How to Build Meaningful Thanksgiving Traditions

Finally comes the season of all things pumpkin. I don’t know about you, but I go a little pumpkin crazy. I get all the pumpkins. I burn pumpkin candles and buy pumpkin soap. When I go to the grocery store I buy every single pumpkin-flavored thing without shame or consideration of the budget. (Apologies to all of you who don’t love all things pumpkin; this must be a super annoying season for you.)

With all things pumpkin, this is also the season of all things gratitude. Across our country, our specific expressions of this holiday differ but our hearts are all very much aligned: we want to give thanks! However, in the whirlwind of the holidays picking up speed, we can’t forget to do just that.

Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Traditionally, Thanksgiving (or “day of thanksgiving”) was set up to celebrate a harvest of God’s favor, protection, and blessing. George Washington first declared it a national holiday in November 1789, more than one hundred years from the first documented one in Plymouth in 1621 (though rumor has it that some colonies boasted a day of thanks before even that date!). As very few of us still celebrate an actual harvest, it is now a cultural celebration of giving thanks for all we have received this past year. It’s a season to count our blessings and celebrate with gratitude with others.

Why Do You Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Make Your Personal Thanksgiving Mission Statement:

Write out what you want Thanksgiving to be about (and not about). This is where you make what was just a holiday into a Sacred Holiday—holy and set apart. We will get to the details of how you will carry it out, but first start with what you want this season to be about.

Ideas for a More Sacred Thanksgiving

Don’t try to do all of these ideas or try to implement all the other ideas you’ve heard before. Take baby steps into each holiday. Pick one or two things to try this year and do them really well. Make notes in the white spaces of what did and didn’t work, so you have a customized resource for many years to come!

How to Make Thanksgiving Holy

30 Days of Gratitude

In the crazy whirlwind of life, we can forget to be intentional about being grateful to God. I find it really helpful to do a 30 Days of Gratitude Challenge. Take time to journal about these with the Lord, and then share about it on social media if you’d like. I find sharing it on social media is good accountability to keep with it, and it is also a beautiful way to give glory to God on what He has done in your life.

Here is a 30 Day #SacredHolidays Gratitude Prompt Plan for your time with the Lord:

Nov 1: Family or Family Member
Nov 2: Your City
Nov 3: Your Home
Nov 4: Your Job or Daily Tasks
Nov 5: BFF/Spouse/Significant Other
Nov 6: Feelings
Nov 7: The Weather
Nov 8: A Challenge You’ve Overcome
Nov 9: Someone Who Inspires You
Nov 10: Something Someone Gave You
Nov 11: Color
Nov 12: Something You Use Every Day
Nov 13: Something You’re Learning
Nov 14: A Memory
Nov 15: Your Age
Nov 16: Sounds
Nov 17: Creation or Nature
Nov 18: Hobbies
Nov 19: Accomplishment
Nov 20: Favorite Thing(s)
Nov 21: A Mentor or Teacher
Nov 22: Technology
Nov 23: Time
Nov 24: Something New or Old
Nov 25: Alone Time
Nov 26: On or Around the Table
Nov 27: Routine
Nov 28: This Place
Nov 29: Seasons
Nov 30: The Future

  • Just remember, there isn’t one way to do this. These are just suggested prompts to get you started. If you think of something else to give thanks about, follow that.
Consider and Serve the Lonely

As we already touched on, there will be those who don’t have anyone to spend this day with. Think about those in your life who might be all alone this year and consider inviting them into your gathering, the way Christ has done with us. Groups of people to consider:

  • Those new to town (they might not be able to travel to see their family due to cost or convenience).
  • Those without family in town or within driving distance. With Christmas just a few weeks following Thanksgiving, many people have to choose between the two when traveling back home or have guests come to see them.
  • Single friends—this is a great group to do Friendsgiving with!
  • Recently divorced or widowed. These friends will be having a very hard year, and it is a great opportunity to include them.
  • Elderly—they might not be able to travel to see family or have family that can’t travel to see them.

How to Make Thanksgiving Set Apart from the Rest of the Year

These ideas aren’t always overtly spiritual, nor do they have to be. They are simply ways you can make this holiday more intentional, memorable, and distinct during the year.

Gather with Others

Traditionally, gathering with others is something that is done on this day. Some of you may have more family than you know what to do with, having to divide this day up into several days of lots of feasting. Others of you may find yourself very much alone and feeling the pain of isolation on this day. Use this as an opportunity to find others to gather with.

If you aren’t physically or emotionally close to family, then start a Friendsgiving! There are likely others you know who aren’t able to spend the day with family for various reasons. Be sure to let those in your life—friends, coworkers, and people at church—know that you will be alone this Thanksgiving and give them the opportunity to include you.

And if you can’t gather with others this year, find a way to make it a special one for you. Set aside the day to focus on gratitude, maybe even making a list of 100 things you are grateful for. Oftentimes when we focus on what we do have, it helps us not feel the sting of what we don’t have.

Be Present (Put Phones Down)

Phones are awesome in so many ways, but let’s put them down on this day. A few years ago I made a basket and called it the phone jail. Now when people come for Thanksgiving, they have to drop the phone in the basket. They are welcome to grab it when they want to snap a pic. But they won’t be tempted to mindlessly scroll their phones. Let’s be fully engaged and making memories right where we are, instead of scrolling through everyone’s best photographed memories on our phones.

Give Thanks before or during the Meal

Sometimes we can forget to share our gratitude with one another. Take some time and circle up before the meal, then go around and ask everyone to share one thing they want to give thanks for that year. Or, if you don’t want the food to get cold, have this be the first thing people share once they sit down.

Thankful Tree

I have a few fake branches, but you could gather real branches, that I put in a vase in our living room. Next to it is a jar of craft leaves, Sharpies, and ribbon with a sign that says, “Give Thanks! Write one thing you are thankful for on the leaf and tie it to our tree!” When people come to your home, ask them to add a leaf to the tree. If you live with friends or family, remind them from time to time to add a leaf to the tree. This is my favorite fall decoration each year. I save the leaves and keep them in a bag with the branches and read through them each year.

Make a List of 100 Things

Grab a big sheet of paper or grab one hundred popsicle sticks and challenge the kids in your life to come up with one hundred things during the month of November that they are thankful for. Keep these on your table and go through them at mealtime and try to think of more. We want to encourage the kids in our lives to see things to be grateful for. Gratefulness is a mind-set that requires discipline. Let’s pass this discipline on to the kids!

Give the Kids a Job

You want to invite the kids into feeling a part of this holiday. Most of the time kids are pushed out of the kitchen and then placed at the kids’ table. Find a way to include kids in this day by giving them responsibilities. Have them cook or prep parts of the meal. Assign them to make homemade cards, set the table, or take drink orders. They will feel so special and they will take a lot more pride in the gathering when they’ve played a part in it.

Excerpted with permission from Sacred Holidays by Becky Kiser. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.

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