SummaryThanksgiving is almost here! Jennifer Elia shows you some creative ways your family can start celebrating the holiday with projects that foster gratitude.
Thanksgiving is coming. It’s a time for family, laughter, prize recipes, comfort food, and noisy gatherings.
However, Thanksgiving is much more than squeezing 30 people around Aunt Anne’s dining room table to feast on turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cornbread, and pies.
November is the perfect time to exercise those gratitude muscles and practice acts of mercy in order to gear up for Advent, which is just around the corner.
Here are four projects to do as a family to celebrate this season of gratitude:
1. Thanksgiving Tree
We haven’t done this in a few years, but it is making a comeback for Thanksgiving this year. I started it as a lesson in gratitude, and learned a few lessons from my children along the way. Hanging up a leaf each night doesn’t seem complicated, but it does take quite a bit of introspection to continue through the entire month.
Once the obvious and easy choices have been taken, it is amazing what the whole family can find to be thankful for. You begin to count even your challenges as joys.
One night I particularly remember was when my daughter was thankful for our beautiful backyard. It came at a time that I was really struggling with finding peace about living in a home we wanted so badly to leave. I had been dreaming of bigger and better, discontent with the status quo. Her enthusiastic expression of thanks for something that I had been beginning to loathe, really brought me down to what Thanksgiving is all about.
We all do have so very much to be thankful for, much more than most of us even realize. So start counting your blessings and create a charming decoration for your dinner table in the process.
Here are the directions for this project:
- Gather a handful of fallen twigs from your backyard or nearby park. You want them to be at least 15-18” long and have several smaller “branches” for hanging the “leaves.”
- Arrange the twigs in a vase or tall jar and place in the middle of your dining table.
- Out of multicolored construction paper, cut stacks of paper leaves that are big enough to write a few words on them.
- Punch holes in one end of each leaf and thread a ribbon or string through it. Tie to make a loop hanger for the leaf.
- Place leaves into basket or bowl next to the “tree.”
- Each night at dinner, have every person fill out a new leaf with something they are thankful to have or do. Hang the leaves on the branches and watch your tree fill up. Younger children can draw pictures or dictate to Mom or Dad their choices.
- Take some time each night to discuss everyone’s choices and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all you have.
2. Family Story
The Pilgrims faced unbelievable challenges to voyage to the New World for religious freedom. The more we study all that they endured before and during their escape from oppression, the more I realize how precious their faith was to them. My husband, and so my children, are descendants of two pilgrims from the Mayflower.
A few years ago, the week of Thanksgiving, we took a break from regular school work and learned more about our family story of coming over on the Mayflower.
We read accounts of the voyage, studied the layout of the ship, cooked special pilgrim recipes, and traced our family line from my youngest child all the way back to Stephen Hopkins. We used the family tree we created as a Thanksgiving decoration. We still have it and take it out each year. The kids have not tired of reading all the names and seeing how they are related to so many people. At first, I was worried about missing that many days of school, but in fact we all learned so much.
Even if you aren’t related to a Pilgrim, every family has a story of how and why they came to our country. As a family, discover your story and celebrate the sacrifices your ancestors made so that they and their children could live here. My own family left Italy, some of them as teenagers alone, to become Americans.
I never really appreciated what they did, until I lived abroad for a year and found myself a stranger in a strange land. It’s important that these stories not be forgotten. They are the very fabric of our history.
3. Neighborhood Food Drive
My friend, Marla, came up with the best project for a group or family, a project that is simple, but powerful. One Thanksgiving, our Teams of Our Lady group conducted a food drive in each of our neighborhoods for the local food pantry. The concept is easy. Have the children type up a brief letter introducing themselves and who will benefit from the drive.
Also include a list of items needed and a date when you will be picking them up. Make copies of the letter and staple each letter to one of those plastic grocery bags that seem to multiply no matter what you do. Fold the bag up behind the letter and hang one from every door knob in the neighborhood. On the day you chose for pick up, take a walk—or drive, depending on how large of an area you decide to cover—and pick up your donations.
As a family, bring all of your donations to the food bank and experience the joy of giving.
Here are some other ideas of what to collect:
- Diapers and wipes for a crisis pregnancy center
- Cards or small decorations for nursing home patients
- Gloves and hats for homeless shelter
- Small toys for a children’s hospital
- Supplies for animal shelter
4. Thank Your Pastors
Priests give their lives to their church, but they are often forgotten during special occasions. As our pastor says, his parishioners are his children. He is our father leading us in faith and love. Yet how often do we think to say thank you?
This year, my daughter’s St. Therese Scouts troop is having a baking day to make individual holiday pies for all of their pastors and deacons. Each girl is bringing enough pie crust to make their pies and two of the ingredients for the pie filling.
The girls will be able to choose to make apple or pumpkin pies. At our parish we have three priests and four deacons. That’s a lot of pies – but it’s also a lot to be thankful for! We are also thankful for the scout leader who organized this project to show these wonderful men how much they are appreciated and loved.
Here are some other ideas of how to express your gratitude to your parish’s shepherds:
- Host a card shower—Email five of your friends from church and ask them to drop a thank you card for your pastor into the collection basket, and ask five more people that they know from the parish to do the same. If you are involved in specific clubs or groups, you could get everyone in the group to do this and then recruit others to do the same. Soon your pastor will be showered with gratitude and cards.
- Bring a special holiday treat—It doesn’t have to be pie; perhaps you make an amazing sweet potato casserole. Make a little extra, package it up with a nice card, and drop it at the rectory to bless the holiday of your pastor.
- Invite him over for dinner—Does your pastor serve far from his home? Does he not have any family to visit? Why not include him in your own family’s celebration? Invite Father or Deacon over to share a holiday feast. He will appreciate the company, and your children will learn much about vocations and hospitality this holiday.
How is your family going to live an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving?