By Jan Roberts
Traditional celebrations are a wonderful part of childhood, providing young children with an important sense of security and predictability. Children become excited as special holidays such as Thanksgiving approach, and they anticipate the same foods, fun and festivities remembered from years past.
Children thrive on being able to count on traditional Thanksgiving memories - the taste of Grandma's pumpkin pie with the ruffled crust, the way Uncle Bud always makes a gobble gobble sound when the turkey is placed on the table, and the fun games cousins play after the meal, or a multi-family hike in the woods to collect brightly colored leaves. These memories will be remembered and cherished for years to come!
Nowadays, Thanksgiving is in danger of becoming a hurried blip before the onset of Christmas. Before Halloween's hallowed eve is over and the Snickers bars are gone, red and green have already appeared on store shelves. Starbucks is not far behind with red holiday cups and peppermint mocha frappaccinos. But wait - before moving into the panic of the holidays, let's pause for giving thanks, and include our children in the process.
Gratefully, Thanksgiving remains a non-commercial and fairly pure American holiday, requiring the simple trio of food, football and family. For children, not yet distracted by making wish lists for Christmas, this is an opportunity to bask in the love of a caring family and store rich memories for the future.
Actually involving children in the preparation for Thanksgiving is a great way to make a mostly adult event more child-friendly. For young, active children, waiting for the turkey to cook, listening to endless adult chatter and watching an afternoon of football may not seem quite exciting enough. With some planning ahead, children can be included in more aspects of the day's preparation, giving them a sense of helpful participation and purposefulness.
Assign jobs in the kitchen to involve the children - help Grandpa mash the potatoes, put the rolls in the basket, and fill the nut cups to put by each place. Before the meal, children can help decorate the table, make name cards to assign seating, and fill the water glasses.
An activity table set up in an out-of-the-way room will give children a place to escape to if they tire of football games or adult conversation. Include colored paper, glue, scissors, stickers, etc., and also some new coloring books or reading material. Set out board games and a new puzzle for indoor fun, and a croquet game available for letting off steam
Many excellent children's books are currently available that provide the historical background of the pilgrims' treacherous Mayflower crossing and their agonizing first winter. By reading these books with children, parents can impart the valuable lessons of religious freedom, courage, persistence, resourcefulness, passion of belief and friendship.
Children may be interested to learn the origin of the holiday. It was first instituted by George Washington "...that we may all unite in rendering unto God our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country". Although New Englanders responded to the president's invitation, the rest of the country eventually fell out of the habit of celebrating Thanksgiving.
The story of Sarah Hale, a bold American author and patriot, and mother of five young children, is told in a charming book called "Thank You, Sarah" by Laurie Anderson. Children will enjoy learning how Sarah lobbied to restore Thanksgiving by appealing unsuccessfully to four presidents before she convinced Abraham Lincoln to reinstate the celebration as a way to unify the country after the Civil War.
It pays to think ahead about what children might enjoy on Thanksgiving Day, and to come prepared. Reminding them in advance about who will be at this year's feast, and how various people are related to one another will make them feel more comfortable as well.
Most important, the season of Thanksgiving gives parents the opportunity to teach their children how to pause and recognize the blessings of another year. Include children in verbalizing what they are thankful for, along with adults, before the meal begins.
In this way, parents will encourage an attitude of gratitude that hopefully will be practiced year round. Parents who take the time to require habitual appreciation likely will not produce children who end up with an attitude of entitlement or ungratefulness. What a lot we have to be thankful for!
A child-friendly Thanksgiving celebration will fill children with warm memories, to be remembered and cherished for years to come. Eventually, these same children will leave home with well loved traditions to re-establish in college dorms, first apartments and newlywed nests. Thanksgiving - good food, good football, good family time. And it all comes back like magic with the passing aroma of Grandma's pumpkin pie.