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Thanksgiving with Intent

Every holiday has the potential to be a profound experience for family and friends but it is so easy to lose the opportunity to distractions. Thanksgiving can simply get lost in a blur of house-cleaning, company-coming, turkey-basting, football-playing, stress-inducing crazy. In order to reclaim the day, it may be necessary to be deliberate about the actual act of “giving thanks” by incorporating some new traditions into your celebration.


There are so many relatively simple ways to add a little creative fun and keep the focus on gratitude. Here are some ideas:

I Am Thankful For...

Gather up a couple of bare branches and place in a jar or vase; provide your guests with leaf-shaped and/or fall colored tags. When they arrive, have them write something they are thankful for on a tag and tie it to the branch. Alternatively, you could hang a string and provide small clips; guests can clip their tag directly to the garland. At the end of the meal, read them out loud. Another variation on this is to use an empty basket and place the tags in the basket.

Mix it up a bit and add a “Guess Who” dimension; as the tags are read out loud, try to guess who wrote them.

If you are a creative type, you can make a Thankful Turkey. Wrap two Styrofoam balls with yarn or strips of fabric or paper. (One large ball for the body, one smaller ball for the head). Stick them together with a wooden skewer or floral pick. Add some googly eyes; cut out a triangle of felt or paper for the beak. Provide your guests with cut out feathers that have been attached to toothpicks. They write what they are thankful for on a feather and stick it in T.T.’s derriere. Read aloud what is written on the feathers at the end of the meal.

Group Participation

On strips of paper, write conversation starters that begin “A time I was thankful for…” followed by a prompt like “mom” or “grandpa” or “America” or “electricity” or “WIFI” or “my brother” or “a neighbor,” etc. Add the paper to a bowl or basket and place on the table. While you are enjoying your meal, have everyone choose a prompt, read it and answer it.

Before or after the meal, gather in a circle and encourage everyone to describe something they were particularly thankful for during the past year; remember family members who have passed on, and end this with a group prayer or affirmation.

During dinner, go around the table and allow everyone to make a toast. Raise a glass to family, to friends, to events or occasions; to anything that has happened over the past year that is toast-worthy. Allow the little ones to participate (without alcohol, obviously). It will slow down the meal and make for connections that might not otherwise happen.

The Book of Thanksgiving

Start an annual journal this Thanksgiving. Request that all your guests write about something they are thankful for this year; share it around the dinner table or after dessert. Next year you can revisit the earlier entries and add new ones.

A variation on this is a Thanksgiving scrapbook. Take pictures, record who was the youngest and oldest in attendance, record the menu, and add anything else you can think of to memorialize the day. Revisit it each year and add new memories.

Too techie for pen and paper? Make an annual video; have everyone say their name and age and what they are thankful for; this will be more and more precious as the years go by.

Gratitude Shared                                

Make it a point to invite someone to your feast who would otherwise be spending Thanksgiving alone, or include a friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while.

As a family, choose someone that you would like to “thank” because they have touched your lives in some way. Put together a “gift of gratitude” like a basket of cookies or something similar and deliver the gift together.

Make use of all your leftovers and host a “Friendsgiving” a day or two after the holiday. Invite them to contribute their leftovers as well and enjoy the variety of food and, of course, the company.

Volunteer at a local community Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless or impoverished and plan your meal and celebration around this. Or ask your Thanksgiving guests to bring some type of non-perishable or canned food item to donate to a local food pantry.

Participate in a “turkey trot” to help raise money for various charities or start your own “trot” for your family. We had this tradition for several years and had a great time; all the participants donated money and we bought various “animals” through World Vision for third world countries. And doing something physical is a great way to start off a day that tends to end up with everyone stuffed and dozing away.

How ever your family chooses to spend Thanksgiving, take the time to make some time to make this time meaningful.  “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

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