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Start a New and Meaningful Thanksgiving Tradition

No matter what your friends and family do for Thanksgiving, there’s always room to shake things up and invite more intentionality into the holiday. After the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade and before the couch potatoes sink into a post-turkey football game haze, see if you can make room for one more new Thanksgiving activity this year. Who knows, maybe it’ll become a favorite!

Get Physical: Take a Hike, Turkey Trot, or Toss a Football

Did you know that according to the Calorie Control Council, Americans consume anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving? That’s a lot of calories. You can combat all of that caloric goodness with some physical exercise (and also moderation, but that’s not as fun).

Step into nature and enjoy the crisp, cool November air. Join a local turkey trot – most towns and cities offer one – or plan one yourself at a local park, trail, or around your neighborhood. After you’ve devoured your turkey, toss around a pigskin with the hardier members of your party.

Aim for a Zero-Waste Thanksgiving

Be mindful about food waste, disposable servingware, unrecyclable decorations, and food packaging, and aim for a zero-waste Thanksgiving.

I absolutely love Thanksgiving leftovers, but let’s be honest, there’s only so much stuffing a girl can (should) eat. If you’re in control of the menu for your gathering, plan ahead and make appropriate estimates for how many people you need to serve. This handy illustration by Brittany Holland-Zeller offers a terrific guide for estimating how much food you need to prepare. You can even plan for a couple of extra plates if you know you really want leftover mashed potatoes the next couple of days.

Image: Going Zero Waste

When it’s time to shop for your ingredients, choose locations that allow you to package your produce and meats in recyclable or reusable containers. This will reduce your reliance on plastics and other packaging that is harder on the environment. Visit the local farmer’s market, local butchers, bulk foods stores, local breweries and distilleries, local bakers, and candy and nut shops—these folks are more likely to make it easy for you to use your own bags, and you’re benefiting the local economy in the process.

For many households, Thanksgiving is one of the few occasions people break out Grandma’s china and the fancy serving platters. Choose serving bowls that have lids to make clean-up and leftover packaging a breeze. Using real plates, silverware, glasses, and cloth napkins goes a long way to reducing your household waste at Thanksgiving. Plus, it looks so nice! 

If you don’t have enough plates, chairs, or other supplies to host all of your guests, don’t be afraid to ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to bring extras.

To decorate, choose natural products like gourds, pumpkins, and autumn flowers, which can all be composted. Speaking of compost, there’s loads of table scraps that you can divert from landfills into compost bins. Dedicate a large bowl or bin for food scraps to make the trip to the compost pile easy. Here’s a guide for composting at home, including a list of items that are okay to put into your compost bin.

All of these steps for a zero-waste Thanksgiving are intentional ways you can care for God’s creation and give him thanks for the gifts he’s provided by being a good steward to those resources. If you’re new to sustainability efforts and all of this seems overwhelming, then pick just one this holiday. You can always build and grow your efforts over time.

Read a Psalm of Thanksgiving

When I was a kid, I expected the Bible to have a section for proper Thanksgiving prayers. After all, the cookbook we had offered diagrams for proper table settings. I didn’t find any such section at the time, but today, I’d turn to the psalms for help saying thanks. Take a moment to offer up a psalm of thanksgiving before your meal this year.

This CountryLiving article offers “19 Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise” to help set the tone for your meal.

Incorporate Gratitude into Your Thanksgiving Meal

If table talk tends to devolve into political squabble and old family wounds, perhaps you can bypass this habit with a call for gratitude.

There’s power in naming specific things we’re grateful for. Not only is being grateful prescribed by many writers in the Bible, it’s also scientifically proven to lighten the mood. According to Harvard Health, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships” (from “Giving thanks can make you happier”).

I can’t think of a better way to positively hijack Thanksgiving table conversation!

Ask each person gathered to share one thing that happened this year for which they’re grateful. You might even ask everyone to write down their answers, collect them, and bring them back to the next Thanksgiving to be shared. Remembering these positive moments will only multiply gratitude.

Hinge Gratitude with Generosity

Image: Joel Muniz

When I was a kid, a common way we ended the night was to go through all of the toy catalogs and Black Friday ads to indicate what we wanted for Christmas. This was fun, for sure, but it didn’t exactly encourage a heart of gratitude and generosity.

There’s a deep connection between gratitude and generosity. When we are grateful for what we have, it compels us to be more generous with what we give. Keep the spirit of gratitude in action by encouraging the kids at your gathering to think about things (or experiences) they’d like to give to others, rather than spending that time generating their Christmas wish lists. You might also take the time to plan out advent activities that encourage your friends and family to think of others, help those less fortunate, and celebrate their own love and joy with one another.

Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition? Join the Root & Vine community and share yours in the comments.

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