How to Create Meaningful Thanksgiving Traditions in Your Family

How to Create Meaningful Thanksgiving Traditions in Your Family

That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving and declare all Your wonders. Psalms 26:7

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! But when we were newlyweds, the idea of creating our own family holiday traditions became quickly entangled in the process of pleasing two sides of the family, friends, and church ministry. Cozy, idyllic visions of holiday traditions gave way to riding the waves of hectic holiday expectations.

As time passed, those holiday expectations flexed and changed. Some were better managed, some were let go, and some were added. Life requires a lot of flexibility, and the holidays highlight that need. While traditions create a beautiful sense of unity and stability, many get altered as family members pass on and new members join the family. To me, that’s the beauty of Thanksgiving! The foundational holiday tradition for Thanksgiving isn’t tied up in the food we eat, the place we spend it, or even the people we are with that year. The one central tradition necessary to enjoy Thanksgiving is just that: giving thanks!

The concept of gratitude is so powerful! It can unite us despite great distances, perspectives, and situations.

Thanksgiving Unites Our Hearts with the Lord’s Presence

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Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting

And His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

In Scripture, we see that gratitude and worship are inextricably intertwined. Thanksgiving is the gate or doorway to God’s presence. When we offer our thanksgiving to God, it connects us with His presence.

As Paul reminds us, it also centers us in His will for our lives: In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Interestingly, the Greek word for peace is eirini, which means unity. Through Scripture, maintaining peace and having a grateful heart are intertwined.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Thankfulness uniquely invites God’s presence into our experience and allows us into His presence.

Thanksgiving Unites Our Hearts with Our Community

And it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud. 2 Chronicles 5:13

When the Temple was finished and dedicated before the assembly of Israel, it was community worship that invited God’s presence in a powerful, unforgettable way to dwell there in the Temple.

Fast forward to a more recent time in history, during the Civil War, when it seemed our country was more divided than ever, a woman named Sarah Hale had an idea that unified the country in a small but significant way. She had pestered presidents for decades but finally caught the attention of President Lincoln with her idea to nationalize a day of gratitude to the Almighty. She hoped that this collective pause for prayer and giving thanks would unite our country as well as our families. It certainly seems we could use an extra dose of that kind of unity in our country.

Thanksgiving Unites Our Hearts with Our Families

At Thanksgiving dinner a family holding hands while praying

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Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! Psalm 34:3

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

Counting our blessings together as a family is one of the simplest yet most profound family bonding activities. It refreshes our marriage. It anchors our hearts to God’s goodness and provision as a family, experiencing Him together.

Our Thanksgiving traditions have changed over the years. When we were first married, we used to visit three homes on that day. Since we bought a home in the mountains, Thanksgiving, rather often, has been a snowed-in day for us, without access to the main road. Some years, it’s a warm, Southern California kind of day, ending around a bonfire while we recount our blessings. Other years, the Santa Anas incite the power company to turn off the electricity – which certainly changes the menu! There were years we had a turkey and years we had soup. One year, it was the day a family member died tragically. And each year since, we have grieved his loss.

But the one tradition we haven’t flexed on is sitting together for an extended time, counting our blessings together, with prayer and shared gratitude. It’s the holiday tradition we can always afford and can’t afford to miss! It’s a tradition that strengthens the family when so many other holiday traditions strain family peace and unity.

Sweet & Simple Ways to Incorporate More Gratitude in Your Family Traditions

Kid doing Thanksgiving craft coloring gratitude

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1. We keep a gratitude jar with praises in it.

Sometimes, we read them on Thanksgiving, sometimes on New Year’s Eve. Regardless of when you read them, it is a tradition that is a blessing. (If you have little ones, writing one each day at the breakfast or dinner table is very fun.)

2. Praise photo album.

For years, I kept a photo album where I put memories of God’s work in our lives. It wasn’t full of trips or things like that, but days to remember when God showed up. Going back over its pages always fills my heart with gratitude.

3. Worship the Lord as a family.

For some reason, we sometimes compartmentalize church activities. God really didn’t intend for us to live like that. But sometimes, we have a hard time connecting the dots between home and church. Try to spend time worshiping the Lord together as a family within your home. Have a family member lead you in song or use recorded music. If worshiping God through song is too awkward for your family, worship Him in an extended time of family prayer.

Especially if you have young children, do a Thanksgiving devotional to center your hearts in gratitude each day.

Here is one that adults and kids can do together. Here is another Crosswalk resource: 10 Devotionals to Cultivate Gratitude.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Drazen Zigic

April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here. 

LISTEN: A Prayer for Thanksgiving

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.

WATCH: Daily Prayers of Thanksgiving

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