While Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, many of us strive to make it unique to our own families. This year, several Herald readers shared their ideas for ways to make the celebration more personal and meaningful.
Several of our friends, including the Prentisses who live in the Geneva area, and the Patricks near Cain Lake, make a Thankful Tree the centerpiece of their holiday.
We did it for the first time last year and found it sweet and satisfying, a wonderful way to ground ourselves in the holiday.
We make ours with construction paper leaves - they can be as crude or as fancy as your crafting skills allow - and a "found" branch from the yard that serves as the tree trunk. We set it upright in dirt inside a tall vase from our wedding altar. Google "Thankful Tree" and you'll find several examples online.
Anne-Marie Faiola of Bellingham wrote to say that her family has two special traditions.
"The Thankfulness Tablecloth where we all take Sharpie markers and write what we are thankful for and the thankfulness muffins, where we write who we are thankful for and why, wrap it in tinfoil and bake it into muffins to be opened and read aloud at our meal. We blogged and took photos for SoapQueen.com last year."
My wife, Rebecca, and I met 24 years ago at a Thanksgiving potluck for people who were separated from their families, and so we have kept the day as special as our wedding anniversary. Our daughters always ask to hear the story of how we came to attend the party, and sometimes they demand that Rebecca and I tell our own versions, in a sort of "Roshomon" narrative.
If you're driving as a family to be with relatives, why not get an audiobook that everyone can enjoy. Our family's favorite this year was the Newbery-winning "Dead End In Norvelt," writer Jack Gantos' hilarious semi-autobiographical tale of his seventh-grade summer.
FOOD AND PREPARATION
Mario Batali, my favorite celebrity chef, said in the Nov. 11 Parade magazine that one way to involve young children in the holiday preparation is to give them a simple task, such as chopping vegetables and peeling onions or collecting herbs - depending on their age and skill level.
Sarah Morell of Sudden Valley and her family make lefse, a kind of Scandinavian tortilla.
"I can remember since I was small that all the ladies in the family got together one week before Thanksgiving and we would all have made batches the night before (the dough has to sit overnight)," Morell wrote. "We would bring our special rolling pins and long lefse sticks (rolling pin) is waffle-shaped so you can roll it thin ... and the stick is long and flat at the end so you can flip it without ripping them ... and we would start mid-morning and go till we had a lot! We had 35 people usually at Thanksgiving so we had to make enough for all.
"Now I do it with my sister and our kids. It was a great memory and a good tradition to keep going. Warm butter and sugar and cinnamon. Mmmm."
For recipes, search "lefse" online.
Since ours is a family of blended religious beliefs, we offer a blessing for the holiday meal in which we thank the many hands of labor who worked to bring us this food. We mention those who grew or raised the food and harvested or slaughtered it, those who got it to the market, the people who worked in the store, mom and dad whose jobs helped pay for it, and our daughters if they participated in preparation, cleaning or setting the table. We hope to give our children both a spiritual grounding and an appreciation that all work is important and that our economy is interconnected.
In addition, we read "Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks," by John Bucchino, with illustrations by Anna-Liisa Hakkarainen.
This year, I got a used copy of Caldecott-winning illustrator Chris Raschka's children's picture book "Simple Gifts," which is based on the well-known Shaker hymn. We'll add a reading of it during the meal.
What better way to digest the feast than to take a walk, writes Holly Roger of Bellingham.
"Our family always heads to Arroyo Park to see salmon swim home," Roger says. "It's amazing to see these fish fight so hard to finish their lives for the good of their kind. Watching this cycle of life every year fills our hearts with gratitude for the gifts of nature."