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Whether your family has a long history of traditions or your new family is approaching the holidays for the first time, these Thanksgiving traditions can bless your family.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Thanksgiving is a chance for families to gather together and enjoy being with one another. But Thanksgiving can also be a meaningful time to reflect on our blessings and remember how God has been faithful in our lives. Many families have special Thanksgiving traditions they use to show gratitude to God and each other.
We partnered with Thriving Family to ask parents about some of their favorite Thanksgiving traditions. These cherished traditions help their families experience real gratitude amid the food and fellowship of the Thanksgiving.
Whether your family has a long history of traditions or your new family is approaching the holidays for the first time, these Thanksgiving traditions can bless your family. This Thanksgiving, consider how you can intentionally cultivate gratitude within your family.
For our family, Thanksgiving Day begins early. Our family gathers around a card table in the living room to share a special, once-a-year breakfast. Between bites of poppy seed cake and sips of eggnog, we record the year’s blessings on notebook paper. We list things like: landing a new job, reconnecting with old friends, finding a great sale on kids’ shoes, earning an A in Spanish. No item is too small for the list.
After we’ve filled our papers, I reach for our family’s Thanksgiving Journal, which contains our lists from the past 30 years. As we sift through the pages, we remember our family’s milestones, such as starting a new business, learning to play an instrument, hitting the home run that won the baseball championship. Tears and laughter flow freely as we read about a 4-year-old’s gratefulness for a new bicycle. Or reflecting on the swing set we inherited from a family at church. We even give thanks for our first dog and memories of loved ones who have since passed away.
Shortly after breakfast, the turkey goes in the oven, the card table transforms into a puzzle area, and the guests begin to arrive. But the heart of our Thanksgiving happens before the busyness of the day. Our Thanksgiving tradition begins when we add the year’s memories to a growing collection of God’s blessings.
My family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition began in November 2001. I was hosting the big dinner only weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Like many Americans, we were still in shock, still hurting. We kept thinking about all the families around the country whose Thanksgiving dinners would never be the same.
As we finished our meal that year, I brought in a package of fabric pens. I asked our family and guests to write something on the tablecloth that they were thankful for. Everyone took turns writing short notes on the cloth, and we have continued to bring out the pens every year. Notes of love for family, our country and our God are arranged in an intricate puzzle across the light yellow cloth. Children’s handprints are tucked in next to earnest messages of gratitude. While Great-Grandma Cusumano’s shaky writing holds a special place in the center of the mosaic.
The tablecloth has become precious to our family. Every November, my children request the honor of putting out the tablecloth, just like they ask to put the angel on top of our Christmas tree. Then, Thanksgiving Day arrives, and our guests smile and laugh as they read through the memories. When the children search to find their handprints, they’re thrilled to see how much they’ve grown.
When the guests have gone home and the dishes have been put away, I take a few moments for a tradition of my own. I read through the special messages left behind by my family and friends. Not all of our family members are present every year. But their words remain on the cloth, reminding me to say a prayer of thanks for each one of them.
—Joanne Kraft, from her book Just Too Busy
As a child, I always looked forward to Thanksgiving. Not because of the turkey or the fact that it sometimes fell on my birthday, but because of the rolls.
Thanksgiving morning, Mom made delicious Parker House rolls and placed a small slip of paper with a silly fortune in the middle of each one. At Thanksgiving dinner, family members read their fortune out loud when they opened their roll.
Years later, I decided to continue the tradition — with a biblical twist. I typed Scriptures on small pieces of paper, tucking them in the rolls in the same way my mother had once done. Now our meals are filled with promises of God’s goodness until the last roll disappears from the basket.
On my side of the family, sentiments are usually kept to oneself, so when we planned to spend Thanksgiving at my mother’s place a few years back, I knew my siblings and their spouses wouldn’t be comfortable participating in traditions where vocal expressions of gratitude were required. So I decided to try an idea from a kids’ craft project, modified for my family.
From brown construction paper, I cut out the trunk and branches of a tree and taped it to the wall. Then I made leaves out of red, yellow and orange paper. I handed out the leaves to my siblings, their spouses and their kids, asking them to write something they were thankful for on each leaf. I told them they didn’t need to write their name on it unless they wanted to. The kids were the most enthusiastic, with most of them quickly scribbling down one or two items. The adults were reluctant at first, but once they started reading the other leaves, they all wrote down at least one thankful thought. I was surprised to see some leaves with detailed, heartfelt lists, and a few relatives filled more than one leaf!
Several weeks later when I went to visit my mom, I was surprised to see the Thanksgiving tree still taped to the wall. Mom told me she enjoyed looking at it so much that she couldn’t bear to take it down.
This Thanksgiving tradition helps you reflect on the previous year’s memorable moments. One of the best ways to capture the past year’s memories is through writing down the year’s memorable events. Before your Thanksgiving meal, lay out a sheet of butcher paper on a table. Or you can consider hanging one sheet on the wall for your family and guests.
Then, have everyone write down something memorable from the past year. Maybe it’s a funny one sentence joke from a family member. Or it’s a longer memory shared with your family. Also, you could have everyone write down something they are grateful for from this past year. Once you are finished, fold up the paper and store it somewhere safe.
Next year, find the previous year’s paper and set it out alongside the new piece of butcher paper to reflect on the previous year’s memories. Throughout the years, you can reflect on different memories and celebrate specific blessings.
– Focus On The Family, Parenting Team
Thanksgiving has always been a wonderful time for our family, filled with an abundance of awesome food and meaningful memories made together. So when our church started collecting food for needy families, we felt compelled to join in. At the grocery store, we checked out with a full cart, dropped off the bags at church and felt good for helping the needy.
Right before Thanksgiving, the church announced it didn’t have enough people to deliver the food. Then, my husband, Jim, volunteered our family. We were less than enthusiastic. It was one thing to run through the store throwing food in a cart, but quite another to dedicate our holiday to delivering groceries. Nevertheless, early Thanksgiving morning, we climbed into our van and picked up the boxes of food from church. Then, we rode in silence to the first address on our list, in a part of town we usually avoided.
When a man opened the door, Jim offered him the box of food and explained that we wanted to show his family the love of Christ. The man called to his wife and kids, who came to admire the turkey and big box of food on their table. The children hopped around the kitchen in delight. As we left, the father said he’d been out of work for a while, and he believed that God had sent us.
After the last delivery, we piled back into the van and drove home, talking about our unique Thanksgiving experience. During our own dinner, we still laughed and stuffed ourselves with food. But it seemed that the usual expressions of thanks came from a deeper place in our hearts.
Originally published: © 201 Letitia Suk, Donna Brennan, Joanne Kraft, Jeannie Voge, and Sally Jadlow. Used by permission. © 2021, 2023 Focus on the Family, All Rights Reserved
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