Thanksgiving is a spiritual discipline which must be regularly practiced. Gratitude creates an atmosphere that can turn a prison into a palace. Proverbs 21:9 (MESS) tells us, Better to live alone in a tumbledown shack than share a mansion with a nagging spouse. Making the best of a situation goes a long way in turning any dwelling into a home.
It is so important to make Thanksgiving a high holiday, and to teach our families to make Thanksgiving thanks living each and every day. Thanksgiving Day should not be about gluttony or getting the holiday bargains, but about expressing genuine gratitude. Hospitality is not about throwning a picture perfect party, it is about demonstrating love and welcoming the stranger.
Here are a few practical ways to help your family realize thanksgiving as a lifestyle rather than a once a year, 24 hour practice.
1. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter.
Contact the Salvation Army or another local organization serving a special Thanksgiving meal and offer your family to serve for the day. Our family has done this on occasion. The nice thing about the Salvation Army is that many times there is a church service before the meal and then your family can worship first with those they will be serving. This is a very powerful tool in helping your children (and their parents) to see how blessed they really are, and keeping a broader perspective about the struggles that others face.
2. Make Thanksgiving an intergenerational workday.
For years Thanksgiving meant that the girls were in the kitchen while the boys were watching football. A few years ago, because of work schedules, we started celebrating Thanksgiving on the day after Thanksgiving. Thus, making the workforce of the male species available for duty. My mother wrote a yard list for the guys who made the final preparations for winter in her yard, while the girls worked on the meal. It felt much more like a family time and offered an opportunity for us to serve another generation.
3.Invite someone to Thanksgiving Dinner who might otherwise be alone.
Do you know someone single with no living family? Perhaps there is a new family at church who has recently moved into the area. Is there someone who is divorced or widowed and without their family for the first time? The first time we did this it was hard. Our family was so busy that we rarely enjoyed a meal together and the thought of sharing it with someone we hardly knew was painful. The thought of it was painful, but the experience of it was glorious! As a result, we often invite others to a holiday meal. It’s become a tradition.
4.Make a Thanksgiving Tree
I found this idea on Pinterest and can’t wait to implement it into our celebration this year. Either create a paper tree on poster board, or find a lovely branch to display in a vase. Cut out some “leaves” with orange, yellow and red construction paper. Using a hole-puncher, punch holes in each leaf and draw a piece of curling ribbon through the hole. Place the “leaves” in a bowl and encourage your guests to write things they are thankful for on them and attach to the tree. This makes a lovely Thanksgiving decoration. As an added teaching opportunity, you can do this for weeks before your celebration encouraging your family to learn the discipline of a living a grateful life everyday.
5.Create a Thanksgiving Album
Create an album for your family with pictures from each Thanksgiving. You can also have each member write on the page things that they are grateful for. If you do the above activity, you can paste the paper “leaves” from your tree along with your Thanksgiving portrait. This is a great tool when one of your family members is feeling sorry for themself or displaying an attitude of ingratitude. They can look through the Thanksgiving album to see things they have been grateful for, while remembering good family times.
Creating an atmosphere of gratitude has very little to do with circumstances and much more to do with finding beauty right where you are. Painter Camille Pissarro said, “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” Thanksgiving is a spiritual discipline, which means that it must be practiced, and practiced and practiced again! Happy Thanksgiving!