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Traditions to Add to Your Thanksgiving Day

Traditions to Add to Your Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving traditions are a great way to help families and friends bond and create a sense of belonging. Traditions don't have to be complicated to be meaningful; ones that consume too much time and cause too much stress should be re-evaluated. When it comes to Thanksgiving Day, simple is good. Thanksgiving ushers in the most wonderful time of the year - until it doesn't, and we find ourselves overwhelmed with to-do lists, an impossibly crowded calendar, and a bank account saddled with extra expenses. Instead, it should be a time for food, family, friends, and just plain old fun. Remember fun?

Thanksgiving was originally a harvest festival, a time of gathering together to share a meal and reflect on all the things we can count as blessings. But things have gotten out of hand. So, it's time to stop, take a breath, and remember who and what this holiday season is all about.

It's simple. It is all about Jesus, the giver of all good things. Thanksgiving quietly announces a time of celebrating His birth and the reason He came to Earth. Thanksgiving and Christmas are not just special days marked on the calendar; they are a way of life. By keeping Jesus at the center of our holiday plans, we can experience a holiday season that honors Him and blesses us.

"Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name" (Psalm 100:4, NIV).

Scripture tells us that when we praise God, we invite Him to take residence in our praises. Think about that statement. Our praises and words of thanksgiving are an invitation for God to join our celebration. And it is an invitation He never refuses.

"God inhabits the praises of His people" (Psalm 22:3, KJV).

Gratitude is the most effective way to deepen our awareness that we are the object of God's affection and love. Giving thanks awakens our senses to see God, hear God, taste, and see that He is good.

A Southerland family Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition. Over the years, we have evaluated and re-evaluated those traditions as family dynamics have changed. Our children are now grown, married, and have children of their own. Being a grandmother has undoubtedly given me a new perspective of how important traditions are. I am determined to create memories our grandchildren will cherish. For example, after I have decorated the house for Thanksgiving, the grandkids delight in counting the number of pumpkins or bunnies I have displayed. They keep a running total and recount every time they come. Simple? Yes. Silly? Maybe. But still a memory. A tradition.

You may be single, married, divorced, or widowed, and family has taken on a whole new meaning. Your family may be made up of cherished friends who have taken the place of family members in your life. Whatever family means to you, it is certainly worth celebrating. Let me share some of the traditions we have enjoyed over the years. You may find one or two that you want to incorporate into your holiday season this year. The only rule about traditions is that they are yours to make and yours to keep. Guard them. Hold them in your heart. Let them reflect the love of God and all that He has done in your life.

Make a plan.

Planning is crucial to the success of any holiday. No matter how complicated or straightforward that plan is, make sure it is your plan. Be you. Let the joy of what Christ has done for you shine through every step of your plan. Choose joy as you carry out your plan. Joy is often a choice – not a feeling or emotion. People around you can destroy your joy - if you let them. That family member who caused you pain last year has probably not changed. Prepare your heart now for that person and choose to love them – as is.

Shop early to reduce stress. Do as much now as you possibly can to avoid last-minute scrambling. Then, make the plan and stick to it.

Volunteer as a family.

Consider volunteering as part of your plan. One of the most memorable Thanksgiving holidays for our family was volunteering at a local soup kitchen. It was an amazing experience for all of us, especially our children.

When I first suggested this idea, I heard moans, groans, and excuses from our daughter and son. But I stood my ground, and we all went. They soon discovered that they loved serving meals to the men, women, and children who came through the line. I wasn't at all surprised when each child had a favorite person or family with which they connected while serving them a hot meal. I loved the joy I saw on their faces as they shared their experiences during our family dinner.

What about a Thanksgiving breakfast?

Thanksgiving dinner is the main meal on Thanksgiving Day, but you can also make some special memories by making Thanksgiving breakfast a tradition. My husband started this ritual in our family. Since I was responsible for dinner, he and the kids gave me a break and a leisurely start to a hectic day by making breakfast. Of course, it was always pancakes, eggs, and bacon … lots of bacon!

Photo credit: ©Unsplash/cottonbro

Make setting the table a family affair.

Ask each family member to bring a favorite dish or serving tray. During dinner, let everyone share why that dish is their favorite, where they bought it, or who gave it to them. Is a plate chipped? Tell how that chip happened and how the person responsible for the chip brings you joy. Some extraordinary memories can be made while each person tells their story.

Place cards? Make that the job of the grandchildren. Send them outside to find leaves, twigs, and pinecones to decorate the table or turn the leaves and twigs into place cards. You will be amazed by what they come up with.

