Thanksgiving traditions: Ideas for keeping holiday customs while simplifying usual rituals

Thanksgiving traditions: Ideas for keeping holiday customs while simplifying usual rituals

By Carolyn Tomlin
Special to The Alabama Baptist

For years the clan gathered at the grandparents’ home for Thanksgiving. As we grow older and the children have children, the number around the table seems to grow each year. While it’s important to continue holiday traditions honored in the past, sometimes there isn’t space to feed or seat several generations of family or friends. However, that doesn’t mean families should cancel celebrations or delete holiday events. Here are some suggestions for keeping Thanksgiving customs while simplifying the usual rituals.

Rent space. Instead of bringing in extra chairs and tables to an over-crowded apartment or smaller home, rent a room from a community center or use the dining room of your church. Know the approximate number who will attend when making a registration. Will your group be comfortable in the size of the room? Is a kitchen available? Reserve early as the calendar fills quickly.

Delegate dishes

Plan a pot-luck meal. This is often called “bring-a-dish” or a “covered dish” meal. Delegate main dish, vegetable, fruit, bread, dessert and drinks to avoid everyone bringing a green bean casserole. And you really need more food than chips and soda. Provide for those who have allergies to certain foods or who are diabetic.

Don’t forget to request paper plates, plastic eating utensils, napkins and tablecloths (disposable). Provide heavy-duty plastic bags for cleanup. Bottles of cold water or chilled cans of soft drinks eliminate the need for ice and glasses.

Think greenery for a centerpiece. Nothing compares with simple bunches of cedar, pine, holly and other natural greenery and fresh fruit for Thanksgiving decorations. Add a few candles but never leave a flame unattended. Miniature gourds complement Thanksgiving dinners. Perhaps family and friends who drive in from other parts of Alabama have specific greenery that isn’t available in your area. Could they help with the table decorations?

Committee involvement. If you’ve made all the arrangements in the past, allow others to share in the event. Ask for volunteers to email or call all family members or friends. Don’t overlook those who live a long distance away as they should be contacted whether they attend or not. Could the teenagers in your family be responsible for this job? Provide names, emails and addresses. Update as needed for names and address changes.

Count your blessings. Begin the meal with prayer, which could be led by the oldest family member. After the Thanksgiving meal (instead of rushing off to watch football games), ask for each person to tell about a special blessing they received during the past year. Realize that some people may not participate. If this happens, move on to the next person.

Is a piano available? Plan a sing-along of favorite music. Some favorite hymns sung at Thanksgiving are “We Gather Together” and “Count Your Blessings.”

If a teenager is in your family, ask him or her in advance to read Psalm 23. Make copies of this familiar Scripture and give to each family. As an option, repeat this Scripture as a group.

Saying goodbye. Before leaving, make a group photo and update names and emails. Send each family a copy of the photo and stay in touch throughout the year. Place a donation basket nearby for extra expenses such as if some people prefer the photo be printed out or put on a CD and mailed rather than emailed.

God’s blessings

One of the purposes of a family meal is making everyone feel comfortable and going home with pleasant memories of the time together. And regardless of the location, celebrate the season, thank God for His blessings and enjoy being together as a Christian family. It’s the people who love and support one another that matter.

Editor’s Note — Carolyn Tomlin writes for the newspaper and magazine market and teaches writing-to-publish workshops. She may be contacted at