by Sarah Lyons, contributing writer

Thankful Tree

WHEN WE THINK of Thanksgiving, delicious food, football, and getting together with family and friends come to mind. The original purpose of Thanksgiving was to show gratitude and give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Now, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, it is easy to get caught up in distractions like football games, BlackFriday shopping, and the quest for the perfect meal and table settings. We sometimes forget about giving thanks for blessings. Make this Thanksgiving meaningful by starting family traditions that help everyone stop and count their blessings.

Make a list
One way to remember your blessings is to acknowledge them. Go around the dinner table and have each person name something they are thankful for. This could be done each night at dinner during the month of November or
during the week leading up to the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day, have all of your guests do the same. It is heartwarming to give thanks for the blessings we have. Looking for a more concrete idea? Have everyone write down or draw a picture of what they are thankful for. After everyone shares their paper, place them all in a three-ring binder. Each year add to the binder and reflect on all the blessings of the past.

Donate to charity
Christmas is right around the corner and many kids will receive gifts. In anticipation, have your kids help clean their closets and toy boxes and set aside items they no longer need. Donate gently used toys and clothing to a local charity or family in need. This process will not only reduce clutter around the house, but it will also teach them to be generous to those that are less fortunate than they are. In the same spirit, talk with your kids about how some people may not have coats, hats, and gloves to keep them warm during the cold months. As a family, collect hats, coats, scarves, gloves, and blankets to donate. You could also go to the store and have your kids pick out items they would like to give to another child their age.

Take a break
Have each family member take a break from a luxury they enjoy. Ideas may include dessert, manicures, coffee, soda, or a favorite video game or TV show. This exercise reminds us to be grateful for the luxuries that are otherwise taken for granted.

Family service project
Set aside time to do a service project as a family. Ideas may include cleaning up trash in a local park, shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk, working at a food pantry, purchasing items for a Thanksgiving meal and delivering them to a
family in need, organizing a book drive for a local children’s hospital, or adopting a family for the holidays. When you volunteer as a family, kids see you helping others and are more likely to continue serving as an adult. Serving in an area that your children are already interested in helps create excitement for the project. If your child loves singing, go caroling at a senior center. If your child loves to play at the park, pick up litter to help maintain its beauty. If they love crafts, make blankets for a homeless shelter. There are many possibilities for children of any age and skill level.

Gather together
Encourage the kids to think of friends and neighbors who may not have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving and invite them to come over for dinner. Discuss the importance of hospitality and welcoming others into your home. If you are not hosting Thanksgiving, consider hosting a brunch the following day and opening your home to friends and family.

Little helpers
Thanksgiving dinner preparation is a lot of work. Having the kids help prepare dinner and clean up for company will teach them how much work really goes into preparing a large meal. This will teach them an appreciation for the work that goes into a holiday meal and also encourages a good work ethic at a young age.