In the same way that the focus of Christmas and Hanukkah has shifted to cyber sales, candy and greedy children, Thanksgiving has become more about food than gratitude. As parents, we can change that—one household at a time. By sitting down with our kids ahead of Thanksgiving and talking about its roots, we can help instill in them a feeling of gratitude. To make that even easier, we asked three party planners, who are also moms, to share their tips for creatively expressing gratitude.
Invite Friends and Neighbors as Well
For Liz Seccuro, founder of Dolce Parties in New York, the best Thanksgivings are large gatherings. “We always invite friends, family and neighbors a good month ahead of time so that there aren't three people sharing a turkey down the road,” she says. Opening your doors with an everyone-is-welcome, the-more-the-merrier attitude, shows your friends and neighbors that you are thankful for them, too. And the food? Seccuro believes it’s actually easier to cook for thirty people than for six.
Volunteer Your Time
Event planner Heather Lowenthal of Posh Parties in Florida says, “Although giving thanks and giving back are ongoing themes in my home, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reiterate the importance of giving thanks.” The week leading up to the holiday, Lowenthal’s family volunteers at a local food bank making and packaging meals that are delivered to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving day. “Seeing the smaller portions really makes you thankful and appreciative of those second helpings at your own Thanksgiving dinner,” she says.
Seccuro believes that good health is something we should all be grateful for, which is part of the reason her family gathers every year to cheer on her father as he runs a Turkey Trot. “Most cities have a Turkey Trot, and it's a healthy way to start the day off as a family,” says Seccuro. Depending on the city, the race might be 5 kilometers or 10, and some even have a shorter event designed specifically for kids. In Dana Point, Calif., for example, the “Gobble Wobble” is a 1-mile race for children that follows the annual costume contest.
Get Everyone to Unplug
Another tradition in the Seccuro household is outlawing electronics. “We do not allow smartphones at dinner,” she says. “In fact, we have a bowl in the entry with a sign that reads, ‘Talk to the People You Came to See,'" which is meant to encourage all guests—from tweens to seniors—to drop their phones in the bowl after they arrive. “People love it!” she says.
Display Your Thanks
Chicago planner Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event sets out a vase of flowers for each guest to take home. Before dinner, she says, “we set out small, hole-punched cards and a pen at each place, and encourage everyone to write down what they are most thankful for this season.” The cards are tied individually to each vase with twine and placed on the table, and guests can then walk from chair to chair to see what their relatives are most grateful for.
“We're not totally ‘Kumbaya’ about it, but we all love to hold hands during cocktail hour before the bird is served to say what we are thankful for,” says Seccuro. “This takes about half an hour, but it's my favorite part.” Seccuro says no one should be forced to speak, and adds that the kids’ contributions are often the most amusing. “Some years the kids say they are thankful for toys. Oops! For me, personally, this year I am most thankful for our health,” she says.
Get Little Ones to Help
In some households, a great way for kids—especially older ones—to show they’re grateful for their parents is to help prepare the meal, even if that just means peeling potatoes. In other homes, like Seccuro’s, helping with cleanup is even more appreciated. “We all clear the table and put the dishes and leftovers away together,” she says, “and then we sit around contemplating when it would be appropriate to have a turkey, stuffing and cranberry relish sandwich. Sometimes we Skype with an elderly or ill relative who was unable to be with us.”
Before the holiday, Lowenthal likes including children in a crafting project as an opportunity to talk about the roots of the celebration. “Using construction paper, cut out fall leaves, and ask your children to decorate the leaves and write on each one what they are thankful for,” suggests Lowenthal. Afterward, she hangs some up around the house as decoration and mails others to grandparents, aunts and uncles. “I like to save the leaves we used as décor keepsakes for the future,” she says.
When You're a Guest, Bring Something
If you’re lucky enough to be a guest on Thanksgiving, Seccuro recommends showing thanks by bringing something other than food. “Typically the host has planned the menu within an inch of her life, so instead of food, bring a bottle of wine, some pretty stationery, a lovely diptyque candle; or schedule a flower delivery with a lovely note for the next day.”