3 Ways to Emphasize “Thanks” in Thanksgiving

Earlier in this month of November, I contemplated what my family would do for Thanksgiving and started wondering why we Americans do the things we do for and on this national holiday!  The day is supposed to be a day of giving thanks for all the good we’re experiencing (whatever and however much that may be).  So, what do parades, football games, and slaving away in a kitchen over a plethora of foods have to do with it?  How do any of those things express gratitude?!?

Admittedly, I was feeling a bit negative at the time, but apparently, I don’t start thinking realistically until I’m in a less-than-my-typical-optimistic-self mood.  So, as I considered all the extra work a typical Thanksgiving meal would create for me, I was having a hard time seeing how baking a turkey and “all the fixin’s” was an act of thanksgiving.


Sure, my family would get the day off from work and college, so Thursday, November 23rd, would naturally feel special to them.  But as a stay-at-home mom, who is “always” in this house and “always” working with meals and their messes in some way, this day was looking less like a holiday and more like just another typical day in which I would simply heap on more work for myself!  I felt a bit disgusted that all the projects I’ve been working on—some of which are finally gaining momentum—would have to be put on hold, interrupted because my society has other plans.

Sharing the workload with others was the first solution I thought of, and generally it is a good solution.  My problem with this solution, though, is two-fold.

First, I have celiac. So, I either

  1. still must do all the cooking to control the food situation,
  2. find someone else with the same issue that we could join with,
  3. impose my dietary needs upon others, or
  4. personally miss out on all the goodies (now that’s a real downer!).

The second issue is my little family is all introverts!  And a few other conditions severely limit our ability to enjoy being with other people for great lengths of time.  We need to feel VERY comfortable with you if we’re going to hang around together for hours.  Even then….

Anyway, I’ve said all this so you’ll understand the quandary that got me to questioning this fine American tradition called “Thanksgiving Day.”  When you’ve got these issues and limitations, what do you do to make the holiday worthwhile?  How do you keep the holiday with the right spirit?

What do you do to make the holiday worthwhile? 

How do you keep the holiday with the right spirit?

There are people who would say, “Chuck it!  Don’t bother celebrating it if it doesn’t feel right.”  Sorry, but I’m not one of those of people.  As a family, we’ve already experienced uncelebrated holidays, and we don’t care for the disappointment we feel when nothing special is planned.  Fortunately, we’ve figured out a few things that help us celebrate the extroverted holidays in our own introverted way.  They’re not perfect, but they suffice for now.

Another reason I don’t want to just give up on celebrating these special days is because there is value in participating in these traditions.  Assuming, of course, we remember why they started in the first place and revisit that motivation every time.

Unfortunately, traditions tend to turn into just rituals—habits of external behavior—as time passes, because the motivating reasons don’t pass on as easily to the next generation as external behaviors do.  Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, “Monkey see, monkey do.”  It’s been used to describe children imitating their parents.  I think the next phrase in this adage needs to be “but little monkey has no clue!”

So, when the good reasons behind a tradition become lost, there will eventually be a generation that stops doing the tradition altogether. They won’t see any point in it.

I don’t want to contribute to the loss of holidays.  And a day to stop and consider how blessed we are and express thanks is just as needed today as it ever was when it started!  (Yes, even when things are bad, we still have much to be thankful for!  Watch this vlog if you need help with this.)

Intentionality is the key.  And as my title promised, here are 3 ways to help you and your family be more intentional about giving thanks on Thanksgiving Day.  Two of these I’ve personally done before, and the 3rd one is a new idea I’m eager to try out this year as we travel to my in-laws’ house.  (Yeah, I eventually figured out that being with extended family would be worth all the challenges and work.)

Intentional Thankfulness Option 1:  The Never-too-Late Thank You Note 

Think back—far into your past, even—and find that memory that stirs up your gratitude even today for something good someone did for you long ago and is otherwise forgotten.  The less grandiose their action, the better.

Got it?  Okay, now write a thank you note to that person, telling them how you still feel so blessed because of what they did.

And mail it; yes, send it to them.  Look that person up if you’ve lost contact with them.  (If, for some reason, you can’t actually send your thanks directly to them, then consider writing an “open letter” blog or Facebook post.)

Whatever you do, though, you must give them something tangible they can keep (even if they have to print it).

Intentional Thankfulness Option 2:  The “Happy Thanksgiving” Crossword Page[1]

This is a great idea to use with children as well as adults.  All you need is paper and writing instruments…and tape, if you need to tape some sheets together to get a writing surface big enough.  Crayons work well in both little and big hands for this.

Write the phrase “HAPPY THANKSGIVING” straight across in the center of the paper(s).  The goal is to have enough space around the phrase in which to write a variety of words that first connect to the key phrase and then can have additional words connected to them, similar to how a played Scrabble® board looks.

This example is on an 11×17″ sheet of paper.

The words you build and spin off of “Happy Thanksgiving” should be things you are thankful for.  Everyone can participate throughout the day.

If you want a chance to write more abstract and complex things than younger minds can fathom, then have a second set up just for adults.  Kids may not be able to think deep thoughts, but they’ll most likely fill out the page with all the simple yet wonderful things they can think of.

Intentional Thankfulness Option 3:  A Thoughtful List of Thankfulness

This can be either a written, journal-like exercise or a verbal one, in which everyone is made aware early on of their mission to think deeply about the things (tangible and intangible) they are truly thankful for.  Once they have contemplated something and have figured out why they are thankful for it, they can write it down (for their own record) and/or tell it to someone/everybody else.  I’m envisioning a collection of 3×5 cards and a few pens/pencils placed conveniently for easy access when inspiration strikes.

This activity can be done throughout the day.  You may have to provide some occasional reminders—direct or indirect (by sharing one of your thankful thoughts).

The goal is to share some explanation of why, not just to list off things.  Do keep in mind the mental capacity of each person; don’t expect a well-thought-out monologue from a five-year-old.  Well, you might get a rambling one from that age group.

Speaking of the younger crowd, here’s a bonus idea that provides some structure to get everyone—young or old—to thinking!

BONUS Intentional Option 4:  The A-B-C’s for Thankful Me

Grab a piece of lined paper and write the alphabet down the left side of the page.  Think of something you are thankful for that starts with the letter “A”, then think of something different for the letter “B”, etc.

Ideally the words you write should be nouns, but you may find that difficult to do.  Some letters will require very creative thinking!  And IF adjectives are quality ones, and aren’t just re-describing a noun you’ve used elsewhere, then I’ll allow it.  (As if I’m going to see and grade your papers!  Ha!)


Hey, some of these could be a great source of entertainment during your holiday gatherings!  I can hear you busting out laughing over the crazy contortions somebody puts your language through just to fill in all their alphabet list.  I also hear some awes and see a few tears as people get in touch with what matters to them.

Regardless of whether you laugh or cry, please just be intentional about being thankful and expressing that thanks out loud somehow.  Happy Thanksgiving!  Even to those who dwell beyond the USA, may you be mindful of the blessings you do have and cherish them in every way!

(What activities help you be thankful?)

Thanks for reading!


[1] This idea is NOT original to me.  I discovered it in the November 2006 issue of Family Fun magazine (p. 23), which I thought was thrown out when I first published this.  The hoarder in me feels justified now.

4 thoughts on “3 Ways to Emphasize “Thanks” in Thanksgiving

    1. Thank you! The hyperlink you included reminds me of something I’ve said before. When we can truly appreciate all the blessings we have and realize how they are not guaranteed, it should lead us to think of those who have not been so blessed and move us with compassion to do whatever we can to help bless others. Gratitude and compassion go hand in hand!

      Liked by 1 person

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