Thanksgiving Traditions

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest
appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

To Americans, Thanksgiving means hearth and home, a gathering of family and friends and good and plentiful food and drink. To the pilgrims who celebrated what we have come to recognize as the First Thanksgiving nearly 400 years ago, it was an occasion of thankfulness and gratitude by those who had survived the voyage to these shores as well as the first harsh winter in their new land.

At this time of year, we begin to catch the spirit of togetherness and gratitude for the important things in life, such as family and home, health and well being. There is nothing quite as comforting as being enveloped by one’s family and friends, whether we are content with our lives or hopeful for something better. We are grateful for the warmth of other people, laughter, games, conversation and plenty to eat that renews us in body and spirit.

But, as JFK expressed, we must also demonstrate by our actions the gratitude and appreciation we feel for the blessings that we have accumulated. We can do that by looking beyond our own homes and families and participating on occasion in different types of Thanksgiving traditions. Here are some to consider:

Prepare and Serve Dinner for the Less Fortunate

A few years ago, a good friend began volunteering on Thanksgiving Day at a local church. While we missed him at Thanksgiving gatherings, everyone was very proud of him for devoting his holiday to serving others who were less fortunate, something he found enjoyable and fulfilling. For some, this is a great way to spend the holiday, as there are many local and national charities that sponsor Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless, veterans, the elderly, children and others who do not have families or funds to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. An Internet search will turn up charities that sponsor such dinners, or check with local churches, VA offices, senior citizen groups, local United Way office, and local Meals on Wheels or Meals on Heels. Getting the whole family involved in helping others is a wonderful way to put one’s gratitude into action, and it’s a great way for couples or individuals to do something different on Thanksgiving Day while helping others.

Invite Those Who Are Away From Home

There are many people who find themselves unable to get home for Thanksgiving, or who have no family. Including them in a warm and welcoming manner in your celebration with family and friends can make the difference between loneliness and joy for someone. Be aware of and alert for such people.

Observe a Thanksgiving Tradition in another Part of the Country

You might want to plan a weekend in another state to experience what Americans in other parts of the country do to celebrate Thanksgiving. If you’re a New Englander you might want to try a typical Southern Thanksgiving; and if you’re a Californian you might be interested in partaking in a Thanksgiving feast in Minnesota. Learning how fellow Americans in other regions celebrate this day and sampling the foods they prepare can promote respect, understanding and goodwill, not to mention provide some terrific recipes for future feasts!

Travel into History and Dine at the First Thanksgiving

Doing a little time travel with your spouse, significant other or entire family can be an enjoyable and educational experience. Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia, are two excellent places to visit and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. To find other historic sites that might offer Thanksgiving celebrations check the U.S. Registry of Historic Places or contact your respective U.S. Senators or Representatives.

Pay Homage to Native Americans 

It’s important to remember that some Americans hold a different view of the Thanksgiving holiday, its celebrations and meaning. To many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning because it signifies the beginning of the end for their ancestors, heritage and way of life. Here are two viewpoints on Thanksgiving Day from Native Americans Jacqueline Keeler and Terry Teller that might help those of us who are not Native American to remember and understand this important nation within a nation. And to experience Thanksgiving Day from another angle, try preparing a traditional Native American dinner to provide a taste of this important cultural cornerstone of American history.

Promoting Gratitude, Respect, Understanding and Kindness

Stepping outside of our usual traditions on this day can promote gratitude, respect, understanding and kindness – the underpinnings of etiquette and empathy – across different cultures that exist in our own country. In doing so, these feelings just might extend beyond Thanksgiving and into our everyday lives.

However you choose to observe Thanksgiving, from my family to you and yours, have a lovely day filled with warmth, friendship, good food and gratitude.

Until next time,


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