Yes, the highlights of Thanksgiving Day are the watching the parade (and the game) and eating turkey. But this special holiday isn't just about the entertainment and the food. This year, start a new tradition that brings out the importance and symbolism of the holiday.
Begin by asking yourself what Thanksgiving means to you. Is it about faith? Family? Giving back to the community? Incorporate these ideals into your new tradition in a fun, creative way. Ask your nanny for advice -- she can help you brainstorm new Thanksgiving customs.
And the concept of Thanksgiving isn't always easy for little ones to grasp, so involve your kids and give them a taste of what Thanksgiving is really about.
Construct a Family Tablecloth
Use a plain white tablecloth and fabric markers to personalize your Thanksgiving table before you lay out the turkey and stuffing. Have each person write their signature, the date and what they are thankful for on the cloth before the meal begins. Use the same tablecloth each year and enjoy reading the old memories before adding new ones.
Create a Gratitude Tree
A gratitude tree is a fun way to share what Thanksgiving means to each person. Use a die cut machine or free-cut the shape of a tree with lots of branches from a brown 12"x12" sheet of paper, then tape it to your dining room wall or attach it to the refrigerator. Cut out leaf shapes from various fall shades of paper.
Let each family member write something for which they are thankful on a leaf and attach to the tree with tape. Your tree will quickly take shape as the thankful leaves are added. You can add leaves daily during the month of November, or do it as a one day project with the extended family on Thanksgiving.
Design a Family Cookbook
Does your family have some favorite traditional Thanksgiving foods? Type the recipes into a word processing program on the computer and print out copies to give out to the extended family. Have kids decorate the recipes with drawings of each food, and then scan them onto the document. This works especially well with old family recipes that have been handed down. Older kids can help type the recipes on the computer, too. Or get fancy and make up a recipe photo book using a program like Shutterfly.
Make Place Mats
Create hand print place mats for the kids by tracing each child's hand onto a plain white paper place mat. Let each child use markers to decorate their hand print to look like a turkey and write their names on the place mat. Stickers and glitter can add fun for younger kids. This can also be a fun project for the kids to work on with your babysitter or nanny before the big day.
Pin the Feather on the Turkey
This game will keep the kids entertained while dinner is cooking. Make the turkey's body by cutting a circle out of sturdy, brown construction paper, and then a smaller circle for his head. Get creative by gluing on googly eyes, a beak and a top hat. Let the kids come up with a name for Mr. Turkey before taping him to the wall in the dining room or living room. Make papers feathers in fall colors and have each child write their name on a feather. Attach tape to each feather and have the child close their eyes tightly and try to tape their feather onto Mr. Turkey.
Assemble a Gratitude Chain
Make a gratitude chain by cutting 6"x1" slips of colored construction paper in reds, oranges and browns to incorporate a Thanksgiving theme. Let each person at your Thanksgiving dinner write one blessing they have received this past year or one thing for which they are thankful. Connect the ends on the first strip of paper with tape or glue and then connect each link to the chain. This is fun to work on all month with the family, too.
Start a new family tradition by giving back to the community. Check with your local community center or homeless shelter to see if they serve a Thanksgiving dinner. If so, volunteer as a family to work in the center's kitchen for the day. This will teach your kids the value of giving back and show the importance of helping those who are less fortunate.
If you're looking for a way to give back while getting some fresh air, look into participating in a local Turkey Trot. These races can be are a great way to burn off that pumpkin pie and most Turkey Trots benefit local charities.
Donate to Charity
Thanksgiving is also a great time to sort through the kids' toys and clothing and donate what they no longer need to a local homeless shelter, preschool, church or nursery. Christmas is just around the corner, so you're going to need some extra room anyway!
Let the children choose some toys to donate -- just be mindful that little ones might have a difficult time letting go of things they've grown attached to, even if they haven't played with them in a while. Explain to the kiddos that some little boys and girls don't have many toys, and this is a way to share with other families.
Visit the Elderly
Do you live too far away from extended family to go home for Thanksgiving? Many local nursing homes or assisted living facilities run Adopt-a-Grandparent programs that strive to forge lasting relationships between seniors and members of the local community. You and the kids can visit with an elderly resident who doesn't have nearby family to celebrate the holidays with. Check with senior housing options near you to see if this program is available.
Have a History Lesson
Help the kids make pilgrim hats and read the story of the first Thanksgiving. Gather items to decorate the table like the pilgrims may have had for the first Thanksgiving, like leaves,pine cones and a cornucopia filled with fruit. Talk together about how different life was for kids in 1621 compared to today.
If you have older kids, let them do some research on the Internet and share what they learned with guests before Thanksgiving dinner. Make it a game to find a new, unusual fact about Thanksgiving's past. Give a prize to the best answer.
However your family spends Thanksgiving, remember that giving thanks for the blessings in your life is what the day is all about, and family is one of the best blessings of all.
Sandy Wallace is a freelance writer covering all things Virginia. Her work can be found here.