What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory? For as long as I can remember, as soon as the crisp air chilled our cheeks, our family collected colored leaves, painted plump pumpkins, and baked apple pies.
These memories and festivities are rich, but I grew more and more tired by the seasonal check-off list. Finally I had to realize that more than a set of busy rituals, traditions are meant to feed togetherness, stability, and create shared memories. Traditions are simply repeated actions that reinforce values. While traditions are important every month of the year, they seem to come alive around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
So what do you do when you want to create meaningful moments with your family that weren’t modeled for you growing up? What if God has changed your heart, and you want to overhaul some old traditions to align them with your faith? Or maybe you’re like me and you can’t give up baking those recipes your mom made every single year but you just don’t have the time.
This year take time to simplify. Make this Thanksgiving memorable in ways that are worth it … and feasible. Here are four tips to easily, practically add charm and truth to your holiday gathering.
1. Invite a friend.
Sharing our tables is one of the most uniquely human things we do. No other creature crafts a meal, sets the plates, and rings the dinner bell until everyone is knocking knees underneath the family table.
We know that there is more to a meal than simply the physical sustenance. To have a place at the table is to occupy sacred space. To share stories. To confess sins. To remember where we’ve been. To dream of where we might go. To laugh together. To cry together. To truly know and be known. To reflect the heart of our relational God and sense His nearness in these moments. Save a seat or two for someone who might need to share in that loving kindness this year.
2. Make food an avenue for fellowship.
Thanksgiving meals are often feasts fit for a king. But unlike royalty, most of us have to do our own cooking. So divide the menu to divvy up the work. This will provide an opportunity for family members and friends to share about their dishes, opening up special opportunities to know someone in deeper ways. Have your daughter-in-law bring her family’s version of mashed potatoes. Ask your neighbor to bring his country’s prized dessert. Dig through your crusted recipe cards to find that old favorite for cornbread.
But don’t be so caught up in which recipe has the right amount of salt or which year it was served best. Remember that the food is only the avenue for the fellowship. Enjoy the lightness of the load when the meal is prepared by many hands, and be ready to hear the memories from those who crafted each unique dish.
3. Share your heart.
Since we so rarely stop to truly connect with those around us, the day that we pile plates to squeeze around the table can be hard. The mixture of great grandmas and teenagers, neighbors and friends from around the world, football games, and mobile devices may leave us feeling at a loss for what to talk about and how to engage.
But don’t miss this sacred moment you have to share truth and meaning with your loved ones. Try using a simple conversation starter to focus on gratitude. Have each person go around the table and name something they are thankful for in various categories: at home, at work or school, in their families. You’re even allowed to try something a little cheesy, like name three things you’re thankful for that start with the first letter of your first name. Honestly, the prompts aren’t significant, but the answers really matter. Not only will these questions put everyone at ease, they’ll invite authentic conversation to spruce up your table.
4. Thank our God.
The Thanksgiving table, above all, is a place to remember the blessings of God. One ancient Hebrew prayer says, “Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the universe, for you give us food to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad.” We need to recover the importance of gathering with people around our tables for the purpose of enjoying a meal as both a gift and means of grace.
This can be as simple as encouraging each person to share in a prayer of gratitude before the meal begins. While one person leads the family in prayer, allow time to go around the circle and invite each person to offer his or her own thanks to the Giver of all. You might choose to set five cards at each plate to have guests list what they are thankful for. Each guest can choose one to read aloud. Collect the cards to save for next year and continue to share gratitude in Thanksgivings to come.
Traditions are worth it. They are vital to the life and health of your family. But the trials of tradition don’t have to take over the joys of the feast. Be intentional with the values you share with your family and then build a day of traditions focused on truth.
Soon the Thanksgiving meal will be over. The table will be clear. Legs will be propped up on the hearth of the warm fireplace and you’ll be drifting into an afternoon nap—content and thankful that you made your time together meaningful and centered on the One who provides it all.
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