Traditions are a part of most holidays and are what preserve family values and memories. Introducing a new entrée, side dish, or dessert to your Thanksgiving fare may create a new tradition, but it might be time to begin or reintroduce lasting Thanksgiving traditions that focus less on the palate and more on gratitude, giving and togetherness.
One familiar tradition observed by many families is to go around the Thanksgiving table telling others why they are thankful. Angi Pennell of New Jersey has taught her boys to be grateful every day, not just on Thanksgiving. “When we pray at the evening meal, we each give thanks for someone or for something that happened that day,” she says. Admitting to not being much of a cook, Angi laughs and says, “Frequently, one of the boys will say, “I’m glad Dad did the cooking tonight” or “I’m thankful we are finally eating!”
Holly McLaughlin of Peachtree City tries to put a unique spin on her family’s annual “thankfulness” activity. “One year we chose names and told what we loved about that person,” remembers Holly. “Another year we covered the table with butcher block paper and everyone wrote their thankful thoughts with colorful markers.” Creative types can trace their hands and add other artistic embellishments. Note that if you want this activity to be a keepsake, use a white bed sheet and fabric markers.
Another variant of a gratefulness activity is to create a “Thanks Tree,” encouraging thankful awareness for the holiday or for the entire month. Children can help by cutting leaf shapes out of fall-colored construction paper. Place a bare tree branch in a pot of pebbles and scatter the multi-hued paper leaves beneath it. Each day, family members and guests can write on a leaf what they are thankful for and hang the leaves on the tree. You can also spread the leaves on the Thanksgiving table and have each dinner guest select a couple of leaves, then decorate them with their personal thoughts of gratitude. After the meal, read the thanksgiving thoughts aloud and hang them on the tree, creating a fall topiary of gratefulness.
Borrow from other holidays to initiate Thanksgiving fun and a new off-beat tradition. Buy colorful feathers at a craft store and hide the feathers inside or out and have a turkey feather hunt — similar to an Easter egg hunt. Purchase or make headbands so the younger kids can create a Native American headdress out of the feathers.
Volunteering at a local charity is also often an admirable holiday activity that many families choose. Take this endeavor a step further and create an annual family volunteer calendar. Designate one weekend every month or every other month to do something that helps people in the community or improves the environment. There are many avenues of opportunity. Your family can participate in or volunteer at a local race that benefits a charity. Or, you can help clean up a park or playground. If you have older children, your family can donate time to a food bank, homeless shelter, senior center, or pet shelter.
Place a box in a central location in your home and encourage family members to place old clothes, coats, toys and other no-longer-needed items in the box to give to those less fortunate. You can also ask your dinner guests to bring donations to add to the box. During Thanksgiving break, have a family outing and deliver these items to the charity organization.
Hype up the day and get your food and football lovers outside to share in some physical activities. Gather the whole family outdoors and choose sides for a game of coed touch football. Have a scavenger hunt, requiring teams to bring back fall-related items, or to simply take photos of items on the list. Teach youngsters some of the forgotten games of your youth such as hopscotch, jumping rope, jacks, tag, or hide-and-go-seek. After enjoying the holiday feast, gather everyone for a slow-paced walk to help settle the food and make room for dessert.
And don’t forget to add a little craziness. Have your grandchild sing the ghastly song he learned in preschool about chopping off the Thanksgiving turkey’s head! Test your brain and try to remember your favorite childhood Thanksgiving song and the animations that you so dutifully learned. Teach it to your family so young and old can sing and act along. In our family, a tradition is that the family matriarch, and any others who care to join in, do what we call the turkey dance while singing our
family-favorite turkey song,
“The turkey is a funny bird, his head goes wobble, wobble — and when he walks all he says is gobble, gobble, gobble.” Activities like these are sure to get eruptions of laughter and heads shaking in disbelief. Who knows, a new Thanksgiving tradition may emerge.
Everyday life, as exciting or mundane as it may be, is filled with opportunities to experience and perpetuate gratitude and giving. In this world of instant gratification, entitlement, and electronic isolation, Thanksgiving can be the time to demonstrate and initiate the tradition of thankfulness. After all, the holiday moniker has a mandate built into it —Thanks and Giving.