Celebrate the Thanks in Thanksgiving

Teach kids the art of gratitude for a meaningful holiday.

Between the excitement of Halloween and Christmas lurks an oft overlooked holiday for kids. Thanksgiving may lack the fun of candy and costumes or the magic of Santa and reindeer, but it has an important lifelong lesson for our kids—gratitude.

To teach your children that Thanksgiving is about more than football and feasting, consider incorporating one of these traditions into your Thanksgiving celebration.

Gratitude Box: At the beginning of November, place a box or jar in a central location, along with strips of paper and writing utensils. Encourage your family to record the things they are grateful for and drop them in the box. Make it a game—can they record something every day or every time they pass by the box? Open the box at the Thanksgiving meal and read the statements aloud.

Two Trees: Many families have incorporated the tradition of a Thanksgiving “tree”, to which they add leaves of gratitude each day in November. Consider having two trees—a thanks tree and a giving tree. (Your kids can help you make the trees out of paper or cardboard, and cut out leaves for the trees.) Place the trees in a central location and make it a family ritual to place leaves on the tree every day—each family member can add leaves to both trees by writing something they are thankful for and something they have done to give to or help others. This keeps your family centered in gratitude and giving.

Thanksgiving Book: Create a Thanksgiving book that grows with each passing year. Every family member creates a page of gratitude each year—it could be a drawing, a poem, or simply a list of things they are grateful for. Be sure to write the date on it and then place it in a binder. It’s fun to place the Thanksgiving book on a coffee table during the month of November to allow your family and guests to reflect on the gratitude and gifts of years past and present.

Thankful Tablecloth: Buy a large white sheet or tablecloth to use for the Thanksgiving table. Provide markers and brace yourself for the chaos and fun that ensues. At Thanksgiving dinner, have each person add his/her mark to the tablecloth. Guests might choose to write their name, draw a picture, write something they are grateful for, trace their hands, or find any way to leave a mark that says, “I was here.” Save the tablecloth and add to it each year. It’s fun to read the tablecloth at Thanksgiving dinner each year and remember Thanksgivings of years past. (Some people take the time to embroider over the writing each year after Thanksgiving, but permanent marker works just as well!)

Thankful Leaves: Place blank leaves at each place setting when you set the Thanksgiving table. As guests arrive, instruct them to take time to visit the table and write something on each person’s leaf. It might be a compliment or something they are grateful for about that person. When guests arrive at the table for dinner, they’ll be greeted by a “warm fuzzy” on their plate.

There are countless activities and traditions you can incorporate into your family Thanksgiving. Gratitude can be fun and meaningful. Here’s to a Thanksgiving filled with thanks and giving.