Thanksgiving Rituals for Families
Thanksgiving will be celebrated in the United States this week,
kicking off a month of holiday frenzy that includes Chanuka and Kwanza
and culminates, finally, in Christmas. The consumer focus and busyness
often leave both children and parents feeling overwhelmed and unsatisfied, aching
for a different experience of the holidays.
But there is another way. You can give your children a meaningful, joyous and peaceful holiday season. You can celebrate the new year feeling more connected as a family. Mommy meltdowns and going into debt are completely optional.
How do you start? Feeling appreciative for all you have so that you make gratitude into a mindset, or a habit. Jeffrey Froh, a psychology prof at Hofstra University in New York, studies kids and gratitude. He's found that like adults, children and adolescents who report feeling gratitude are happier, healthier, more content, more optimistic, and more likely to be helpful to other people in every way. They're also less materialistic, less envious and less likely to be depressed.
So how can you help your whole family rediscover the gratitude attitude on which Thanksgiving is founded? Here are ten ideas to get you started inventing your own meaningful traditions.
- Have your family count blessings
by listing up to five things everyone is grateful for at dinner or bedtime. (In one study by Froh, middle-school students were asked to count their blessings for two
weeks by listing five things they were grateful for. The control group
listed complaints about hassles in their lives. The kids who focused on
blessings felt more gratitude, more life satisfaction, more optimism
and were more positive.)
- Look for books on gratitude at the library and (used) on Amazon and read one every day with your child. Talk about what gratitude means and what you're grateful for.
- Take a photo or two every week of something beautiful that you appreciate, share it with your kids, and talk about appreciation.
- Bake pies with your kids; drop extras at your local homeless shelter or fire station.
- Express your thanks through service. Volunteer together at a shelter that feeds hungry people, make cards for troops, have the kids make peanut butter and seed-stuffed pinecones for the birds.
- Make a blessing tree and post it on the wall. On Thanksgiving, everyone writes things they're grateful for on construction paper leaves and tapes them to the tree. If you save this and add to it every year, it will become an heirloom, as the children grow and the family constellation changes. You can also do this as a Blessing Book and keep adding pages.
- On Thanksgiving morning, have kids write a thank-you letter to mail (or deliver in person in the near future) “to someone who has done something really kind for you, but you never gave them the thanks they deserve." (Froh found that kids who did this report more happiness than kids who didn't write the letters -- not just immediately, but three and five months later.)
- Blessing Tablecloth- Ask everyone to write 3 things they're grateful for, their name & the date on a plain white tablecloth using permanent markers. Repeat annually with the same cloth & your children will look forward to the tablecloth every year, even as teens.
- During the meal, clink your glass, make a toast of gratitude that you all get to be together, and then go around the table, each person saying at least three things they're grateful for.
- Play "alphabet thanks" - Each person takes a turn to name something they are thankful for in alphabetical order, and remember what everyone before them said they were thankful for.