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5 Thanksgiving Practices that Instill Gratitude and Create Impact

I love Thanksgiving.  The older I get, the more I love it… so much so that it may be becoming my favorite holiday.  My husband would be proud.  It has been his favorite for years.  There are many reasons to love Thanksgiving.  If you are like me, you grew up with lessons and pictures of pilgrims and Native Americans eating together and feasting together and being super happy. In case you haven’t heard–that wasn’t very accurate.  While the current message of giving thanks is great, we must acknowledge that it our country’s beginnings were not so inclusive.

But I also love Thanksgiving because it isn’t about the gift-giving or crazy marketing ploys that so many of our other holidays have become.  Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what you have, remembering our blessings and what is important in our lives.  We sit down at big and small tables with people we love.  We break bread.  We toast.  We laugh(we may fight as well)  Above all, Thanksgiving reminds us that we are more similar than different.

Growing up I didn’t have many thanksgiving traditions, but the one I remember the most is bad jokes.  My dad loved listening to Dr. Laura on the radio.  The day before Thanksgiving she always did bad joke day and people called in with the worst jokes.  My crazy father has been known to write them down and randomly insert them  throughout the Thanksgiving meal.  There were also a few years with a tofurkey—I have tried to push those years out of my memory.

Many of us have fun and likely not so fun memories for Thanksgiving.  Now that I am a parent, I want to teach my son to be grateful and thankful and create memories for him.  4-year-olds, however, are not known for their gratitude and thankfulness, and understandably so-the world is marketing to him constantly about all the amazing things he needs.  His “wish list” is ridiculous.  Netflix is my friend—because there are no commercials!

Learning how to create impact in our daily lives starts with gratitude.  What we actually need and what our consumer culture tells us we need are different.  We will never have the time or resources to impact others if we constantly “need more” for ourselves.  

Here are a couple of quick, eye-opening activities if you’re feeling less than gracious:  Check out the Global Rich List—enter your income and see how you rank globally and how long it would take people in developing countries to earn the same.  Or check out How Rich Am I from Giving What We Can.   Enter income and household.  A family of 4 making $40,000 is in the top 11% globally and more than 10x the global average.

We always have something to be grateful for.  When we choose to live simply and full of gratitude we are able to live a life that says there is enough for everyone.  

Now that the kid is a little older and can understand things better I am excited to start some traditions for Thanksgiving, and through Christmas.  Check out my list of 5 Thanksgiving Practices, and maybe these might inspire you to step back and insert a little more gratitude in your life this year!

  1. Create a Month of Gratitude with the Thankful Jar
    Check out the Thankful Jar from Somewhat Simple.  LOVE THIS!  This will be new for us this year, and I am a little late to start so we won’t be doing as many of these, but this is a great family activity. Each day during the month of November pull out a piece of paper which reminds you of something to be grateful for and then an activity to go with it.  This will be new for us this year, and I found it late.​
  2. Thankful Tree
    The kid was a bit sad when Halloween was over.  So I started talking about Thanksgiving and all that we had to be thankful for.  As we get ready for bed each night I love to hear what he is grateful for (though many times it is toys and food).  I love the Thankful Tree for Thanksgiving because it adds a visual element.  On Thanksgiving have everyone write down at least one thing they are thankful for and hang it on the tree.  You can easily make your own leaves, or I found this tag download from Jones Design Co. Arizona doesn’t have too many bare tree branches (or tree branches at all, for that matter) so I found a little fake tree at Target, but you can get branches at the craft store too. At your meal, read some of the thankful cards.  Someone also gave me a great tip to save the cards each year, especially for kids, so you can be reminded of your blessings over time.
  3. Serve Others This one has been harder for me to do every year.  I have used the excuse of my former job and the annual conference that was just before Thanksgiving as the reason I couldn’t do much, but it is just that—an excuse.  I remember one year growing up that my parents took us to a homeless shelter and we helped serve meals.   That experience stuck with me, and I want that for the kid.This year we put together a Thanksgiving Box for a family in need in our community.  More than 500 boxes were packed and delivered around downtown Chandler.  If you live in Arizona and want to get involved with a great community organization, check out Live Love.  This was a great opportunity to talk with the kid about families and people who don’t have enough to eat, or can’t always afford to buy food.  We have much to be grateful for. In addition, I have had migrant workers on my heart. I frequently drive down Arizona Ave and see the day laborers standing out hoping to find work.  Over Thanksgiving weekend our family will be taking coffee, water and some baked goods down to the workers as they wait.  I want them to know they are seen and cared for. Even if it is as simple as buying an extra Thanksgiving meal, get out and share with others.  There is enough to go around.
  4. Give something away to someone who needs it
    Again, this is a hard one for me.  Whenever we outgrow something, or replace something I always want to give it to someone who needs it versus just sending it to the Goodwill or throwing it away.  This tends to mean that I have a constant pile of things in my house waiting for the right person.  Then my OCD comes out and the pile drives me crazy.  And I can’t always find someone that needs said item. But this year it is really more about the kid.  He is not excited to give anything away. Even if clothes don’t fit, he still wants to keep them for reasons people my age don’t understand.  So, while I will continue to hope to find homes for our things with people who need it, even if it does go to the Goodwill, we will be taking old clothes and choosing a couple of toys to give away.
  5. Invite someone to Thanksgiving that needs a place
    For the last 10 years we have lived away from family.  When the husband was in graduate school in California we started having friendsgiving (fyi, I don’t like the name.  I didn’t come up with the name.  It is Thanksgiving no matter who you are with).  Our crazy group of graduate school friends from across the country stayed in Berkeley and we had Thanksgiving together.  In tiny little apartments we would gather.  We played games, we turned on the yule log and drank lots of wine.  It was awesome.I miss that group of friends, but even now in Arizona we have continued this tradition.  We find people that don’t have a place, or aren’t going home and have them over.  It is beautiful and awesome.  My favorite so far might be the family from Korea who had their first ever American Thanksgiving with us.   They were so excited (and they kept coming back each year since).

Thanksgiving should be a reminder that we always have something to be grateful for and if we can instill gratitude into our daily lives we will live more generously, and love others well.  I love the quote from Ann Voskamp, “It is not joy that makes us grateful.  It is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

What traditions do you have to help instill gratitude?  Share your stories, or your funny family shenanigans!

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About Callie Unruh

I am an passionate wife, mother, wanna be radical, aspiring entrepreneur and recovering evangelical. I am working to create a life of impact in the suburbs of Phoenix and enjoy gardening, hiking and being outside.

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