Gratitude: a big word with an even bigger meaning. It’s so big, in fact, that we have an entire day set aside each year to celebrate our gratitude for our good fortune. Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season with food, family, and good old-fashioned tradition. And for all of the traditions many families hold dear on Thanksgiving, every family has some of their own unique traditions to make the celebration all the more special.
Thanksgiving has long been cherished as a time to put aside petty differences and mend fences with people in our lives. Being grateful for people who, in their own little way, make our lives better, is the umbrella under which all other gratitude falls. Being thankful for health, wealth, and happiness comes into play only after we recognize the people who make these things possible: accepting each person for who they are, minimizing conflict, and simply smiling more create an ambiance of warmth and holiday joy.
Thanksgiving in the U.S. and Canada: Similarities and Differences
Although the United States’ version of the holiday – with turkey and stuffing and pilgrims and Native Americans – is the one that most commonly springs to mind when you hear “Thanksgiving,” it’s also celebrated in Canada, too.
While Thanksgiving in the U.S. is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, Canadian Thanksgiving is observed on the second Monday of October. Those in the French Canadian provinces refer to it as l’Action de Grace.
Despite being celebrated almost a month apart, the sentiment behind the holidays are the same. Traditionally, both were rooted in gratitude for a bountiful harvest and giving thanks for all of the blessings of the past year. While the American version commemorates the first feast of settlers in the New World, Canada’s version of Thanksgiving is a national holiday to remember the harvest and its fruits.
A Time For Bounty and Bonding
It’s not always just the Thanksgiving meal that’s a major part of the holiday. In some cases, it’s the togetherness fostered by preparing for Turkey Day that provides a foundation for the gratitude of holiday.
Arts and crafts projects, such as making placemats for each family member or creating a paper gratitude chain (with each construction paper link inscribed with something each person is thankful for) are fun ways to spend time together and decorate for Thanksgiving, too.
Having a little extra help in the kitchen – or not – can be nice, too. While some people love having company in the kitchen while preparing the feast, others prefer to fly solo when cooking the bird. However, allowing certain family members access to the kitchen may be a special treat. It just may be worth giving them a peek at the secret family recipe book to make sure traditions are handed down from generation to generation.
Thanksgiving Traditions for Families: Embracing Unique Family Traditions
Family tradition is a cornerstone of any Thanksgiving celebration. Each family has its own playbook of traditions, passed down through the generations. Some traditions include watching football together as a family – or eating “dinner” earlier than usual, for instance, at 2pm in the afternoon instead of after 5pm.
If sports aren’t your family’s bowl of gravy, marathoning long movies (such as the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars trilogies) or Thanksgiving-themed favorites like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or It’s Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown are fun traditions that bond the family before or after the big meal.
Other families who want a mix of the two may have video game tournaments – taking an interactive love of Madden and fantasy to another level with just a smidge of friendly competition.
One tradition held by many families throughout America is the act of going around the family table and having each person say what they are thankful for. Even those of us who may have had a trying year can reflect upon the good fortune in our lives.
But not everyone looks forward to that moment when it’s their turn to speak and all eyes are on them. When it’s your turn, just speak from the heart. Some classic examples of things to be thankful for include good health, strong relationships, and a promising future for the family as a whole.
Saying Grace: Giving a Thanksgiving Blessing
Another American family Thanksgiving tradition is to give praise to The Man Upstairs — and we’re not talking about great-uncle Albert who needed a pre-dinner nap in the guest room.
Whether the figurehead of your family gives the blessing each year or your family members take turns, saying grace doesn’t need to be feared. Speak from the heart, or if you’re uncomfortable speaking off-the-cuff, prepare a memorized prayer beforehand. As long as you speak with gratitude at the forefront of the blessing, the tradition of mealtime prayer will continue to be a stress-free front runner to the feast that lays ahead. There is no wrong way to show gratitude as long as you’re sincere!
Make Way for a Traditional Family Feast!
And now that brings us to the good stuff! Before us lays a spread of the bounty of the harvest, the fruits of Mother Nature’s labor, with our guest of honor, Tom Turkey, proudly centered among his tasty counterparts.
As tradition continues, it’s usually the patriarch who carves the bird to the delight of hungry diners. Slices of this succulent superstar are passed around, followed by the customary stuffing, potatoes, and cranberries. Whether your family tradition is to stick to the classics or to add a twist with slightly unusual sides, vegetarian options for those who are more tickled by tofu than turkey, each family finds its own stride around the holiday dinner table. Some families even find creative ways to incorporate ethnic family food favorites into the holiday mix, such as those with German heritage enjoying a side of schnitzel and Mexican-American families setting out a plate of savory tamales.
And after the bones are picked clean and the leftovers are packed away for Mom’s famous day-after turkey sandwiches, it all comes down to the wishbone tradition. Two lucky guests are selected to do the honors, each taking an end to snap. The person who gets the bigger piece of the wishbone, as per tradition, receives their wish. However, the wish of peace, love, and continued family tradition is always a favorite choice for everyone.
While every family’s traditions are unique in their own way, it’s comforting to know so many of these customs are rooted in common ground. While the familiar Norman Rockwell-style Thanksgiving with a turkey and all its trimmings is common, it’s more about what are the meaningful dishes to you and your family. Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!