Thanksgiving Traditions

The title of this blog may have you thinking about planning the logistics for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. On the contrary, this blog is about ways to start family traditions that celebrate our joy and gratitude on Thanksgiving Day.

This year, perhaps more than other years, we have all faced challenges–financial challenges, health challenges, relationship challenges, educational challenges, social challenges, mental health challenges–you name it. Those challenges can get overwhelming unless we take a step back and reflect on the goodness of God, even in the midst of all this year’s craziness.

Because it may be harder to find things for which we are grateful this year, please take some time to plan ways to be consciously and prayerfully grateful at Thanksgiving. It may be difficult, but thinking about it now means you’ll have a few weeks to make a plan for sharing ways to give thanks with your friends and family as you all gather to celebrate this holiday.

Here are some ideas for starting new Thanksgiving traditions.

Thanksgiving is a great time to attend Mass as a family, even if that means gathering the family in front of the TV for a livestream Mass. The Opening Prayer for Thanksgiving Day Mass reads as follows: “God and Father of all gifts, we praise you, the source of all we have and are. Teach us to acknowledge always the many good things your infinite love has given us. Help us to love you with all our heart and all our strength.” What a beautiful way to start Thanksgiving Day!

Plan some decorations to have around the house to build the anticipation for Thanksgiving day.  Craft ideas are abundant on the internet and you can help the little ones make crafts to share the joy of the season.

Make a turkey and feathers out of construction paper. Be sure there are enough feathers for each person who will be at dinner to have one or two feathers. As your Thanksgiving dinner guests arrive and get settled, give each of them a few feathers and a pen and ask them to write something they are grateful for on the feather. The young ones can gather the feathers and glue them to the turkey for a holiday decoration.

Another idea is to use a pumpkin and a sharpie and write in rings around the pumpkin what each person is grateful for. This makes a nice centerpiece surrounded by some greenery and fall leaves. It also gives everyone an opportunity to be thankful.

A tradition that lasts from year to year is to buy a white or light colored tablecloth. Use fabric markers, and each year have everyone present at dinner write what they are grateful for, along with their name and the year. Pull out the same tablecloth year after year and reminisce. Be sure to buy high quality markers and cure the writing according to directions to prevent the ink from fading. You may also want to use a clear plastic table covering to prevent stains on this family treasure.

A similar tradition I discovered recently is passing a blank journal around the Thanksgiving table, and asking each guest to write at least one thing they are thankful for, signed with their name and the year. Young children can ask an adult to transcribe. Over the years, the book will be filled with names and comments you can read at future Thanksgiving celebrations. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the past and look to the future.

Have a little friendly competition with a “thankful game.” Each person writes down what they are thankful on a slip of paper and puts their paper in a jar.  When everyone has completed their writing, the jar is passed around the table and each person takes one paper, reads it aloud and tries to guess who wrote it.

Google “Thanksgiving Bible Verses” and you’ll get tons of verses.  Print out the number of verses you need so each guest has one verse. Put each individual verse on a slip of paper. Display the slips of paper on a tray with the writing side up.  Ask each person present for dinner to pick a verse and read it aloud before the Thanksgiving meal, then share with everyone why they chose that specific verse.

Enjoy a gratitude round at dinner. Have one person at a time thank each of the others at the dining table for something over the past year. This helps draw everybody closer together as each person shares their personal thanks to everyone present.

During Thanksgiving dinner, ask each family member to share a favorite Thanksgiving memory.  Most of the times favorite memories can be the disasters of years past! The year grandma set fire to the turkey can elicit laughs as well as fond memories of a person who is no longer sitting at the table with you.

Planning ahead to be obviously grateful this year may be more important than ever after the chaos and turmoil of 2020. Take the time to figure out something meaningful for your family to do and take advantage of this special day.

This year has been hard in so many ways. Now more than ever, we need to be grateful for everything possible. There has been too much sadness this year, too much turmoil and too much worry.

Psalm 30:12-13 speaks to this: “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. So that my glory may praise you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”

Let us all take time to turn mourning into joy by planning ways to give thanksgiving a deeper meaning by starting traditions that go beyond the meal.

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