We usually associate Thanksgiving with the early Pilgrim settlers to our country, but in fact the origins of this holiday are much broader. Pilgrims celebrated many days of thanksgiving for a variety of reasons (such as good harvests), just as they celebrated days of fasting for disasters (such as floods or plagues). Many other countries and cultures have harvest festivals or other days when they give thanks for all the good things with which they have been blessed. Some of the most passionate fans of our American Thanksgiving are not families who can trace their roots back to the Mayflower, but proud recent immigrants eager to embrace the traditions of their new home.
Keeping in mind the origins and the diversity of the holiday, we should occasionally re-examine why we are celebrating, and how. Holidays all too often become stressful or commercialized when we fail to reflect on the real meaning they hold for us. For those of us who have children, it’s particularly important to make holidays teachable moments. Rather than rushing to the store and loading up on twice what you need or can afford, why not go back to the basics this year?
Ask your children well before the big day what they are thankful for. Have each child—and adult!—write up a list. Then think together about ways you can celebrate those particular blessings. At the same time, let go of aspects of the holiday that are not meaningful, or maybe even detract from what you are celebrating.
For example, perhaps you are thankful that Granddad, who recently had a heart attack, is now recovered. His cholesterol was previously high, but now that he’s exercising and watching his diet, his health is actually better than before. Maybe it’s time to go over the menu and plan dishes that contribute to good health. Are there processed items that could instead be made from scratch?
Heart-healthy versions of old favorites? Challenge your children to re-think the menu and everyone will benefit.
Or perhaps Mom has managed to stick to her New Year’s resolution to lose weight. She’s found a yoga class she loves and watched her calories, and it shows. Thanksgiving dinner can still be an enjoyable feast without sabotaging all her hard work. Plan a bountiful menu, but use smaller platters, serving implements, glasses and plates. Keep serving bowls off the table. You’ll save money and feel better at the same time if you keep portion sizes reasonable.
Young children are often thankful for a favorite toy or activity. Explain to them that not all kids are as fortunate as they are. Ask them if they would like to brighten another child’s day with a toy or a game. Perhaps you could identify a charitable organization in your community or through your child’s school which accepts gently-used items or gifts of money to purchase new toys.
Most children, when asked what they’re thankful for, will mention family as well. Although adults all too often dread getting together with certain relatives, kids usually don’t have the same issues. For most kids, the more the merrier! So put aside any differences you might have with bossy older siblings or nosy in-laws and make some memories for your children.
You might also talk with your children about the loneliness others feel who have no one to celebrate with. Is there an elderly neighbor you might include in your own festivities? An exchange student who isn’t familiar with Thanksgiving? A friend whose family lives too far away for her to visit?
Or perhaps, instead of inviting other folks in, you might take part of your celebration out of the home. Does your community have a shelter or food pantry that could use volunteers? Children old enough to drive could help deliver meals for a local non-profit. Or the family could drop by a hospital or nursing home to visit a resident who isn’t able to leave.
Some of the most formative experiences in a child’s life are small but powerful moments like these. Holidays don’t have to be expensive to be memorable. Let’s give thanks for that!
Being Thankful for What You’ve Got
While your family thinks about all their blessings, consider thinking about ways you may incorporate some philanthropic givebacks with your household’s finances. To learn more or access helpful materials, speak with a local financial professional or visit www.massmutual.com/family.
Sarah Tolson, Certified Financial Planner™ and Founder of Girls Just Gotta Have Funds, is passionate about helping women and families create customized wealth-building plans tailored to their goals and life circumstances. As a second generation financial planner, Sarah’s vision is to inspire women to make their dreams a reality! Sarah is offering the readers of Active Kids Directory a complimentary one-hour financial consultation and would like to extend an invitation to her monthly Wine, Women & Wealth workshop. Please call her at (925) 736-3024 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.