This article originally posted on November 3, 2015.
* Click here to watch a recent 7-minute TV segment where Saren shared the key ideas in this post.
Halloween’s over, and everywhere I go, Christmas decorations are popping up. But wait a minute. What about Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is awesome! Let’s not brush this beautiful holiday under the rug!
I love bustling about the kitchen while enjoying fun conversations with family members I don’t get to see very often. I love making the table look beautiful. I love the anticipation of the feast as you smell that turkey cooking all day. I love the old-fashioned all-too-rare focus on sitting at the table for a good long while, really talking and really enjoying our food. I love the fact that decorating for Thanksgiving takes just a few minutes – a few gourds and pumpkins, some Indian corn, maybe some autumn leaves and a nice table cloth – that’ll pretty much do it.
But what I love the very most about Thanksgiving is that it can help us more fully recognize all the wonderful things in our lives and count our blessings. When we look for the good and adopt an “attitude of gratitude,” life is just a lot happier.
Here are eight simple traditions my family has developed over the years that help us make the whole month of November into a month of gratitude and joy:
1. Thanksgiving Tree
In the past few years, starting at the beginning of November, we talk about what we’re most grateful for at dinner each night and everyone picks one “thankful thing” to write on a “thankful leaf” that we add to our “Thanksgiving Tree.” Our tree is just a collection of branches we found in the backyard and stuck into some of that green florist styrofoam-type stuff in a left-over container I found in the basement. The “leaves” are made of leaf-shaped pieces of yellow, red and orange construction paper that we write things on and tape to the tree’s branches.
Here’s my sister’s Thanksgiving Tree – she does a “flat” tree that hangs on her wall. Click on the photo below to go to her blog and read lots of great further details about how they do their Thanksgiving tree (pretty similar to what we do).
2. Gratitude Journal
Another thing I’ve done the past couple years to focus on upping my personal level of gratitude (which greatly impacts my personal level of happiness), is to keep a gratitude journal. I write about one thing I’m especially grateful for each day in my journal or on my blog. Sometimes I write just a few words. Sometimes I write a couple paragraphs. This little practice makes me look for the positive every day and celebrate the good things that can be found even in hard days and hard situations. I like the person I am when I’m searching out and celebrating all that is wonderful in my life.
One way to do a gratitude journal is though social media. Using Instagram, Facebook, a blog or email, you could post a photo or statement about something you’re grateful for each day during November. This can help encourage the joy of gratitude in others while increasing it in yourself.
3. Make gratitude a deliberate part of our every-day lives
If we’re reading a book to our kids, we can point out where a character in the story lacks something we have and express gratitude for that thing. If we’re enjoying dinner at a restaurant, we can point out how blessed we are to be able to go out to eat and enjoy good food without even having to make it or clean up. If we’re cleaning the house, we can talk about how blessed we are to have carpets to vacuum and toilets to clean when so many families lack the basic things we’ve got. Some years, we’ve made a point of going around the dinner table most evenings in November and sharing one thing we’re especially grateful for that day.
4. Watch video clips and look at photos with your children that make you recognize your blessings. Here are a few great links that made me and the kids realize how incredibly blessed we are:
- The World is Amazing (by Discovery Channel – points out how cool our world is)
- Where Children Sleep (a photo-essay about children and the places they sleep – from lovely bedrooms to an old mattress on the side of the road to a dirt-floored hut)
- Orphans in Bulgaria (a video I made with the photos I took while visiting orphanages where babies are left in their beds 24 hours a day and where children have very few opportunities for learning and nurturing – we show this at the fundraiser my kids put on in our neighborhood each year. No matter how many times we’ve watched this, it makes us so grateful for our family and our home and all that we have.)
- Pollyanna (We love this movie/book. It’s cheesy, yes, but it’s such a great story of optimism and recognizing blessings. Watch a clip or get the whole movie for a family movie night.)
5. Write thank you notes. Brainstorm with your kids a list of people in our community who we are thankful for and spend a half hour or so writing thank you notes to them. Kids could tape a thank-you note on the trash cans for the garbage man, hand a thank-you note to the check-out lady at the grocery store, take a thank you note to their teachers at school, etc. And thank-you notes or emails to relatives and friends far away would be very meaningful as well. There are so many people who do so much for us – many of whom don’t get thanked very often. November is a great time to say thank you.
6. Do service. Many families search out service projects to do during Christmas. Why not focus on service in November as well? December can get so busy and perhaps it’s even more helpful to serve at a soup kitchen or gather clothing for those in need or sing a song at a nursing home in November – before the Christmas rush. As we serve those who are less fortunate, our own blessings are brought into focus for us.
7. Express gratitude for your children and your husband. Make it a daily practice throughout November to tell your spouse and each child one specific thing you are grateful for about them as you tuck them in bed or say goodnight at the end of the day.
8. Thankful List on Thanksgiving Day
When I was growing up, my dad would “set up shop” in the kitchen first thing Thanksgiving morning with a roll of cash register tape where he’d write down everything that he and anyone else who walked into the room was thankful for. He’d number each item, and by the time dinner was ready, we’d have hundreds and hundreds of “thankful things” on that list. We’d put down everything from “light bulbs” to “kindness” to “pumpkin pie.” Dad would drape the list like crepe paper around the dining room (which probably didn’t look very Pinterest-worthy), and it helped us ponder our blessings as we enjoyed our feast.
This tradition – or a variation of it – has stuck with everyone in our family. As a college student in Boston, as a missionary in Bulgaria, during the time I worked in Washington DC, and on into my married life, the thankful list has been part of every Thanksgiving. Any roommate, friend or relative involved in any Thanksgiving celebration involving any Eyres has been asked to add their “thankful things” to a list (not many of us have made the effort to find cash register tape – but any piece of paper will do).
Here’s my dad working on a thankful list with some of the kids who attended the Thanksgiving feast last year at their house:
And here he is hanging it up over the table (not exactly in keeping with my mom’s elegant decorations – but something that has become a vital part of our Thanksgiving decor!)
As a mom, I’ve loved focusing on gratitude with my own children each year. I’ve saved precious thankful lists dictated by my little toddlers and painstakingly written out by first graders with creative spelling. Here’s Eliza’s list from when she was in first grade (translations of the most creatively-spelled items below the photo):
1-family, 2-earth, 4-pictures, 5-friends, 6-mountains, 10-flowers, 11-no idea!, 12-numbers, 13-colors, 14-libros (books – she was in a Spanish immersion program at school), 15-apples, 17-chairs, 18-room (no, we don’t give our kids rum), 21-animals, 22-phone
We’ve had contests to see who could create the longest list and have made it a tradition to share our “top ten” while enjoying our Thanksgiving feasts. There are many ways to make list-making really fun!
Last Thanksgiving, when my husband and I got up late and ventured downstairs (so thankful that our children are old enough that we can actually sleep in on occasion now!), it was fun to find that several of our kids had already made sizeable lists of what they are thankful for, without any reminding from us. Clearly, this tradition makes a difference for them. And taking some time on Thanksgiving to make some sort of “thankful list” helps make it much more than a day of overeating and football with family and friends.
For further explanation of the ideas above and more, you can listen to the brainstorming session I had with my mom and sisters – PODCAST: Thanksgiving Ideas. And for ideas that April and I discussed in a recent podcast, click here: PODCAST: Creating an Attitude of Gratitude.
I hope that some of the ideas here may help you and your family embrace the joy of gratitude this month and make this the best Thanksgiving ever.
QUESTION: What are your favorite traditions and ideas for Thanksgiving?
CHALLENGE: Pick one new activity you’ll do this Thanksgiving Season to focus on gratitude.