What Bees Teach Us About Gratitude

November 3, 2015

Today’s Thanksgiving celebrations typically include one or more of the following: feasting, family reunions, football games, turkey trots, parades, and holiday sales shopping over the extended four-day weekend. A lot has changed since the “first Thanksgiving,” which was a simple gathering to celebrate a bountiful harvest in 1621 after a grueling first winter in Plymouth.

This thanksgiving observance was similar to a traditional English harvest festival and was attended by about 50 pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag men in recognition of the life-saving assistance the native people gave these early settlers. More than 150 years would pass before George Washington declared Thanksgiving a National holiday in 1789. It took almost another 75 years before Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the celebration should be the last Thursday in November, but it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress sanctioned it a legal holiday.

While how Thanksgiving has been celebrated throughout the centuries has certain changed, the expression of gratitude has remained constant and reflects our national character. What makes the holiday so enduring is that people can personalize it by adding their own customs, which are then blended with those of future generations—making it both bound to the past with the tradition but relevant to current times and popular interests.

As a beekeeper, gratitude is concept I fully embrace as working with living creatures teaches one to be humble. I have learned to be appreciative of their remarkable life cycle and the gift of their honey. Living for just a short six weeks in the summer and four to six months in the winter, each bee only produces 1/12 a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. Collectively, however, a hive makes sufficient honey to not only support itself over winter, but also to have enough extra that beekeepers can harvest it for consumption by honey lovers.

Here are three lessons about gratitude honey bees have taught me that are especially relevant at Thanksgiving time:

Strive for Unity – Bees work closely together toward a common purpose, which is to ensure the survival of the hive. Thanksgiving is a time when people come together in celebration—they may travel far geographically or idealogically. People take the time to reconnect with the lives and activities of far-flung relatives and friends. It is often a time to reconcile differences and to reach out to others and strengthen one’s bonds with one another.

Teach the Young – Worker bees take on multiple roles throughout their short lives depending upon the hive’s needs: feeding baby bees, tending the queen, cleaning the hive, foraging for food, guarding the colony, and making honeycomb. With such a large population of bees (upward to 80,000 in a healthy hive), these social insects need to be able to communicate effectively and do so either through scent or by dancing (i.e., waggle dance). At Thanksgiving, multiple generations often gather together and stories are retold and shared—weaving together and strengthening connections between past and present. Children absorb these tales and they become part of their identity. Families and friends may gather in prayer or song over a rich, aromatic meal as part of their ongoing legacy. 

Open One’s Heart – We’re all familiar with the saying “Busy as a Bee” and while bees are industrious, they may work anywhere from 2 to 12 hours a day depending on their role in the hive. What is impressive about bees, however, is that they perform work for which the reward doesn’t come for much later. As part of my embrace of gratitude, I have learned to open my heart and reflect upon all the gifts I have received in my life, especially those I have struggled to achieve. This reflection enables me to focus my life outward and to use my gifts and resources to help others.

Bee America Thanksgiving Honey Gift