The Thanksgiving holiday evokes all sorts of warm cozy memories. Friends. Family time. Overeating. And, those awkward sharing-thanks moments around the dining room table.
Please tell me I’m not alone in this. We know it’s coming. With the hustle of prep over, the room hushes to a quiet hum of chewing and clanking serving dishes. Then, seizing the opportune moment, the host of your gathering opens the discussion with little slips of paper to fill out, cue cards, or a round-robin discussion. What are you thankful for? I recall vying to be a first responder as a child so I could snag one of the favourite, “family, friends, food, health, home,” answers before others used them up. It’s hard to think of good answers on the spot!
As my husband, Jared, and I started forming our own family traditions, we came up with a fun, longer-lasting, and less stressful adaptation of this annual expression of thanks.
The Book of Thanksgiving
Here’s how it works:
1. Find a notebook to set aside for this purpose. Go as fancy or as simple with this as you like. We found a thick, cherry coloured, leather bound notebook because we wanted a book that could last for several years, but a regular spiral notepad will work just as well. Whatever it is, we want books we can set aside for this purpose, not something that will also record shopping lists and phone messages.
2. Appoint a scribe for the gratitude session. This person will record the date and all the thankful things said. Someone who is less likely to volunteer thankful thoughts may end up being a good recorder. When in doubt, default to the person with the best handwriting.
3. Read aloud what was recorded in the past year, unless of course this is your book’s first Thanksgiving season. We love to start reading the things talked about last Thanksgiving. It’s so fun to hear all the, “oh yeahs” and, “I forgot about that’s” as we read through the list. If anyone added new entries since the last holiday, we read those next. This is a great way to ignite memories of what happened, and will inspire new items to add to this year’s list.
4. Open up the time for people to share things they were grateful for in the past year. We try to go super specific with the details whenever possible, as it makes for fuller and happier memories.
- Friends: What friends? (name them.) Why that friend? What’s a good memory with them from this past year?
- Home: What about your home do you enjoy? What’s been your favourite thing in your home recently?
- Family: What fun things did you do as a family this year? What’s one attribute you appreciate in a specific family member?
- Achievements: What hard things have you overcome?
This activity is especially fun with children age 4 and up because they often notice unique things to be grateful for. The Xbox. Watching a sibling score a goal. A favourite music artist. Their favourite cup. There’s great freedom in this approach because our grateful thoughts don’t need to be large or profound. Any thanks-worthy idea is welcome, from expressing gratitude for exotic vacations to finally finding pillows with that perfect fluff-factor.
We can also expand upon notes from past years, if we have them. Last year we were thankful for my job, so maybe this year we can give thanks for a promotion, a raise, or a success that was made possible because of my employment.
5. Keep the book handy throughout the year. Family members can add entries to the book whenever they like—make sure they also include the date. A Book of Thanksgiving is also a great resource to have available if gratitude seems to be lacking in your home or heart. Simply crack it open and read out loud the things you have to be thankful for. In our house, this usually prompts a new entry because reading about these gifts focuses our perspective on the many blessings we already have to be thankful for.
My favourite part of incorporating the Book of Thanksgiving as our family tradition is the longevity. We’re creating a family diary of gratitude. A written accounting of the things we’ve lived through together, big and small, and the memorable experiences that mark each passing Thanksgiving holiday.