Instilling Gratitude and a Love of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time set aside to stop and reflect on our many blessings.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | November 15, 2012

Focus on the three “F’s,” Family, Fun and Food.

Holidays bring lighthearted social functions, delicious foods and recollections to fill your memory banks for years to come. Celebrations can also open the door to stress saying, “Come on in!” There is food to buy and store, people to contact, and plans to be made— and all that on top of your normal family life— meals, schedules, school activities work, etc. The farther you do and plan ahead, the better chance you will have for a peaceful and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Focus on the three “F’s,” Family, Fun and Food.

How can parents instill a love of Thanksgiving and gratitude in children in 2012? Children imitate what they see and hear around them; model gratitude every day and they will begin to mirror and mimic your words and actions. Volunteering and talking with your children about your duties and how it helps others will make a huge tangible impression. You don’t have to go to a soup kitchen to get your point across, help a person struggling to load things into their car, shovel snow from a disabled person’s driveway, let a car entering the highway to pull in front of you or help a person in a wheelchair enter a building— the teachable moments are endless and they are all around us.

Lincoln “proclaimed” Thanksgiving the last Thursday in November.

One good way is to start with the real history of the very first giving of thanks. Many children harbor storybook images that differ wildly  from the storyline and pictures. There was conflict between Native Americans and the English colonist until a treaty was reached. By the end of 1621 there was much to be grateful for. The foods were likely geese, ducks, fish, oysters, clams, deer, corn, squash, berries— but probably no turkey like today. Parents can get books from their public library or information from the web and fill in the blanks for their children. Thanksgiving was not celebrated officially until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it as a holiday during the Civil War in 1863. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill that made Thanksgiving a national holiday and designated the fourth Thursday in November as the day of celebration.

Children may have difficulty connecting history then with what they see now— restaurant Thanksgiving meals, cheering for sports teams and blueprinting tomorrow’s Black Friday shopping spree. Parents can get dialog going by asking children what differences they see between then and now.

Crafts— gluing, cutting, taping, stapling—bring certain fun!

  • How were the people different?
  • How do we gather food differently now than in 1621?
  • How were the foods prepared differently?
  • Were the children’s games different?
  • How differently did the colonists amuse themselves?
  • Get children to speculate by asking how Thanksgiving may be celebrated differently in 2050.

Create a trivia scavenger hunt list that can send kids (teams or individually) scouring books or the web:

  • The earliest known date for a Thanksgiving where turkey was served.
  • The date of the first parade.
  • What was the name of the colonists’ ship?
  • Lincoln “proclaimed” Thanksgiving the last Thursday in November, which president signed the bill making it officially the fourth Thursday?
  • Who pardons a turkey every year?
  • What popular berries are served on Thanksgiving every year?
  • Who was the famous artist who created the illustration “Freedom from Want?”

Crafts are fun for children at any age and even seniors in a festive mood can give their hand a try. Craft a Tom turkey from pinecones, leaves and sticks.

Begin a new tradition or put a twist on an old one. Create a gratitude wreath or tree! As guests arrive have them write on a paper leaf three things they are most thankful for and attach it to the wreath.

Bring someone who may otherwise be alone during the holiday.

Have family and friends forge a paper chain of thanks by writing their blessings on 1” x 8 ½” strips of paper then gluing or stapling them together, link by link.

Many years ago families lived in the same communities their entire lives; now families often live far away. Consider including friends and neighbors in your Thanksgivings that you don’t usually invite— especially  people that may be alone this holiday season. Your kids will get the message.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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