Thanksgiving, It's a Decision

Nov 1, 2000

by Lisa Sharpe

Seven years ago our family was serving a church on the North Carolina Outer Banks. As the glimmering summer gave way to a brooding, monochrome autumn, we faced another holiday season far from our families. Dad always advised me, "Don't wish your life away." So, I made the conscious decision to be content in this parish so far from home. However, with Thanksgiving just over the horizon, I wondered whether my behavior was teaching our three daughters to be thankful or wistful.

In modern society, gratitude seems to be a function of how much stuff we can accumulate; so, the idea of thankfulness is to many, anachronistic. But our Christian witness should bear out, with visible authenticity, that our Creator deserves our faithful homage and that godliness with contentment is great gain. Sometimes true thanksgiving must begin with a decision.

Thankful words and actions are an outpouring of the heart, where genuine thankfulness is born. "...For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."(Mt. 12:34 NIV). However, true gratitude sometimes must begin with a jumpstart, an act of the will, in a decision to honor God with a "sacrifice of praise." The will to sin is natural while the will to be righteous requires thought, effort and even sacrifice. Make no mistake; for good or ill, your child's decision will reflect your own.

An attitude of thanksgiving demands cultivation through action before the Thanksgiving celebration. Holidays, even Halloween, include festive preparations such as parties, special music, costumes, colorful decorations, etc., prior to the actual celebration. Festivities put the celebrants in the mood of the day. But the act of worship which should be integral with Thanksgiving Day is relegated to lowly status; it is the day on which we all take a deep breath in the starting blocks, before the gun fires for the Great Christmas Dash.

With a little planning, Thanksgiving Day can be the culmination of a season that begins on All Saint's Day, November 1. It's an excellent occasion to be grateful as we remember now glorified Christians, who have impacted our lives and our faith. Incorporate the theme of praise and worship into your family devotions every day during the month of November, encouraging children to contribute to daily readings, discussions and planning for your family celebration. Accompany readings with a short course in church history, discovering together how the church has shown its thankfulness to God, even under persecution, through the centuries.

November suggests some excellent living literature read‑alouds to kindle thankful hearts. These selections might include Stories of the Pilgrims, Pollyanna, and chapters about Thanksgivings past, taken from The Light and the Glory for Children and the Little House books. Christian classics, such as The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, also remind this affluent culture of its plentiful blessings.

Decorate your home with the same zeal as in other holiday seasons. The simplicity in Thanksgiving decorations is that they are often nature based. They're cheap, easy to prepare and clean up in a flash. Don't forget the learning opportunities inherent in each activity. Begin by taking your children outdoors to fill an attractive basket with pine cones, nuts and perfect leaves in a variety of colors. Enhance this outing with a discussion of the life cycle of trees. Even your little ones will appreciate a simple explanation of why some leaves change color and some stay green. Leave the basket of pinecones in a corner of your dining room and add an attractive bow to its handle. Use the nuts in holiday cooking and spread the leaves copiously in the center of your dining room table after using them to make solar prints. Pick up some Indian corn, gourds and small pumpkins at a farmer's market for color in your dining room. Discuss the genetics and hybridization of these fall favorites. The discussion offers a springboard to reminding children of the uniqueness of each human, though we should all resemble our Father in heaven. Similarly, bulbs can still be planted in many areas of the state early in November, which may provide other good object lessons as well as a chance to just get grubby with the little ones.

Use a sheet of poster board to make a large calendar for the month of November. Make the blocks large so that all family members have frequent opportunities to write or draw in thankful activities. They should tell about ways they have shown thankfulness to God, or ways they have prepared for Thanksgiving, on each day. Have your children add artistic borders to their fall English compositions and hang them on your walls.

Revive the old tradition of dressing for dinner. Just as we dress for worship service on Sunday, we can dress for Thanksgiving Day as we honor God's faithfulness to us. Our family once dressed up in nineteenth century costumes (which wouldn't bear close historical inspection) to become Pilgrims for our Thanksgiving celebration. This will be a huge time saver for your family since you'll already be in costume for the play you have staged and written for after dinner entertainment!

Now comes the part for which everyone is usually most thankful, Thanksgiving dinner! I find that the smallest traditions from our family histories come back to haunt and delight us as adults. (Do you and your spouse argue over whether the stuffing is dressing, or whether it should be made with oysters or sage?). Even bowing to those bits of nostalgia, we can probably add a regional or historical twist to the meal, without causing an insurrection. Regardless of the meal plan, dress it up. Use fresh parsley and make panties for the drumsticks; dust off china and air best linens; serve that rich dessert you have avoided all year, doing all to the glory of God.

(Or if you're feeling really holy, try something radical and fast!)

Don't forget the table graces. Like the Ingalls family we placed a few grains of corn next to each plate to remind us of the starving time the Pilgrims endured. This might be accompanied by handmade place cards printed with the Legend of the Five Kernels of Corn. For less than $.50 each, you can a make paper twist pilgrim doll for each place at the table, from articles readily available in your local craft store.

Linger at the table following the meal. Have a specially decorated cup on the table labeled, "My Cup Runneth Over." Instruct your family, with help for little ones, to write down on small slips of paper, that you will provide, reasons to be thankful and place the slips in the cup. The object is to see who can get the most blessings into the cup without making the cup run over. Try to note in advance some particular blessings in your family's year, so that you have a ready reference for short memories. Then ask Dad to read Psalm 23 to impress on the whole family a sense of God's goodness. End your meal with a prayer of gratitude, incorporating your thankful slips as prompters.

In her book Something More, Catherine Marshall describes praise as a "golden bridge to the heart of God." Teaching our children the discipline of praising and giving thanks to God helps them begin building that golden bridge early in life. The answered prayers and blessings of adulthood may find their roots in this essential element of their education.

Lisa Sharpe and her husband, Reverend Benjamin Sharpe, live in Fayetteville and are in their twelfth year of homeschooling. They have three daughters, Rebekah, fifteen, Kathleen, eleven, and Elizabeth, seven. Lisa currently teaches the high school public speaking class and coaches the debate team for her support group’s weekly enrichment day. \

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