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Simple Family-Friendly Thanksgiving Traditions
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By Jessica Efird

In the chaos between Halloween and the winter holidays, Thanksgiving often becomes an afterthought, a “How did this sneak up on me?” sort of holiday. It is easy to understand why; as soon as the candy has been passed out on October 31, the holiday music, advertisements and store decorations come out in full force.

But gratitude and pausing to focus on the blessings of life are important! This year, consider adding a new emphasis to your Thanksgiving Day celebration. Begin your own family tradition to give Thanksgiving its well-deserved and special meaning.

Create a Thanksgiving centerpiece. Julie Fraley, a mother to two elementary-aged children in North Olmsted, Ohio, was looking for an inexpensive centerpiece years ago when she decided to “make a centerpiece by getting a branch from the yard and putting it in a vase. Then I cut out leaves from colored construction paper and put string on each one.” Fraley shares that this centerpiece has become an annual tradition in which each person at the table “has to take a few leaves, write their name and date on one side and what they are thankful for on the other side, then hang them on our ‘Tree of Thankfulness’ in the center of the table.” Fraley then saves the leaves each year and reads ones from prior years during the meal.

The tree also serves as a way to record your children’s growth. As Fraley recalls, “I used to write for them when they were little. Then (there are) the years when they first started writing on their own—barely legible, but totally precious. Now they are getting older and their leaves are growing with them—more thought out and expressive.”

Record blessings from year to year. Use an inexpensive plain tablecloth and a few permanent markers to record your family’s blessings each Thanksgiving. Begin by lining your table with either butcher paper or newspaper to protect the tabletop and then drape the tablecloth on top. Pass around a permanent marker during the meal. Guests can either write or draw a picture of that for which they are thankful, along with their name and the year. Be sure to assist little ones, so that their marker drawings stay on the tablecloth.

Use colorful markers to make the tablecloth look festive and be sure to instruct everyone to only write over a small portion of the fabric. After the Thanksgiving meal is over, you can use the tablecloth during family gatherings as a way to remind yourselves of gratitude. Then, when Thanksgiving rolls around again, bring out the tablecloth and add a new year’s worth of blessings. By making it an annual tradition, you’ll have a very special tablecloth to use each year.

Serve those less fortunate. Perhaps there is no better way to feel truly blessed than to serve someone else in need. Whitney Ingram, a mom to three young children in Levi, Utah, explains, “When I was younger, my mom would talk to someone at church who was in charge of humanitarian projects and service projects. She would get a project for us to do before and after Thanksgiving dinner.”

Even small children can grasp the concept of helping others and perform simple tasks with your family. Ingram recalls that even as a young child, “I always liked the concept of us giving back after we [had] been given so much.”

Get active before the meal! Consider participating in a “Turkey Trot” or create your own Thanksgiving morning run or walk together as a family. Many towns and cities host family-friendly races on Thanksgiving morning that often include “Tot Trots” or one-mile walks that are fun for the whole family, usually supporting a nonprofit or charitable cause. Getting up and being active together as a family can help remind you to be thankful for just being healthy. It also can help start the biggest day of eating of the year on a healthful note. As you walk or run, you can even reflect on the year and express gratitude.

No matter what tradition your family chooses for your Thanksgiving Day celebration, anything small or large can help create a sense of community and belonging among your Thanksgiving guests. Ingram remembers about the service projects she and her family completed, “that they always had us sitting around the living room together, chatting and laughing and having a good time. Isn’t that always how service goes?”

Even simple things like an annual breaking of the turkey wishbone or verbally sharing your blessings, when done in a mindful way, will help make Thanksgiving a special moment on your holiday calendar.