While the Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the U.S., thanking God for our blessings is a spiritual discipline that should not be limited to a single day. Along with expanding our waistlines, our preparation for and celebration of the holiday can be the impetus toward growing an attitude of gratitude that will carry over into the rest of the year. In his commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, John Wesley writes,
“Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it.”
Giving thanks is as essential to our spiritual growth as prayer, which 1 Thessalonians calls us to do continually. These creative ideas will help us get started this Thanksgiving.
- Fill a family Thanksgiving box. As part of your Thanksgiving preparation, create a Thanksgiving Box. Each day family members write on slips of paper something for which they are thankful that day and place them in the decorated box. The box will make a nice Thanksgiving table centerpiece, and when opened, a way to remember how blessed we are every day. You could add to it all year too of course.
- Serve someone. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, many agencies serving those in need expand their work. Food banks, churches, and other service organizations supply meals to the hungry on Thanksgiving. Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles holds a sleepover for their youth called the “turkey lock-in.” On the night before Thanksgiving the youth prepare, and the next day, deliver meals to people in the community who will be alone on Thanksgiving. Ask your pastor for suggestions of places near you to serve or donate.
- Take time for quiet reflection. As the big day approaches, things get busier. Set aside some time each day to say thank you to God for all he has provided. “A Morning Prayer of Thanksgiving” by The Rev. Dr. LaGretta Bjorn is a great start.
- Make a Thanksgiving frame. As you and your family reflect on those things for which you are thankful, compile a list. A few days before Thanksgiving, neatly transfer the list onto a piece of paper you can then insert into a frame for a beautiful expression of gratitude to decorate your home.
- Invite someone new to dinner. Athens First United Methodist Church invites international students from the University of Georgia to spend Thanksgiving with their members. The students enjoy spending time away from campus and in family homes. Explore ways to invite those who may be alone or far from family to celebrate with you on the holiday.
- Share blessings together. When gathered around the table, many families will ask guests to share something for which they are thankful. In Thanksgiving Celebrations for the Home, MaryJane Pierce Norton suggests creating a list together, such as foods each person enjoys. Then together offer “thanks for the Earth and all with which we are blessed in the world God created.”
- Send cards to those we miss. Remember those who are not able to be with you this year by making or purchasing cards for them. “On Thanksgiving Day,” Norton writes, “invite all who are gathered in your home to sign and/or write a note on the cards to those who are missing.” Mail them the next day to share the gratitude.
- Create a keepsake of thanks. When you take that group photo around the table or in front of the fireplace, record not only the names of those in attendance, but also something for which each person is thankful. This will be a great item to revisit when everyone gathers again next year. See Thanksgiving Celebrations for the Home for more ideas of celebrating gratitude together.
- Include children. Involve the children celebrating with you by sharing the Child’s Thanksgiving Prayer. Use this prayer at the kids’ table as a grace or an after meal blessing, having one of the older children lead. Then encourage the kids to write their own Thanksgiving prayers, with which they could lead the adults in prayer later in the day.
- Voice your gratitude. If your family is musical, consider a Thanksgiving sing-a-long, as you might do with Christmas carols. Dean McIntyre offers Hymns for Thanksgiving Day from our United Methodist Hymnal and Songbooks that would be a great way to celebrate. He also offers a quiz of hymns with lines about thanksgiving in Musical Thanksgiving. Make a game out of who can guess the most.
However you can, find ways to give thanks to God for all of his blessings throughout your celebration this year. Instill the habit of an attitude of gratitude, which will extend far beyond Thanksgiving Day.