Keeping Thanks in Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to spend time with loved ones and give thanks for the blessings of the year. Ideally, the holiday is something to anticipate with joy. Realistically, I know that the prospect of spending a day or more with a houseful of volatile opinion holders can be stressful, especially after a challenging election season. It helps to be purposeful about encouraging a spirit of thanksgiving, especially during the meal when friends and family are gathered.
Focus on blessings
One way to approach a thanks-centered meal is to focus on blessings. As the family gathers, provide two slips of paper to each person. Have them write something they are grateful for and a blessing they would like to offer for the family. Place the slips in two bowls, and pass them around so everyone gets a gratitude note and a blessing. At some point during or at the close of the meal, have each person read the notes they have drawn. If tensions run high at your table, you may want to space the readings throughout the meal, using them to sidetrack rants and defuse tensions.
Share family stories
The Thanksgiving table offers the opportunity to share bits of family history, with a focus on the elders that are present. Grandparents and great aunts and uncles have seen the world change in many ways in their lifetimes, and with a little prompting, can usually come up with a story or two—sometimes revealing adventures for the very first time. Even if your elders are prone to droning on a bit, their stories are slices of life worth remembering, and their presence is precious and worthy of attention.
To spark memories, it can be helpful to ask a starter questions such as:
- How did you meet your husband/wife?
- What did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
- What has been the happiest moment in your life?
- What was the most useful lesson you ever learned, and how did you learn it?
- What was your favorite activity (or food) when you were young?
- What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
- If you could relive any year of your life, what year would it be, and why?
- If you could revisit any place you have been, where would it be, and why would you choose it?
- Who has been the most influential person in your life?
- If you could offer only one piece of advice to all of us, what would it be?
- What do you wish you had known?
- What are you most grateful for?
Love one another
Although you can’t control what others do, you can prepare your heart to be loving and kind. Resolve to not fall for any deliberate aggravations — a bland response such as “Hmmm” or “That’s an interesting perspective” coupled with the introduction of a different topic can often sink controversial issues. Through it all, keep in mind that relationships are more important than opinions. Always.
Share a prayer
This simple prayer offers a clear pathway for growing in love, and does so in a memorable, poetic way.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
Here is the prayer beautifully set to music by John Rutter and performed by the Cambridge Singers.
For additional tips on keeping the peace, you may want to read “Family Visiting? How to Keep the Peace” at Grandparents.com, or “Keeping the Peace at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table” from Thanksgiving.com.
For additional Thanksgiving inspiration, you may want to read my favorite poem of thanks, George Herbert’s “Gratefulness.” In the 2008 post linked below, I shared the poem and our favorite easy Thanksgiving recipe for cranberry-orange relish. The poem is a lovely reminder of what matters, and the recipe is a no-fuss, no-cook side dish that our family gives thanks for each and every time it appears. I hope you enjoy both!
Black Friday / Cyber Monday Sale
And finally, we are offering free domestic shipping at Everyday Education for orders placed during the Black Friday weekend, which includes Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. For international customers, we are offering discounted shipping of 50% off actual shipping or a flat rate of $25, whichever is lower.