In a few weeks, Thanksgiving will be upon us. For my family, that means a road trip to my husband’s parents’ home for the day, where we’ll enjoy talk and rest with many of my in-laws. Our girls will revel in a day spent with cousins they see just a handful of times each year. And then, of course, we’ll indulge in a hearty meal of turkey and all the trimmings, capping it off by digging into the pumpkin pie my husband and daughters will have made for the occasion.
Though simple and common, we nevertheless look forward to these traditions. We rest in the comfort of the familiar. So I know my girls – and my husband and extended family, for that matter – would balk if I suggested major changes. In fact, I, too, enjoy the predictability of our typical Thanksgiving celebration.
And yet – whether for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or the patriotic holidays – I also desire to make the most of the day in terms of its deeper historical and spiritual meanings. So I seek to remember and celebrate the original impetus for those days and then to find fresh ways to draw my children into that understanding.
In terms of Thanksgiving, that means eschewing the temptation to think of it as “turkey day.” Instead, I endeavor every year to find new resources with which to engage my children in the actual historical account. It’s often difficult to have a meaningful learning experience on Thanksgiving Day itself, but I set aside time for it earlier in the week or on Friday.
My children can now read independently, but they continue to enjoy read-alouds. So we’ll find time to cuddle under fuzzy blankets with good books. Some you might find of interest this year include:
• Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla
• The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh
• The Pilgrims of Plimoth by Marcia Sewall
• Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas
• Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters and Russ Kendall
• Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl by Kate Waters
• Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy by Kate Waters
And don’t discount family read-alouds with older children. It’s been my experience that many kids relish such times…even if they don’t admit it! A great resource for older kids is Genevieve Foster’s The World of Captain John Smith.
Of course, hands-on activities help as well. Perhaps this year your family might want to:
• Mark out a space as big as the Mayflower (90 x 26 feet), spend an hour in the cramped area, and then discuss what it would have been like to live there with 100 others for 66 days;
• Research and replicate Squanto’s corn planting method, seeing what you can produce;
• Visit a website like DLTK for fun craft ideas;
• Write and illustrate Thanksgiving picture books;
• Devise Thanksgiving-related crossword puzzles;
• Research and attempt to play games the Pilgrims and Native Americans enjoyed together at their first celebration.
Hopefully, this brief list has sparked other ideas for you. And, of course, print and web-based resources abound, brimming with hundreds of other possibilities.
Regardless of the resources and activities you choose, I challenge you to nudge your family beyond handprint turkeys and cranberry sauce to the real Thanksgiving story and to engage with it in a new or deeper way.