Thanksgiving: Beyond the Turkey

Thanksgiving presents an occasion for parents to move beyond the turkey and teach children about thankfulness.

Group Photo

Thanksgiving presents an occasion for parents to move beyond the turkey and teach children about thankfulness. The following suggestions may prove helpful in moving toward that goal.

Turkey Day! This is the name little ones often use to refer to Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is a mouthful for preschoolers just learning to communicate. However, this holiday certainly presents an occasion for parents to move beyond the turkey and initiate training in thankfulness.

Nurturing and promoting an attitude of gratitude in our families truly honors the Lord. A heart of gratitude to God fosters contentment and a daily awareness of His blessings. Seize the Thanksgiving season and take the opportunity to grow your child spiritually in this area. The following suggestions may prove helpful in moving toward that goal.

Tell a Story

Children of all ages love stories. Thanksgiving presents a great opportunity to use stories to reinforce the necessity for gratitude in our lives. Consider sharing these in the month of November, and add some of your own:

  1. Read the story of the healing of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. Remind your youngsters that Jesus was pleased with the one Samaritan who returned to give thanks. Provide rags for bandages and encourage the children to play the parts of the lepers and Jesus. Let them dramatize the healing, with all of them rushing off while only one returns.
  2. Using a children's Bible or paraphrased version, read the story of the great celebration the Israelites held after rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:27-47). Talk about the instruments they used, the two great choirs that marched on top of the walls to the temple, and the participation of the leaders. Put together a band using real or handmade instruments. Practice some joyful praise songs and march around your house.
  3. Corrie ten Boom's book, The Hiding Place, contains a wonderful lesson in thankfulness for both children and adults. Chapter 13 ("Ravensbruck") and the early part of 14 ("The Blue Sweater") tell the story of Corrie's struggle to be thankful in all things.
  4. Let younger children make a GOD IS GOOD chain. Gather scissors, stickers, pencils, crayons, glue, and construction paper. Cut the paper in strips and lead the children to consider the many ways that God is good. Have them write or draw on the strips. Connect them into a chain and hang it in a conspicuous place.

Share Some History

Through storytelling, videos, or oral reading, make your children aware of America's early history and the true background of Thanksgiving. The children's version of The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel is filled with usable stories for this season. Historically accurate accounts of the story of Pocahontas also provide interesting information to increase a youngster's understanding of Thanksgiving.

Focus on Blessings

Choose a family project for November that will force the focus on God's goodness. Here are several suggestions:

  • Prepare a Thanksgiving blessing basket. Place a pretty fall basket in an easy-to-reach location with pencil and paper. Throughout the month encourage family members to jot down ways God has blessed their lives. Younger children can draw or even cut out pictures. Read these together and give God thanks during family times in November, or set aside a few special moments on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Trim a tree of thanks. Draw and cut out a large paper tree and lots of loose leaves in autumn colors. Mount the tree on a wall or door in a prominent place. Put the leaves nearby in a box with glue and markers. Ask your family to consider the following question: If I could only keep tomorrow the gifts I've thanked God for today, what would I have? Encourage family members to add to the tree daily by noting things they are thankful for on the leaves.
  • Have a "thank you" contest. Prepare a colorful chart containing the names of family members. Mount it on a bulletin board or refrigerator. Using the story of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19), talk about the importance of expressing gratitude to God and people who bless us. For the month of November, each time a person is thanked, he or she will put a sticker beside the name of the family member who expressed thanks. At the end of the month, the most consistent "thanksgiver" will receive a small treat.
  • Play a game. Challenge family members to go through the alphabet and name an item they are thankful for that begins with each letter. This is a fun game that stretches memory and creativity and can be played on the go.

Serve Up a Memory

The primary focus of Thanksgiving tends to be on the meal itself. But even this celebration can be planned to bring an eternal perspective to the table. Consider adding some of these touches to the family feast:

  • Let the children make a place card for each place setting. On one side, put names of guests and family members; on the other side, write a Scripture verse that refers to giving thanks. Let each person read his or her verse before the blessing.
  • Have a brief family sharing time before or after the meal. Include everyone by placing a paper leaf with an assignment at each place: Read Psalm 100, share a Thanksgiving memory, sing a Thanksgiving song etc.)
  • Say the blessing.

One young mother shared her family's tradition of giving an unlit votive candle to each person. Her husband begins by lighting his and thanking God for specific blessings, and it continues around the table until all are lit. A candlelight thanksgiving service!

It truly is possible to move beyond the turkey and cultivate gratitude in our children. My little ones sang a chorus that summarized a better understanding of the potential for this holiday. It contained the words, "Thanksgiving Day is a happy day, and we say thank you, God!"