By Rachel Olsen
Do you ever find Thanksgiving to be a stressful event whose main purpose seems to be to overeat and then fall asleep in front of the TV? Do you long for a more enjoyable day? What you may be in need of is an intentional Thanksgiving.
Webster defines intentional as: "done, made or performed with purpose or intent." An intentional Thanksgiving is one that is planned in advanced and carefully carried out with clear goals in mind. Here is a three-pronged approach to an intentional Thanksgiving.
Determine Your Needs and Goals
I'll never forget my first Thanksgiving at my in-laws' house after becoming Rick's finance. My father, a widow, came along with me on the trip to North Carolina to meet Rick's parents. On Thanksgiving morning we all congregated in the kitchen. My future mother-in-law waltzed in, looked in the pantry and nonchalantly said, "I'll make the shopping list, who wants to go to the grocery store for us?"
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I agreed to go along on the grocery shop. It was simply astonishing to me that we had to get all the necessary fixings ON Thanksgiving morning, but several of us went to the store as a group and had a blast doing it. When we arrived home, each of us were given a recipe card and became in charge of making that dish. We talked, laughed and cooked together that Thanksgiving, having a great time as well as a delicious meal. The family has photos of the fun (and sometimes chaos) that ensued blown up and framed on the wall to this day.
While I thought my future mother-in-law's lack of preparedness bordered on blasphemy at the time, I came to realize that this was her way of: 1) not getting overwhelmed by doing it all, and 2) bringing the family together to do something as a team. Not all Thanksgivings at her house have been that way. Some years the meal was cooked almost entirely by her, other years we each brought a dish to the event, and for yet others we ordered the complete meal catered - Thanksgiving dinner arrived in cardboards boxes!
We've had Thanksgiving at her house, at my house, delivering with Meals on Wheels, and even once at a hunting lodge followed by an afternoon of riding four-wheelers through the woods together. Each year the meal has been yummy, memorable and more importantly, it met it the needs of our family at the time. We never quite know from year to year what our Thanksgivings will look like, but we always know we'll have turkey, sweet potatoes and lots of fun.
If the food and its preparation has become the sole, overwhelming focus of the event, you may need to set some different goals for this year besides cooking and cleaning for a group of twenty! Shift the goal, for instance, from "me cooking all the traditional dishes" to "getting everyone to participate by cooking or bringing a favorite dish."
Turn Hearts Toward Home
Many a woman has gotten caught up in trying to prepare the moistest turkey, the tastiest dressing or the most-like-Mom's gravy. There is nothing wrong with any of these goals, as long as they don't overshadow or even prevent you from drawing nearer to God and family on this day.One thing my family has become good at is valuing how fun and easy the holiday is for everybody over how perfect the food turns out. We look forward to talking, joking and playing cards or board games as much as we do eating the turkey or the pumpkin pie.
Is there something your family would really enjoy doing together this Thanksgiving? What can you do differently this year to bring your family together in fun or meaningful ways? Play games? Go for a walk together after the meal? Reminisce over photo albums or watch old home-movies together? Find ways to bring family back to the forefront of your celebration.
Give Thanks to God
We've always said a heartfelt prayer before the meal but several years ago I decided we should step-up the purposefulness of our giving thanks. I provided small pieces of paper and pen at each place setting and encouraged everyone to write down 3 things they were thankful for that year. The papers were then read aloud (but anonymously) by my father-in-law. We laughed and we cried as we listened. Another year, I created a "Thanksgiving Tree" - that's simply a dead tree branch stuck in a clay pot! We each wrote and hung what we were thankful for on construction paper leaves.
I love what Proverbs 31 speaker Zoë Elmore does with her family:
Tom & I have hosted Thanksgiving for both our families for several years and began the tradition of verses of thanks. Since our home does not accommodate everyone dining together in one room, we found Bible verses that had the theme of being thankful, typed them up and then placed a different verse in each napkin at each table. Everyone takes a turn reading their verse and then sharing one thing they are grateful for from the past year. After lunch, we see who can remember their verse and/or what things those at their table were grateful for. The winner gets extra pie!"
Our beloved P31 leader Renee Swope also has some terrific ideas for making the holiday more meaningful:
One year we created "Thankful Turkeys" for the dinner table centerpiece. The week before, we gathered two large pine cones and added features to make them look like turkeys without feathers. Then we cut out feather-shaped pieces of red, green, yellow and orange construction paper to hand to each person as they arrived on Thanksgiving Day. The kids asked each guest to write down one thing they were thankful for on the feathers. The kids gathered feathers and stuck them in the turkeys for table decorations. Before dinner, we had them "pluck" the feathers and my husband read out loud each person's reflection of thanks. Then we held hands and prayed. It was very sentimental and it brought more spiritual emphasis as well as personal sharing to our time together.
Last year we started a new tradition by creating a "Thankful Journal" on Thanksgiving Day. We entered something for each person each evening before bed. On Christmas morning at breakfast, before we open our presents, we gave God our "gifts of gratitude" as we read each entry out loud to Him and each other.
There are many ways to appreciate God's profound goodness and celebrate the blessing of family on Thanksgiving Day. I encourage you to spend some time in thought, prayer and conversation deciding the goals you'd like to set for this holiday season. Look for intentional ways to emphasize family togetherness and to express gratitude to the Lord for His provision in your lives. Your best Thanksgiving ever could be just around the corner!