MILLIONS of Americans will gather on Thursday with friends and family for a Thanksgiving Day feast.

The day conjures up many wholesome and cheerful childhood memories of my Scottish and English immigrant family trying our best to fully embrace an old tradition in a new land.

As with any family, there were times of disagreement and awkwardness around the table, but the dishes of joy far outweighed those moments – those good memories are the tastes I savour above all else. Most of those who once gathered are now gone from my life, but I am thankful to have shared precious time with each of them.

American author and poet Maya Angelou once wrote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” These friends and family who made me feel wanted, supported, listened to, and loved. In the end, Thanksgiving Day is most importantly about gratitude, and that is a sensitivity I will always strive to carry.

Another day of gratitude is always closely situated on the calendar with Thanksgiving, and that is St. Andrew’s Day next week. I often hear Scots in America say something like, “well we wanted to do something for St. Andrew’s Day, but Thanksgiving prevented it.” Let me push back on that notion and flip it around.

The close proximity between Thanksgiving and St. Andrew’s Day is an opportunity – a chance to weave together the themes of gratitude and service central to both days. Authentic gratitude is not a seed that never sprouts. If genuine appreciation matures and blossoms into actions that lift others in need. And after all, what is more central to being Scottish than upholding the value of service to others.

Burns Night has in many respects become Scotland’s Night at home and around the world – certainly in America. What a lovely celebration it is. I am an avid Burns enthusiast and admirer. I proudly serve as a trustee at Ellisland Farm, the farm he shared with Jean Armour Burns outside Dumfries, and where he wrote some of his most memorable works. The story of Burns and his writings are often on my mind.

However, I think Burns himself might have wondered aloud about the wisdom of rejoicing in him alone at the risk of not developing the potential of St. Andrew’s Day. The day aims to applaud all of Scotland, especially its cotemporary attributes. And was it not serving and cherishing our auld acquaintances, and revelling in the beauty of nature that Burns so delightfully captured in verse and song?

We must find creative ways to breathe more life into St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland and America so as to impact those in need and elevate both the profile of Scotland and what it means to be Scottish. One approach is to link the day with Thanksgiving, rather than see them as a diary conflict. Far from a conflict, the themes of the days are posed to amplify each other.

Scottish organisations, charities, universities, and government leaders should actively engage with their networks in America around Thanksgiving and St. Andrew’s Day with a broad theme of giving, gratitude, and Scottishness. Scots and the Scottish diaspora should be mobilised in America during the calendar window to serve in their local communities or make donations to programmes that impact people.

Consider the image of Scots going out around Thanksgiving and serving in a soup kitchen, cleaning up waste, collecting donations, etc. We would then say to the organisers that we are doing so because we are Scottish, and it’s both Thanksgiving and St. Andrew’s Day. If enough people do it, we will leave a massive impact in raising awareness about Scotland and rendering service.

One of the traditions of Thanksgiving is to go around the table and say something for which we are thankful. As this year begins to edge to a close, I am thankful and grateful to you as a reader. I know we both live beneath the black and white print here, and, unfortunately, I am unable to speak to you face to face around a table. But I know you, and we are alike. Even though we are possibly strangers and may never meet, I appreciate you. And in the end, there is nothing more important to me than you knowing that you matter, are needed, and are making a positive difference.

Ian Houston is an honorary professor at the University of the West of Scotland and honorary lecturer at Aberdeen University.