The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas ought to be a special time of family togetherness, reflecting on the true meanings of these wonderful holidays, and teaching our children important lessons in thankfulness and God's love. Unfortunately, however, it's easy to get so caught up in everything that needs doing that we forget the things that matter most.

So how do we cut through the busyness of the holiday season and recapture the true spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas? How do we make sure that our children understand what the holidays are all about instead of getting trapped in the commercialism with which society so often bombards us? To answer those questions, we asked the columnists and authors to share some of their favorite holiday traditions and ideas.

IDEA #1: COME YE THANKFUL PEOPLE COME

Cindy Puhek writes, "Last year my family spent the month prior to Thanksgiving learning the wonderful Puritan hymn "Come Ye Thankful People Come." We sang the hymn every night during that month's family devotions. My seven-year-old daughter learned to play a simple arrangement of the hymn on the piano to accompany us. On Thanksgiving Day, copies of the lyrics were handed out to all our guests and we sang the hymn together prior to the meal."

Other memorization ideas could include passages of Scripture that focus on thankfulness or poems about Thanksgiving or the Pilgrims.

IDEA #2: STORY WRITING

"Have children write their own thanksgiving story," suggests Gretel Deem. "Depending on the age and bent of the child, it might be fictional or non-fictional, funny or serious, long or short. They might prefer a research report or a poem. This is a great way to incorporate English, history, geography, and handwriting into a holiday-themed unit. But don't stop there. Perhaps your children would like to perform their story. Turn it into a skit and act it out with other family members on the day they gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. Or maybe they just want to read what they've written. Whatever the approach, somehow share it with others. Maybe the adults could be challenged to some on-the-spot quizzes of how much they know about the first Thanksgiving story. Turn it into a game for everyone to enjoy!"

IDEA #3: MANY THANKS!

For a writing project with a twist, Suzanne Broadhurst suggests having your kids try writing a paragraph using the words thanks, thankful, and thankfulness as many times as possible. No cheating, though--the paragraph still has to be coherent and make sense!

IDEA #4: THE BLESSING BOX

"One year," writes Tim Palla, a pastor in rural southern Ohio, "my wife, Jennifer, made a 'Blessing Box.' It was a small cardboard box that she covered with material and cut a small 3" x 1/2" opening in the top. Throughout the year, when the Lord blessed us with something special, e.g. an unexpected financial gift, an invitation to go on a trip, produce from a friend's garden, or help with a specific problem, we would record the blessings on a small piece of tablet paper. The papers would immediately be folded up and put into the Blessing Box. On Thanksgiving Day, each one of them would be taken out and read. It was great to have the reminders of how God had provided for us throughout the whole year. Those records of God's provision truly made our day a time of thanksgiving."

IDEA #5: PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATIONS

A number of U.S. presidents have issued Thanksgiving proclamations over the years. Cindy writes, "Before eating our Thanksgiving meal last year, we read a copy of Abraham Lincoln's 1863 'Thanksgiving Proclamation.' It was a beautiful reminder of what the holiday was really supposed to represent. A copy of this document can be obtained from www.infoplease.com/spot/tgproclamation.html."

Building on that idea, try doing some research about other presidential Thanksgiving proclamations. As a family, find and read as many as you can. Then, have your kids write a Thanksgiving Proclamation for your own family, listing reasons why you should be thankful this year. To make it more fun, they can try to imitate the formal style of the old-fashioned presidential proclamations.