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Thanksgiving: Is Once a Year Really Enough?
By Anna Stewart

I can almost smell the turkeys roasting in the oven. For many of us, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday - no gifts, no costumes, no cards, just a great meal shared with family and friends.

Most families expect to be together on Thanksgiving. They also expect the meal to be exactly the same as it always is. For some families it's the classic cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce. You may not even like all the dishes but you expect them to be there. Your family may also have other traditions around Thanksgiving; perhaps you always take a family walk or watch football together. In my family, the kids needed to burn off some excited energy so we'd take a ball and head for the playground. As adults, we play a board game such as Trivial Pursuit with very flexible rules.

Many families also say grace or give thanks for the food, family and their health on Thanksgiving. But is once a year really enough?

It is important for all of us to be grateful for our food and for the preparation of it. The Thanksgiving meal is but one dinner out of 365. By bringing more appreciation and awareness into our family meals, we strengthen our commitment to each other as a family. Family meals and the traditions we develop around them emphasize the importance of being a member of a family, of feeling loved and being proud of who we are.

With today's family being so busy and so fragmented, meals are a time we can come together. I'm not talking about a fancy feast every night, but rather the commitment to gather around the table.

According to a recent survey, 67% of Denver area families eat together at least four times a week. Though the dinners may be simple, the act of sitting down together creates lasting memories and a deep connection to family. When I was growing up, we had spaghetti every Monday night along with Monday night football. Even now, if I'm at my parents on a Monday night, I expect spaghetti.

Dinners don't have to be the only time families can come together over a meal. Breakfast, especially on weekends can be a great time to sit together. My father use to make waffles on Sunday mornings while my mother slept in. It gave Dad a chance to nourish us; something his long workweek didn't allow much of.

When you come together this Thanksgiving and light the candles on the groaning table, consider starting some new traditions in your family. Give thanks for all the blessings your loved ones receive. Give thanks regularly for all the meals you share. "This one activity," says Mary Rogers, developer of the Dinner! Software program, "is probably one of the most significant things we can do for the physical, social and mental development of our next generation."

One family I know makes a thanks tree every year. Each family member and all guests write down something they are thankful for and stick it on the tree. A toddler might be thankful for his mother picking him up at preschool every day. A teenager might be thankful for having a good hair day. A parent might be thankful everyone is healthy.

Whatever traditions your family creates, gathering around the table in thankfulness will remind all of you that you are loved and cherished.

Activity: Thankful Trees

When my kids were very young, I wanted to give them a tangible way to understand the meaning behind Thanksgiving. I found a beautiful branch broken off in the wind and put it in a vase filled with colored glass rocks. I cut up old holiday cards and punched a hole in each one to string a piece of yarn through. I asked the kids what they were thankful for and wrote their answers on the cards, which I hung on the tree. I asked them again at different times to see their changing answers. I also asked friends and family who came over to contribute to our family tree. When I finally took the tree down, I kept the leaves, as they will never fade.

To make a tree:

  1. Find one or two shapely tree branches.
  2. Find a vase, clean flowerpot or other interesting bowl.
  3. Use sand, rocks, marbles or glass stones heavy enough to balance the branches in
  4. Cut out leaf shapes from handmade paper, colored craft foam, old cards, or kids artwork as long as the paper is heavy enough to hang.
  5. Attach with yarn, ornament hangers or straightened paper clips.
  6. Write names, dates and the thankful.

To keep this tradition alive the whole year, ask each person at dinner to say one thing they are thankful for that day. We all benefit from practicing gratitude. Many thanks.

Anna Stewart, B.A., C.M.T., C.H.T., mothers young children, one with special needs. In her classes, workshops and services, she weaves her expertise as a professional writer, creative artist and student of rhythm dance. Her intention is to provide a safe environment for women to explore their personal experiences and feelings as mothers. Anna is parent mentor in the areas of rearing special needs children as well as pregnancy. She serves as an instructor for the Academy for Coaching Parents (www.acpi.biz). Anna offers a number of classes in the Boulder, Colorado area.

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