Sometimes it's a challenge to convince children that Thanksgiving Day is really not all about the food. Sure there's turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and pie. Oh yeah, don't forget the pie! But hidden inside this palate-driven holiday is an opportunity to teach the meaning behind the celebration. It is, after all, a day to remember God and give thanks.
The scriptures are filled with passages calling us to maintain a thankful heart. From Psalm 106:1, "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good," to Paul's letter to the Thessalonians urging them to "give thanks in all circumstances" (5:18). It was this latter verse that sustained the Pilgrims, venturing to the New World, who ushered in the Thanksgiving Day celebration.
In the winter of 1620, Pilgrims, traveling by sea, settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts. They came for religious freedom — a desire to worship God and live according to Holy Scripture. But the country they found was bleak and uninviting, with several inches of snow already on the ground. Of the 102 passengers aboard the ship, the Mayflower, nearly half died during the first winter of the "great sickness." Yet, according to settler Edward Winslow, they were grateful to God for his provision in their lives. A year later, the group celebrated with a feast of thanksgiving.
So, this year as the guests arrive, in addition to a bountiful meal, try these fun-filled age-appropriate activities that will direct children, and adults, back to the true meaning of the holiday, and also create Thanksgiving Day memories that will last a lifetime.
For the very young, holidays are about the nurturing and extra attention received from grandparents and other close family and friends. Try to provide time for fun interaction, with songs and hymns that celebrate the season. Provide toddlers with some crayons and color books, and invite grandparents to color along. Be sure to include The Pumpkin Patch Parable, a picture book by Liz Curtis Higgs, for an after supper story time.
Make your young guests feel special when Thanksgiving dinner is served atop a custom-made tablecloth they designed. Break out the color crayons, or markers, and allow each child to draw their own artwork depicting a thankful day. Later, play a game of "Alphabet Thanks," where children draw from a bowl of letters, and then tell God thanks for something that begins with the letter they picked.
This age group is ready to put the spirit of thanksgiving into practice by canvassing their neighborhood, collecting canned food items for those in need. For fun on Thanksgiving Day, have this age group use a video camera to film their own home movie about giving thanks. Guests can be entertained as they view the finished work on the TV during dessert. Or, for the more musically minded, have the kids borrow the tune from their favorite pop or rap song and replace the lyrics with a seasonal message.
This age is perfect for hands-on community service. Visit the local rescue mission or nearby retirement home, and have them pitch in by serving the holiday meal. Another fun idea is to invite these teens to compete in a pie-baking contest, with Gram and Gramps deciding the winning recipe.
Ice Breakers are a fun way to get everyone talking. Write something to be thankful for on a small sheet of paper and tape it to the back of everyone who comes in the door. They must ask yes or no questions from other guests to guess what is written on the paper.