by Karen D. Koch
Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday—probably because of family and food, and the noticeably lower materialistic nature (and hence, stress) of the day. During the two years I lived overseas back in the 1980s, it was the holiday I missed the most. We made our own Thanksgiving there, but it just wasn’t the same.
For all but four of our 23 married years, we’ve lived far from family. Because of that, we haven’t spent a great deal of holiday time with relatives, but we do enjoy reviewing the basics and history of Thanksgiving with our children each year, and we eat a lot. Here are a few resources, activities, and crafts you might want to consider for the month of November:
- Most libraries have a holiday section. Browse to your heart’s delight.
- Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey with a CD of the Pilgrim and Mayflower story plus another CD of hymns. We review this each year. You can read the text or listen to the same text (dramatized story of the Pilgrims) on the included CD. Another CD has instrumental Thanksgiving hymns, but unfortunately no lyrics.
- The Thanksgiving Primer, a Plimoth Plantation Publication.
- The Mayflower Compact–free on Kindle through Amazon.com. This is an important historical document. It’s brief, and good to study.
- Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford is an important historical read.
- If You Sailed On the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern. This book is available at your local library.
- Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas. A great view of the traditional Thanksgiving story from a Christian perspective.
- Adventures in Odyssey Thanksgiving editions (even though primarily for younger kids and tweens, our whole family enjoys these). Available through Focus on the Family, Christian Book Distributors, and others.
- Pinterest is full of crafty activities for Thanksgiving. I am craft-challenged, so this is a good source of inspiration for me.
- Serving opportunities. Food banks. Shelters. Consider feeding those less fortunate.
- Encourage your children to design a menu, name placement cards, and help with meal planning, shopping, baking, and decorating.
- Click here for a We Are Thankful worksheet. This simple, fill-in worksheet can be distributed to dinner guests and family, or you can do it as part of school. We have a stack of these from previous years.
Here are some ideas our followers suggested on CHEA’s Facebook page:
- Allison recommended the Magic Tree House Thanksgiving book and supplement.
- Cecily shared a fun tradition of going geocaching on Thanksgiving.
- Susan said “On Thanksgiving, before we pray, our family goes around the table and each person says what they are most thankful for in the past year. For Christmas, no gifts go under the tree until the nativity is in its place (under the tree). A couple of years, we’ve waited until Christmas Eve. Also, a couple of years we served Thanksgiving meals at the homeless shelter rather than having a big dinner.”
- Lennette said, “I put a piece of copy paper up on refrigerator (you could do more fancy) with three holes punched in it beginning November 1 and all month long all of us write things on it, haphazardly all around, that we are thankful for. Then I put the paper in a binder and store it away in the buffet for the following years to remember and give thanks.”
- Katie said, “Every year we make ‘thankful leaves.’ We trace leaves or do leaf rubbings, cut them out, pass them around and write what we were thankful for on the other side. Then we make a “tree” out of paper bags or construction paper and place all the leaves.”
- Katie also suggested a pie baking day. “We used to have ‘pie day’ with my Grandma. She taught my girls how to make all sorts of pies. The year before she passed away, my sister joined us. Now, we have pie day with my sister and my girls. It’s a sweet tradition!”
- Chrissy said, “We make a thankful tree and use our handprints as leaves (we each have our own color) and add new “leaves” every Sunday. By Thanksgiving it looks amazing.”
The older I get, the more meaningful Christmas becomes to me. Family traditions can be a great source of comfort and peace to us and the kids. We listen to Handel’s Messiah and a lot of varied Christmas music throughout the season. We read lots of Christmas stories ranging from How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Nativity Story. We decorate the tree and practice the spirit of giving.
- The Gospel of Luke in the Bible account of Jesus’ birth.
- A Christmas Carol, although God is not central to this story, it provides cultural literacy and a heart-warming story that teaches many lessons. The Muppet Christmas Carol DVD is a fun spin on this, and a family favorite. Or you can get the radio theater audio version from Focus on the Family
- The Nativity book or others like it.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a favorite read-aloud in my house. Some very unlovable kids find the meaning of Christmas after bullying their way into the local church’s Christmas pageant with funny and poignant moments. Parents’ advisory–there may be a few words to manage here and a few things to explain.
- Every year I read the short story, “Our POW Christmas” to the kids from Christmas in My Heart Volume 13 book of short stories compiled by Joe E. Wheeler. The kids roll their eyes a little because it always makes me cry. I love this story of a missionary family giving each other simple yet extremely thoughtful gifts while in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during WWII.
- Box of Christmas books. Find all the Christmas books in the house and put them in a basket by the tree or couch.
- Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into Christmas by Jo Robinson was a resource recommended to us on CHEA’s Facebook.
- Recommended to us on Facebook multiple times were the three-book set of Christmas stories by Arnold Ytreeide including Bartholomew’s Passage and Jotham’s Journey.
Ideas other than reading:
- Advent calendars: Here’s an idea we like, recommended to us on Facebook by Lennette. “I love doing the Jesse Tree with my youngest son. A daily devotion goes from creation through the Gospel. Each devotion has an ornament that symbolizes the Bible story you read about. You place the ornament on a “Jesse Tree.”
- Have the kids write the annual family Christmas letter. One year our son wrote it from the cat’s perspective. We keep all of these in a folder each year. It’s our own little family history.
- Angel Tree. This program provides Christmas gifts to children of prisoners.
- World Vision or Compassion International gift catalog provides ideas for gifts your family can provide to people in need. I think it’s always good to model helping others who are less fortunate than us.
- Home School Foundation. Consider purchasing Christmas cards which go to support homeschoolers who have been widowed, have financial difficulties, or other emergency needs.
- Local Food banks are always in need of supplies. Provide some or spend some time volunteering there.
- Pinterest, once again, can provide thousands of craft ideas for those of you gifted in this area.
- Adventures in Odyssey Christmas Classics. We have about worn out our edition of this CD set.
- Handel’s Messiah CD or attend a production.
- Operation Christmas Child. Pack a box for a child overseas. See the Samaritan’s Purse website for complete packing and delivery information.
- JoEllen suggested this on Facebook: ”Instead of Operation Christmas Child our group does Operation Foster Child. We make up boxes similar to OCC and take them to the local group home for foster children. We contact the group home first to see how many children/teens they estimate they may have at Christmas. Last year we put a box together that would pretty much work for any age. The group home leader will also be able to supply ideas if you need them.”
- Christmas decorations. We have made it a point to let the kids make their own tree decorations and to proudly display them. There’s no perfect “Martha Stewart” tree at our house, but that’s ok. As a good friend once told me, and I paraphrase, “It’s just not a Christmas tree without the purple glitter-covered pretzel.” We store these in the same box with all the Christmas stuff. The older kids smile over their “great art” of yesteryear, and the younger ones continue to decorate.
Karen D. Koch is a homeschooling mom of four, including two high school graduates (June 2014, May 2016). She serves as CHEA’s Communications Assistant.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of the California Parent Educator and has been slightly revised and updated.