. with the highest doses of vaccines administered against COVID-19. When compared to U.S. states, this U.S. territory has vaccinated the largest share of its eligible population against COVID-19 and has America’s lowest rate of new coronavirus tests (https://tinyurl.com/yruzd96c).

    Masking and social distancing are required in Puerto Rico as is being fully vaccinated or having a negative COVID-19 test. It has been reported that 81.1% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 78.3% are fully vaccinated. As a territory of the U.S., a visa and passport are not needed. People are friendly there, the food is very flavorful, they have great music, and the activities are festive.

    Spanish and English are spoken throughout the island since the school system for decades has been bilingual. They have natural reserves to visit, beaches, museums, and theaters, and Old San Juan is a favorite destination that you should not miss. Upon returning from the island, keep in mind that Puerto Rico is excluded from CDC requirements and you do not need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to return to the mainland (according to travel guidelines reported by Discover Puerto Rico).

    Spruce up your home to reflect the seasons.

    Decorate and revitalize your living space to enjoy the holiday season. If you have a knack for decorating, help others to spruce up their homes for the season, too.

    Shop at farmers’ markets and otherwise be mindful of the seasons. It is good for the environment and promotes better mental and physical well-being.

    Plan in advance.

    Consider handcrafting some gifts for those you want to thank and please.

    The holiday season can be stressful to many, and especially when things are done in a compressed period of time. Try to prepare for this holiday season throughout the year so that the stress of doing it in a specific time period is minimized. Plan how you want to spend the holiday season early in the year to take advantage of specials and availabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly made things more difficult than usual. By planning throughout the year, you can minimize unforeseen circumstances. Meanwhile, enjoy this season of thanks!

    Eduardo Morales, PhD, is a founder of AGUILAS, where he serves as Executive Director. He is also retired Distinguished Professor at Alliant International University and is the 2021 President of the National Latinx Psychological Association.

    Published on November 4, 2021