9 Ways to Have a Happy Thanksgiving with Your Family
Let’s begin by speaking this right now:You are not required to be Martha Stewart in order to have a happy Thanksgiving. Now, if you’re into seasonal linens, leaf wreaths, decorative centerpieces, and baking turkey-shaped loaves of bread and Pinterest-perfect pumpkin pies, more power, admiration, and gratitude to you: the non-hospitality-gifted world thanks you.
What makes Thanksgiving a joy-filled and gratitude-laced occasion isn’t the things themselves but the fact of togetherness. Everything else is a carrier for joy.
Here are nine ways to have a happy Thanksgiving with your family:
1. Make Room for Change
One of the hardest things about holidays is that they keep coming around annually, even if the people and traditions you affiliate with those holidays are gone. Families change, children grow up, siblings age, matriarchs and patriarchs pass away. For every grown adult, holidays just aren’t what they once were. And that’s okay… more than that, it’s right and good and true. It will never be like it once was again - you are older, your family is growing up, it’s a new season, always.
This Thanksgiving, open up the gates for something new to form. Be present for the people who are around the table while remembering those who are no longer able to sit with you while you eat mashed potatoes and yell at the football games.
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2. Be Active (Together)
Before the turkey-triggered tryptophan can knock you out on the couch this Thanksgiving, consider taking a walk or hike with your friends and family. Or, if you’re more competitive, set a time for a Turkey Bowl and play a game of touch football. These kinds of activities aren’t just good for your body. Don’t let finicky forecasts hold you back; if it’s snowing or extra chilly Thanksgiving morning, bundle up and experience the dawn of God’s creation. If it’s raining, just wait for the belly laughs as Uncle Brad wipes out attempting a Hail Mary catch in your front yard end zone.
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3. Decorate (Together)
Even if you aren’t Martha Stewart, there’s something about preparing the table that makes the day extra special. Involve your children in organizing place settings, writing placards, inscribing blessings for each seat, and laying out the silverware and glasses.
I’m not a holiday exclusivist - if you have trouble separating the holidays (like I do), use the late afternoon slump for something productive, like putting up the Christmas tree.
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4. Talk (Together)
I know what you’re thinking - talk with my politically divided family? Even Jesus’ siblings didn’t always understand him. It’s okay. God can help us do this. I believe it.
Gratitude and thanksgiving have a way of equalizing the playing field. As you gather around the table together, invite your guests to share what they are thankful for. Ask each other about your favorite thing that happened this year.
Share memories from past holidays, vacations, and family gatherings. Storytelling builds a sense of unity. As family gatherings change over time, sharing stories from the past - especially when loved ones are no longer with you - keeps loved one’s memories close, builds their legacies, and embroiders the next generation’s history into the present day.
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5. Sing (Together)
There’s something beautiful about joining your voices together to sing praises, and even if it makes you feel a little self-conscious, crank up the tunes! Sing psalms of thanksgiving - “His Love Endures Forever,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” or other well-known hymns - songs that can involve everyone in the room. While you’re making the meal, turn on your favorite radio station and sing with your family. If you have musicians in your family, make time for an impromptu talent show… maybe it’ll become a family tradition.
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6. Play (Together)
Nominate a friend or family member to bring a favorite board game, and as your dinner digests, gather around! I still remember the Thanksgiving my cousins and I competed for pieces of pie while playing Trivial Pursuit (plastic pies… not pieces of pumpkin pie). Games provide a setting to build memories and laugh together.
Check out this gratitude game.
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7. Read (Together)
There are loads of stories of gratitude and thanksgiving in the Bible that can turn our attention away from Black Friday sales and onto the things that matter most. Consider reading Psalm 148 - a psalm of praise about the whole earth praising God.
"Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever— he issued a decree that will never pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn,the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD."
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8. Reignite Family Traditions (Together)
Tradition can feel like an obligation when it loses its heart and relationship building. If we always do a thing only because we’ve always done it, but it no longer has meaning or value, then joy can be replaced by irritation or resentment. Sometimes you need to break tradition and start new ones.
Is there something your family used to do that has faded away or fallen out of habit? Try starting it up again.
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9. Eat (Together)
It’s Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrating a shared meal and gratitude for harvest. So, eat! If you aren’t Betty Crocker either, give yourself grace and a release valve. There are other people in this world who know how to cook. Ask them to do it for you, or with you. Cater your Thanksgiving meal, even.
If you are Betty Crocker in the kitchen, let this day be an outpouring of love and joy, not obligation and resentment. You have been gifted with hospitality — you know how to make people feel loved and welcomed and warm in their bellies. Embrace that gift! You’re really good at it!
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Invite Others into Your Celebration
Thanksgiving and gratitude aren’t just for your immediate family. Expand your feast by inviting others - friends, distant relatives, and neighbors - maybe there’s someone in your circle of influence who doesn’t have a place to go besides Boston Market or Bob Evans. Bring them in. There’s room around the table for one more.
Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (Discovery House). She lives in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three young children. https://sarahmariewells.com/
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