By Aaron Earls
We can miss important outreach and service opportunities if we jump past Thanksgiving and straight into Christmas.
Thanksgiving is often one of the most overlooked holidays. Stores move quickly from the scary and sweet of Halloween to the gifts and garbs of Christmas.
Even churches can gloss over Thanksgiving, as we move past trunk-or-treats and fall festivals to Christmas carols and Nativity plays.
Not only can we reorient our minds to one of thankfulness on the fourth Thursday of November, we can shift our focus to others by incorporating some of these ideas into our traditional Thanksgiving practices.
1. Get creatively thankful
Many families go around the table and express thanks. Often times, these can be generic—“my family and friends”—or can become repetitive each year. Why not mix things up?
Have people write down something for which they’re thankful, put each piece of paper in a bowl, and pass the bowl around as each person chooses an entry and reads it aloud.
Perhaps you can ask everyone to share one quality for which they’re thankful in someone else at the table. Share a character trait of God that has meant a lot to you or some Scripture that brought you through a tough time this year.
Do something to cause people to stop and reflect instead of going through the thankfulness motions.
2. Open up your home to singles
Most people like to travel home to spend time with their family, but for many people that’s not possible. Why not invite them to be part of your family for the day?
If you’re near a college, some students may be stuck working and would love a home-cooked meal and a place to relax.
Others like widows and widowers, divorced people, a military spouse, or the family of someone who is incarcerated may all be longing for someone to share their meal and their homes.
Look for people in your church and community who would appreciate a Thanksgiving invitation.
3. Visit with a shut-in
For some, spending Thanksgiving at someone else’s home would be great, but they can’t leave their own house for health reasons. Take Thanksgiving to them.
While many shut-ins may have family who will take care of them and visit on holidays, others may be more alone and in need of company.
Work with them ahead of time to either bring a meal over to their home to share or even cook the meal there (and clean up any mess that’s made).
4. Invest in the homeless
Many families see Thanksgiving as a great time to go and serve a hot meal to the homeless. That is a great thing, but it can mean a lot more if you seek to go beyond that.
Why not use the holiday as a way to become more involved with the homeless or underprivileged in your area? Thanksgiving can be an effective springboard for year-round service.
Learn from those coordinating the service efforts about opportunities to care for the homeless through the winter—after the holidays have passed, but the needs are still great.
5. Involve the neighborhood
Halloween can be a great time to get to know your neighbors and start gospel conversations, but so can Thanksgiving.
See if others in your community would like to share a meal. Pick three or four neighbors to prepare different parts of the meal.
If a full meal won’t work, maybe have a pie or dessert swap in the afternoon. Invite people over to watch a football game or set up a touch football game for kids (and maybe the kids at heart) in someone’s yard.
Don’t skip over Thanksgiving and miss the chance to connect with people who need to see the love of Christ displayed in tangible ways.
Aaron is a writer for LifewayResearch.com.