"Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day"
Robert Caspar Lintner
When people ask me what my favorite holiday is, I always say Thanksgiving. I don’t know that deep down Thanksgiving is really my favorite holiday, but I feel sorry for it. There it is, sandwiched between the candy, costumes, and trick-or-treat of Halloween and the gifts, glitz, and glamour of Christmas. How is a simple, mostly non-commercialized holiday like Thanksgiving supposed to compete?
Sure, there have been a few attempts to make Thanksgiving more exciting. You can buy a few Thanksgiving decorations and there is a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. There are even a few hymns in church we seem to reserve for Thanksgiving. But all told, sometimes it seems like the only purpose of Thanksgiving is to eat turkey, watch football, and, oh yeah, kick off the Christmas shopping season. Sometimes people even call Thanksgiving “Turkey Day.”
Thanksgiving is so much more than this, though! Thanksgiving is all about God and thanking him for the gifts of life, love, joy, and more. Yes, we get to see family and friends and we get to eat a great meal. But our central purpose should be to give thanks to God. Hmmm, maybe Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday after all.
Thanksgiving remains a hard sell for children, though. No candy, no gifts, no surprises. Sure, you get pumpkin pie and few days off school, but other than that… How can we show our children the importance of both Thanksgiving and giving thanks?
We need to begin by making sure our children know the story of the first Thanksgiving. Children don’t always hear the Thanksgiving story in school anymore, so it is important that you share it with them at home. Find a book or video that tells the story of the Pilgrims, the hard life they suffered in America, their friendships with the Wampanoag people, and how they set aside a day to thank God for his blessings. These people were truly survivors!
Another good way is to establish traditions for thinking about what we are thankful for and sharing it with others. Maybe you have a thankful tree, journal, shoebox, tablecloth, calendar, or space on the refrigerator. This Thanksgiving, have everyone in the family start recording what they are thankful for and by next Thanksgiving, you will have a wonderful record of your year. (If you asked your children what they are thankful for, what do you think they might answer? You might be surprised. In a 2000 survey when children were asked what they were thankful for, the most common answers were family, basic needs, friends, and teachers/school. Maybe we’re already doing a pretty good job teaching our children about thankfulness!)
By establishing this tradition, your goal should be to move the spirit of Thanksgiving from a one-day event to a basic life attitude. As part of this, we need to model thankfulness for our children. This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life. Thankfulness means that we are aware of both our blessings and disappointments but that we focus on the blessings. Are you thankful for your children even when they are squabbling and tattling on each other? Are you thankful for your job even when you feel overworked and underpaid? Are you thankful for your friends even when you don’t get to see them as much as you want? And you can’t just be quietly thankful. Your children need to know you are thankful for them, for your home, and for the other good things in your life. Share with them and give them the chance to share with you all year round.
Also encourage your children to express their thankfulness to God. Set aside time each day to pray and give thanks to God. Don’t just focus on the big things to be thankful for – health, wealth, and happiness. Express thankfulness for the smell of flowers, for ripe bananas, and for warm pajamas.
By the way, did you know that academic studies show that thankful people have higher vitality, more optimism, and less stress and depression than the population as a whole? How great is it that something we should do anyway actually makes us healthier and happier people. What a wonderful legacy we can leave our children by teaching them to be thankful each and every day of their lives.
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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