How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child’s personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people. — Sir John Templeton

Don’t wait until the last minute to plan a way to deliberately mark the Thanksgiving holiday other than stuffing yourself full of good food. These suggestions might make planning easier:

  • Don’t cook! Yes, it’s radical, but still possible. Plenty of local restaurants offer special Thanksgiving meal deals and other places provide take-out options. If you are spending all your Thanksgiving family time with the oven, it doesn’t have to be that way. Create your own tradition that enables everyone to enjoy being together.
  • If you’ve got to cook, get everyone involved in mealtime preparation. Cooking is a great way to get kids interested in science, math and physics, not to mention history and tradition. Children also will be more enthusiastic about Thanksgiving if they have a part to play. Just pick the task(s) best suited to their age and ability.
  • Tell family stories at the table. A twist on the old “here’s what I’m thankful for,” this has potential to engage the entire family just before the Tryptophan from the turkey kicks in. Need help coming up with a creative way to get things started? Try the talking fork. No, seriously. The Family Education web site  is full of other Thanksgiving tips this holiday season.
  • Reflect on thankfulness. For families with older kids, print out a variety of quotes, hymn text, and/or Bible verses and place on everyone’s plate to share. This is a nice alternative for shy folks who might not care to share out loud what they’re thankful for. It can also broaden horizons just a bit. Consider this quote from Anne Frank: “I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.” 
  • Work Off That Turkey. Use your post-meal time for more than pre-game football. Before your family gathers, get together and decide on a project you would like to undertake for someone in your neighborhood. Perhaps your elderly neighbor has a fence that needs painting or yard work that needs to be done. Your offer of help may be the thing that makes another person feels blessed. Of course you could also stick to more traditional outreach efforts — help serve a meal at a local shelter, donate food or funds, visit a nursing home, or simply invite a few friends without Thanksgiving plans to join your family meal.
  • Don’t forget the prayer! Need some inspiration for that Thanksgiving dinner prayer? Here are a few ideas you could use or adapt:

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
Lord, so often times, as any other day
When we sit down to our meal and pray
We hurry along and make fast the blessing
Thanks, amen. Now please pass the dressing
We’re slaves to the olfactory overload
We must rush our prayer before the food gets cold
But Lord, I’d like to take a few minute more
To really give thanks to what I’m thankful for
For my family, my health, a nice soft bed
My friends, my freedom, a roof over my head
I’m thankful right now to be surrounded by those
Whose lives touch me more than they’ll ever possibly know
Thankful Lord, that You’ve blessed me beyond measure
Thankful that in my heart lives life’s greatest treasure
That You, dear Jesus, reside in that place
And I’m ever so grateful for Your unending grace
So please, heavenly Father, bless this food You’ve provided
And bless each and every person invited Amen!

–Scott Wesemann

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

We Gather Together
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to his name: He forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side, All glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

–Traditional Thanksgiving Hymn
(A translation by Theodore Baker: 1851-1934)

We Give Thanks Our Father in Heaven,
We give thanks for the pleasure
Of gathering together for this occasion.
We give thanks for this food
Prepared by loving hands.
We give thanks for life,
The freedom to enjoy it all
And all other blessings.
As we partake of this food,
We pray for health and strength
To carry on and try to live as You would have us.
This we ask in the name of Christ, Our Heavenly Father.
–Harry Jewell

Thanksgiving gives us all an opportunity to pause, even if just for a few hours, and reflect on our many blessings. Though they may moan and groan a bit, most children are thrilled to have a day with just family and will participate enthusiastically in any new tradition or activity. Such times provide a memorable foundation as we give our children “wings” into their own lives. Blessings abound! Celebrate together now.

— Brainstormed and compiled by Ruth Cole Burcaw, Children & Family Life Commission co-chair, who has no intention of cooking for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, her good friend Deejie does!!