Thanksgiving with my Family-Starting Traditions
by Alex in General / 11.14.08
This Thanksgiving will not be the first Thanksgiving spent with our son, Max, but he is just now becoming old enough to understand the meanings of holidays and traditions. Realizing this, I have been thinking a lot about starting our own holiday traditions, in addition to the turkey feast, of course. Since neither my family nor my husband’s family have strong inclinations toward traditions for Thanksgiving, I have been trolling the Internet looking for unique ideas started by other families. Here are a few of the Thanksgiving traditions that I found throughout my research.
1. A Thanksgiving Jar- I’ve seen several variations of this idea and I love it. You designate a jar somewhere in the house and place a pad of paper and a pencil next to it. Throughout the year, as ideas come to you or as part of a daily routine, family members write down what they are thankful for and place the slips of paper in the jar. The slips get read during Thanksgiving dinner to remind everyone of their blessings for that year. Afterward, some families will make an ornament chain of the slips of paper to place around their Christmas tree. Another variation is to start a journal that each family member writes in and lists what they are thankful for on Thanksgiving day every year. I would love to find my own unique way to keep these slips so that, years from now, my family can look back and reflect on all of our blessings.
2. Thanksgiving Day(s) in Photos- Create a photo album keepsake by taking one photo every day in November of things you are thankful for. Families do this to remind them in what ways they are blessed and display it every year at the dinner table. The more traditional approach is to take pictures of family and friends on Thanksgiving day. Every year update the photos for your guests and display them at dinner to reflect on past meals shared together as time continues on.
3. Giving Others Something to be Thankful for- Forgo the turkey and stuffing and help out others in need as a community volunteer. To some, volunteering is a time of reflection and Thanksgiving becomes a time to give back and provide people who are less fortunate with a reason to give thanks. Popular ideas are volunteering in a soup kitchen for the homeless or visiting the sick in the hospital or an elder-care facility. Community outreach programs are the best references to find your own way to give back that is meaningful to your family.
4. Blessing Tree- Find a broken branch (or cut one from a tree) and place it in a container surrounded by pebbled or acorns (to anchor it). Cut leaves from colored paper and hole-punch them, attaching ribbon or twine to each one. Place the leaves in a basket next to the ‘tree’ with a pen and let family and guests write how they have been blessed in the last year, hanging their blessings on the tree. At dinner, read the blessings out loud.
5. Gathering of “Extended Family”- For those that can’t go to visit their family for Thanksgiving or for those that count their closest friends as part of their extended family, it might be nice to start a tradition of gathering these people together for a meal. Even if you are making a trip to see your family, host a separate meal with your community either before or after the big day, encouraging everyone to bring a dish. When my husband and I were newly married these were some of our favorite meals-a chance to gather with all of our friends as ‘family’ and remind all of us how important we were to each others’ lives.
6. Beginning of Christmas- Start celebrating and decorating your home for Christmas. Do this by giving presents of Christmas decorations or Christmas pajamas at Thanksgiving dinner. Or set up the Christmas tree and decorate it when the whole family is around.
7. Baking- For many, Thanksgiving desserts are the best dish on the menu. Some families have a tradition of getting together just to make desserts, often pies, before Thanksgiving day to present them as gifts, or take them to shut-ins. I read about one family’s tradition of having a dessert contest between the men of the family. All the men bring a dessert and the women judge them on presentation and taste, even giving away prizes to the winner!
8. Kid’s Choice- Someone recounted a tradition their mother began, wherein they were allowed to choose one food that they were thankful for and helped their mother to prepare it for the Thanksgiving meal. They always kept the dish a secret until it was served and helped in every step of the process, from shopping to cooking.
9. Thanks Giving- Some families mark their day with a special toast or prayer, given each year by the same designated family member. Some choose to use a circle of thanks, where each person takes a turn stating what they are thankful for.
10. Preserving the Past- Many take this family time to keep their family history and memories alive. One idea is to make a memory jar for each family member, adding slips of paper with a shared family memory written on it (be it a vacation, gathering, or member that is now gone). Your family can save the jars and pull out a slip once a week to remember the events, or discuss them all together that evening, to share in each individual’s remembrance of the event or person. You might also take this time to research your family history/genealogy and share what you learn. You can even get the older members to share their own memories of the family history and get them to share their stories of growing up.