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3 Tips To Salvage Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving involves an act of the will. It's not a question of pretending that everything is bright and beautiful when you know it's not. To give thanks is to stand up in the face of the storm and declare that life is worth living." -Charles Henderson

If you live in the US, you're gearing up for Thanksgiving on Thursday. (If it isn't Thanksgiving where you live, I hope this post will start you thinking about your December holiday.)

Whatever your usual Thanksgiving traditions, this year will almost certainly be different. Maybe you'll be missing loved ones who are at a distance, or connecting over zoom. Maybe you'll be grieving. The human family has been slogging through a very tough year, with many hard lessons that most of us wouldn't have chosen. Maybe even gratitude will feel too far a stretch.

So this year, maybe we need to reconsider how we celebrate Thanksgiving. As the holiday approaches, there are three gifts I hope you'll give to yourself and your loved ones.

1. Instead of focusing on the food, focus on more meaningful connections.

Since you've probably been spending lots more time with your family this year, you might wonder what else there is to talk about.

But asking open ended questions and listening deeply has a way of opening hearts and helping people discover more about themselves as they speak. Why not gift everyone at your table with the chance to know each other at a deeper level?

Asking good questions is usually the best way to enliven a conversation. You might ask everyone in your family to write down interesting questions on slips of paper and drop them into a bowl. At the Thanksgiving meal, pass the bowl and take turns choosing questions for everyone at the table to answer in turn.

Wondering what to ask? Here are 21 suggestions. Pick one to get you started.

2. Invite your child into the magic of cooking.

This smaller Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to start a new tradition. Ask each child to pick one dish they want to make (and clean up from),and then then be their sous chef. Sure, it's more work. But the payoff is huge. Children who cook are learning valuable life skills. They're more likely to enjoy the meal. You get a chance to chat (and bond) with them in a low-key way. And they're actually learning what's involved in putting dinner on the table, so they're more grateful. Even toddlers can participate in some part of the meal prep (particularly if you have a safety tower.)

Are you thinking that if your child helps cook, the food might suffer? Luckily, perfection isn't necessary for you and your family to have a perfectly wonderful Thanksgiving. Give yourself extra time, keep your sense of humor, and remember that striving for that magazine-spread holiday will only stress you out and make you yell at your kids. Like everything else this year, this gives you a chance to stretch and focus on what actually matters.

3. Allow all feelings, even while you model gratitude.

Even in difficult times, there is so much to be grateful for. That does NOT mean that we need to plaster on a smile. It means that we can acknowledge the fear, the heartbreak, the disappointment, the suffering.

At the same time, we can resist armoring ourselves with cynicism or hate. We can claim our aliveness with both hands and use it well, to create more good in the world. We can remember that life doesn't have to be anywhere near perfect to be perfectly wonderful. We can draw strength from rejoicing in what's good.

And of course, remind yourself to be grateful for every minute you get to spend with your children as they grow. For me, there's no gratitude deeper than that.

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