Prepare a traditional (or not so traditional) Thanksgiving meal.

For years, our Thanksgiving meal did not vary. And Lord help the person who suggested changing one item on the menu. Turkey, ham, my special dressing, gravy, rolls, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (just for me), and sweet potatoes always made up our Thanksgiving Day meal.

But don't be afraid to create a new tradition. Last year, our children said, "You know, Mom, maybe it's time for a new Thanksgiving meal." I thought it was a great idea! Several suggestions were made, and we decided on a different meal of delicious barbecue fall-off-the-bone wings as the meat. Scrumptious! Side dishes included corn on the cob, fresh salad, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, and I have to say it was a fantastic meal! It also took a lot less time to prepare and was a quick and simple cleanup job. We have friends who have steak, baked potatoes, and salad every Thanksgiving. It is their tradition! The menu is not nearly as important as the people who share that meal. One of the grandkids said, "Mimi, maybe we could have hot dogs next year." Why not?

Break the wishbone.

The tradition of breaking the turkey wishbone goes back to my childhood. Someone always prayed before the meal, but when the "amen" was uttered, eyes flew open, and hands made a grab for that bone.

My mother had already removed the Y-shaped bone, let it dry, and then placed it somewhere on the turkey platter. Whoever ended up with the bone chose someone to help them break it. The person who got the bigger piece was sure to have a great year. You would think the children were the only ones who made such a big deal out of the wishbone, but I have seen grown men fighting over that bone!

snoopy float at Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, thanksgiving

Photo credit: ©Pixabay/BrentConnelly

Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I keep a basket of blankets in our family room. Over the years, each child and adult has chosen one of those blankets as their favorite. Watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is the first time the blankets are put to use, ushering in winter and the holiday season.

During the parade, kids and adults scatter across the room, blankets piled everywhere, everyone commenting on their favorite float or giant inflatable balloon. Watching the parade has become one of our favorite traditions.

Watch a football game.

I know some of you groaned when you saw this tradition listed, so it is certainly a tradition that is negotiable. But we are a football family. Our son played football from middle school through college. Academics and football afforded our son a full ride. Another big reason to love football!

My husband grew up in Dallas cheering for the Dallas Cowboys. We now live in Kansas City, which is also known as the Chiefs Kingdom. So, you can see how football might play a part in our Thanksgiving plans. Football games played on Thanksgiving Day can be traced back to 1876, shortly after the game was invented. When my husband was in seminary, there was always a football game for students and their families on the front lawn of the seminary on Thanksgiving Day. Since most of us could not be with family, we spent the day with friends who seemed like family.

Three men watching a sports game together

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Prostock-Studio

"Friendsgiving" is a new tradition. 

Share a meal with friends before traveling home to join their family. Or make the meal with your friends your Thanksgiving celebration.

Black Friday shopping.

Stores have some of their biggest sales the day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Black Friday. Some stores open late on Thanksgiving Day, so our daughter and I have taken advantage of saving money to create a tradition. The men graciously volunteer to clean up the kitchen. My husband has said for years that the person who cooks should not have to clean up. I love that man! Danna and I hit the stores, lists in hand, and the quickest route between stores carefully planned. One year, it was 2:00 a.m. when we made our last stop. Sleet started falling, but bicycles were on the list for her two boys, so off to Walmart we went.

After checking out, a young man offered to carry the bikes to our car. Danna and I looked at each other, grinned, and said, "No thanks. We've got this!" after which we each hopped on a bike and rode out of the store. I can still see the look of surprise on the faces of the checkout clerks. We laughed all the way home! We did not let the pandemic ruin this tradition! Lists in hand, we hopped online and shopped until we could not see straight! Thus, a new tradition was born.

Start a new tradition each year.

While it is great to keep the traditions you and your family hold dear, it is also good to incorporate new traditions into your Thanksgiving holiday.

How about a gratitude journal?

Pass a blank journal around the Thanksgiving table and ask everyone to record at least one thing they are thankful for. Young children can draw a picture if they can't write. It is a great way to begin each Thanksgiving day - by reading all of the entries from previous years. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 136, a song or hymn the Hebrews sang in worship.

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1, NLT).

Think about your past for a minute. Remember the good things? Each one is a gift from God. The word "rejoice" means to go back and re-enjoy the things God has already done in your life. God is your source. And every good thing in your life began in the heart of God. So, celebrate Jesus and give thanks.

 Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Choreograph 

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.