My expectations for Thanksgiving this year have changed.
With all the uncertainty in our lives, we’ve decided not to do our usual Peterson family gathering of 30-40 people this year. Though we intended to continue this annual Thanksgiving tradition for at least this year since my mom died, it’s now clearly not prudent.
I’ve been perplexed about what to do, but I’ve learned over my life that continuing even some traditions, though adapted, is still valuable.
No matter what is happening in our world on Thanksgiving Day this year, our nation needs people of faith to feed the soul of our land by our feasting, gathering and giving thanks to God. His words to us in the Bible continually call us to gratitude. Though we may be grieving or experiencing personal loss, God calls us to give thanks.
There is a little verse tucked near the back of the New Testament that is not just a mild suggestion. It is a command. God is our Father, and He tells us what to do in love knowing it is good for us.
This verse reads, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NASB). Another version translates it, “Give thanks in all circumstances” and concludes with this strong pronouncement, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Giving thanks, no matter what, is a way we can push back on the constant fear, discouragement and confusion the “father of lies” (John 8:44) is sowing in our world.
Traditions feed togetherness, stability, and create shared memories. Traditions are repeated actions that reinforce values. They act like glue in families, holding everyone together.
Noel Piper has written, “Only God can awaken our children to His worth. Often He uses God-centered traditions and family patterns. Our traditions can show children that God is our treasure.”
This year more than ever, we will make our same brunch menu of Rainey French toast and southwest egg casserole. We will share together the milestones of God’s faithfulness to us this year, written on cards for keeping in a scrapbook reserved for our combined thanks to God over the last 30 years (more on this below). We might even connect with our kids far away on Zoom to share our lists of Thanksgiving.
My challenge and encouragement for you is to make this Thanksgiving more focused on thanks-giving than ever. Here are three ideas to easily, practically add value and meaning to any gratitude gathering.
- Share your table. Gathering around tables is one of the most uniquely human things we do. No other created creature crafts a meal, sets the plates, displays all the food and then waits until everyone is seated to pray and then eat together.
To have a place at the table is to occupy sacred space. To share stories. To remember where we’ve been. To dream of where we might go. To laugh together. To cry together. To know and be known. To reflect the heart of our relational God and sense His nearness in these moments.
Reach out this year to others around you. Christians believe in Jesus who told us plainly to love and pray for our enemies. Ask Him who He wants you to reach out to. Who needs a taste of His lovingkindness this year at your table?
- Share your heart. Don’t miss this sacred moment with new people or those you might not ever see again to remember truth and create meaningful interaction with your people. Try using our simple conversation starters, Untie Your Story—these ribbons give everyone something to do with their hands as they untie the ribbon, read the question and feel the soft fabric between their fingers, and wait their turn to share a tiny piece of their heart.
- Thank our God. The Thanksgiving table, above all, is a place to remember the blessing of God. It is a way to practice Eucharist as a family, doing what Jesus taught on His last night with His friends, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).
An ancient Hebrew prayer says, “Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the universe, for you give us food to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad.” Sharing a meal is both a gift and means of grace.
Another of our traditions is placing a printed card at each person’s place. We then write five things for which we are grateful over the last year. We then take turns sharing our lists with everyone.
Listing all that God has done or how He has worked is an important exercise. It reminds us of His past faithfulness and strengthens our faith for tomorrow. Click here for two of our designs you might like to try this year.
Traditions are worth it. They are vital to the life and health of your family, your neighborhood and your city and nation. Don’t let disappointments or trials keep you from continuing or improving traditions that God uses to bind us together and to Him.
For more thoughts about Thanksgiving, be sure to check out:
“The Season of Gratitude” – Barbara Rainey Podcast
“Thanksgiving: A Time To Celebrate Faith, Family, and Freedom”
“Why Gratitude on Thanksgiving Is So Important”
“Thanksgiving Is My Favorite Holiday”