8 Meaningful Thanksgiving Traditions to Try This Year
By Shannon Dean
Many feel that Thanksgiving is the best of the winter holidays since it focuses on family and gratitude without the pressure of commercialism. Taking part in yearly rituals gives families a sense of stability, identity, and connection. Sharing repetitive but flexible traditions gives families an annual opportunity to demonstrate what makes them unique. This exchange can be vital, since experts believe that the regular participation in rituals like Thanksgiving contribute to the well-being of the entire family. A study by the Society for Research in Child Development concluded that parents who had pleasant memories of family traditions reported more positive interactions with their own children, who might one day continue this cycle. Now that we’ve established the importance of Thanksgiving, here are 8 easy, meaningful, and inexpensive rituals meant to facilitate family connections.
Turn Off Electronics: Most of us eagerly anticipate intimate conversations with extended family. Because it can be rare to have everyone in one place, we desperately want to catch up and to connect, but electronics often interfere. A study out of Virginia Tech concluded that technology at the table “has the potential to divert individuals from face-to-face exchanges, thereby undermining the character and depth of these connections.” To avoid these distractions, try for a technology-free table this year. Simply say, “Let’s try turning off the electronics for a few hours,” and watch the verbal conversations flow.
Share Dishes That Celebrate Your Family’s Identity: Although it’s easy to stick with turkey and traditional sides, it can also be valuable to share dishes that are personally meaningful. Many families have certain specialties that are served every Thanksgiving. Often, the foods reflect the family’s heritage or experiences. Don’t shy away from special ethnic or regional dishes that reflect guests’ identity and personal preferences. Consider cooking such dishes with children so that they can eventually pass these specialties down to their own families. The “perfect” Thanksgiving menu varies from family to family.
Use (And Add To) Family Heirlooms: Many hosts serve Thanksgiving dinner on “the good china,” so that the meal is particularly special. Some families embrace mismatched but vintage pieces that are specific to the holiday. Those who don’t start with a complete set will find that building a larger collection is relatively easy and inexpensive. Scouring auction sites, garage sales, and thrift stores will often turn up matching pieces or items that will compliment what is currently in use. It’s rewarding to add to your collection as your family grows. It’s also thoughtful to make the pieces available to whoever hosts Thanksgiving.
Remember Absent Family Members: It can be therapeutic and respectful to remember family members who can’t attend Thanksgiving or who have passed away. Many families choose to honor absent family members with gestures like lighting a candle, leaving an open chair or place setting, serving favorite dishes, or saying a special blessing. It’s important that all family members know that despite any loss or absence, they will always be held up by generational family bonds. Experts stress that although it can be important to use discretion if grief is fresh, not talking about an absent family member ensures that they are really lost. It is the sharing of memories that keep them close.
Tell Family Stories: An easy way to bring meaning to dinner conversation is to ask family members to share stories. Doing so ensures that mealtime topics remain positive and that family members gain new insights about one another. Adults can begin this process by asking open-ended questions like, “What was your favorite birthday?” Or, “What personal attribute is most important to you?” The answers may lead to an intimate peak inside a family member’s personality, values, and experiences.
Provide An Ornament, Craft, Or Game Table For The Kids: Even the most engaged and well-behaved children enjoy entertainment or activities meant just for them. One easy and efficient way to accomplish this is to set up an activity, craft, or game table. Many companies offer craft kits that have all needed supplies. Some families encourage kids to make handmade Christmas ornaments or winter holiday decorations that can be sent home with guests, since many families decorate their homes the day after Thanksgiving. Consider offering games for children who would prefer an alternative to crafts.
Value Repetitive Rituals, But Remain Flexible And Open-Minded: As valuable as repetitive traditions can be, change is inevitable. Sometimes, unforeseen events or a shift in circumstances may mean that the food, the people, and the activities may be different from year to year. However, an open-mind and a spirit of acceptance ensures that any changes needn’t alter the true purpose and enjoyment of the holiday.
Add To Growing Displays Of Gratitude: Many families make a yearly habit of sharing one thing that each person is thankful for. Although some families choose to share verbally, others will create a thankful tree, a gratitude chain, or a tablecloth of thanks that can be added to every year. It can be heart-warming to watch these displays change over time. Placing an emphasis on recurring sentiments of gratitude keeps the focus on what is truly important – on giving thanks, on sharing important traditions, and on encouraging familial connections meant to endure for generations.
None of these tips are particularly time consuming or expensive, but experts agree that encouraging deep, ongoing family relationships is worth the effort. Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, author of Tending The Family Heart Through The Holidays says, “It is important to be reminded that we are part of something bigger than our individual selves; that our relationships with people are more important than our relationships with avatars; and that our time with our families is just as important as time with co-workers and friends.”
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