Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Yes, I grew up with the idyllic Thanksgiving – a family farm out in the country with enough food for fifty, fresh-baked desserts, and cousins running everywhere. But more than just the memories of the perfect setting, the delicious meal, and the family fun are the lessons that I learned along the way.
My Grandma Royce, my dad’s mom, holds an incredibly special place in my heart. Although she passed away nearly twelve years ago, I will never forget the joy with which she lived each day, the warmth of her hugs, or the earnestness of her prayers. She was kind, wise, and grateful, and it was her gratitude that makes it seem only appropriate that for much of her adult life she hosted the Thanksgiving family get-together.
In 1954, she and my grandpa (who passed before I was born) moved their growing family out to an eight-acre hobby farm west of the Twin Cities, thus beginning the tradition of the Royce family Thanksgiving. Every Thanksgiving was hosted at the farm until 2006 when my grandma was no longer able to host the growing group. At this time, my dad took over the tradition of hosting nearly 40 people in his South Minneapolis home. The farm has stayed in the family and my dad has just finished fixing up the house, which is over 100 years old. There are talks about moving the celebration back to where it started.
As I reflect on Thanksgiving celebrations at the farm and remember the joy and gratefulness with which my grandma lived every day, I too am filled with gratitude.
Growing up with those memories, I knew that when I became a mom I wanted to pass along the love for Thanksgiving to my girls. But deeper than that, I wanted to foster in my girls the characteristic of gratitude.
This can be hard in a world where we are constantly told that not only do we need more things but we also need less help from others. We are told that we can do it all on our own if we have the newest gadgets to accompany us.
So how do we get our kids to embrace an attitude of gratitude in a world focused on the opposite? Here are just a few ideas. Every family is different, and every child within that family is different. Don’t feel like you need to do all the things this month. Instead, find something that will fit well for your family right now and enjoy it together.
Teach your children how to be thankful in prayer.
Every night when we pray before supper, we have our girls thank God for one person in their lives. It’s sweet to hear them thank God for teachers, grandparents, friends, cousins, and even the dog. We made the rule along the way that it needed to be one person because otherwise at least one of our daughters would literally list every cousin, grandparent, aunt, uncle, and friend.
Have your children create something to show appreciation.
Have your kids create something to give to a teacher, a small group leader, a grandparent, a neighbor, or a friend (the list could go on and on). Talk about the people you are thankful for and let your child pick someone to appreciate. If your child is old enough, have him or her write a note. It doesn’t have to be long. We need to make showing gratitude to others something that doesn’t feel overwhelming to kids, because it really isn’t, and it blesses those who receive it so much. If writing is not an option, have your kids color a picture. If that’s too hard, trace your little one’s hand and let him or her just scribble away on the paper. You can hand deliver it or mail it, whatever works best.
Help your children record what they are thankful for.
Put down on paper what you are thankful for. You could do this in a few different ways. You could cut slips of paper, and each night during the month of November, each family member could write something down that he or she is thankful for. Put them all in a jar or bowl and watch them grow during the month. At the end of the month, take them all out and read them aloud. If you are the creative Pinterest type, go ahead and create a tree on the wall using paper. Have your kids make leaves for the tree and write or draw things they are thankful for to put on the tree. Each day you can talk about the things your kids have put on their leaves.
Model thankfulness for your children.
While we could make lists upon lists of activities to do with our kids to foster gratitude, the truth of the matter is that they will mimic the adults around them. If we are grateful, they will take our cue and will also be grateful. If we complain, there’s a good chance our kids will do the same. Take time to point out the beauty of a sunset. Be thankful for a parking spot at church. Be thankful for the food you eat and the house in which you live. Our kids will begin to reflect what they see in the words and actions of those around them. Our kids are always watching us. What are they seeing?
Choose to live every day thankful.
I have so many fond memories of Thanksgiving. Some make me laugh – like the time when my dad tried to walk across a creek on a fallen tree and ended up falling in the creek. Some make me smile – like the time we announced we were expecting our first baby. But what it all comes down to is I’m simply thankful to have been surrounded by loved ones. May we all give our kids the same gift every single day – to be surrounded by people who love them, who express just a portion of the unconditional love God has for them. And because of that, may they live every day thankful.