By Becky Kiser
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.
Set Apart 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 of what did and didn’t work, so you have a customized resource for many years to come!
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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!
6. 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.
Becky is the founder & CEO of Sacred Holidays and the author of Sacred Holidays: Less Chaos, More Jesus.
Excerpted with permission from Sacred Holidays: Less Chaos, More Jesus by Becky Kiser. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.