Remembering Thanksgiving is especially important in what becomes an over-commercialized season of the year. As we seek to redeem every holiday with our children by pointing them to God and all He has done for us, Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday in which to honor God. Its history is of a people who desired to venerate God in every aspect of their lives, so we can start by teaching our children the history of the Pilgrims, the journey on the Mayflower, and Plymouth Plantation. The history of the holiday in America starts with the story of the Separatists (later called Pilgrims). After leaving England to enjoy religious liberty in Holland, they decided to further separate themselves from worldliness by coming to a new country. After reaching Massachusetts instead of the Virginia colony when storms blew them north, they decided to stay in Massachusetts and settled Plymouth. They suffered through a difficult first year, but with the help of Squanto, they were able to plant and harvest. At the end of their first year, the Natives and Pilgrims celebrated together in what we now call the first Thanksgiving. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. Check out our book recommendations later on in this post.
More importantly, Thanksgiving is a time when we can model for our children gratitude to God. Why is it important to show giving thanks?
- It is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus and is a characteristic virtue of the child of God. “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
- Giving thanks is a form of worshiping, glorifying, and honoring God as we see in Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” Consider also Westminster Shorter Catechism #1: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
- Thankfulness is a facet of the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, KJV) Taking the Lord’s name in vain means considering his character lightly or not giving Him his due glory. Thus, if we are not giving thanks to God in all circumstances, we are taking his name in vain.
- Being grateful cultivates a heart of contentment. When we take time to be thankful for all of our blessings, we gain an eternal perspective that keeps us from grumbling about what we wish we had. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
- Gratitude toward God is not found in the lives of unbelievers and is their distinguishing sin. Thus, ingratitude is foolish. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:21-22)
- God hates grumbling but those who are thankful are a witness of the gospel. God punished Korah in his rebellious grumbling against Him (Numbers 16). But when we “do everything without grumbling or arguing, [we] may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then [we] will shine among them like stars in the sky as [we] hold firmly out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16)
What does it mean for us to give thanks? Thanksgiving is giving due appreciation to God on account of who He is and what He has done!
Who is God that we should thank Him?
“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” (WSC #4) He is the Creator (Genesis 1), Sovereign Lord of the Universe (Deuteronomy 3:24), the Word made flesh (John 1:1-14), love Himself (1 John 4:8), holy (Isaiah 6:3), our Shepherd (Psalm 23), and our Rock and Deliverer (Psalm 18:2). He is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9), righteous and just (Psalm 50:6), strong and mighty (Deuteronomy 3:24), powerful (Joshua 4:24), victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57), patient (2 Peter 3:9), kind (Romans 2:4), merciful (Daniel 9:9), gracious, compassionate, and slow to anger (Psalm 86:15). This is just the beginning of God’s amazing character!
What has He done that we should thank Him?
In his common grace to all men, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45), He is kind to all men, even the ungrateful and wicked (Luke 6:35), He sustains all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3), He shows his kindness, forbearance and patience in order to lead sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4), provides food and joy (Acts 14:17), gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). To His children, He sent His Son to die on the cross that we might have eternal life (John 3:16), He works all things together for the good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and He richly provides everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). These are a few of the scriptural acts of God to meditate on, but we each have hundreds of personal examples of God’s goodness in our lives. Shall we not contemplate them and be thankful?
Here is a great sermon with some of this information! https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=108161811372
It is God’s will for us to give thanks at all times, not just Thanksgiving, but we can create traditions and memories on this special day that help us to focus on God and remember to be thankful throughout the year. Some of the traditions that we’ve enjoyed over the years include a few fun activities and a few which focus on truly giving thanks.
- Our kids love to dress up, so we have a pilgrim hat, a native costume, and for super cute pictures, each child has a Thanksgiving Turkey Headband. Sign up to get your free pattern.
- We often make crafts as decorations for Thanksgiving too. One of our favorite decorations are turkey placemats that we made from some of the colorful changing leaves we collected on a fall walk. (Fall walks are a fantastic time to enjoy God’s creation and to learn to identify trees. Check out our book recommendations later on in this post.: We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt, Leaf Man, Why Do Leaves Change Color?, What Tree is That?) We ironed the leaves between two layers of wax paper to preserve them, cut a turkey body from construction paper, then lay the leaves in a pattern to create fanned tail feathers. We place all of this between two layers of clear contact paper for a placemat that can endure spills and resist stains!
- Toilet paper roll crafts: We have crafted terrific turkeys or Pilgrims and Natives from toilet paper rolls!
- Pumpkin Turkey: You can paint a pumpkin as a turkey, or we got wooden decorations which have rods that attach to the pumpkin to create a turkey face and tail feathers. We got ours at Hobby Lobby or you can get a set from Amazon here.
Activities/Crafts for Focusing on Giving Thanks
- Thanksgiving Hand Turkey: Our favorite toddler and preschool giving thanks activity was making a handprint by tracing our hands or by painting our hands (each finger and the palm are a different color) and creating a handprint. This becomes the turkey, so we draw a face on it. Then we write on the paper: “Thanksgiving 20__ (year)” “I am thankful for:” The children list all the things they are thankful for, and if they are too young to write, we write their ideas for them.
- Thanksgiving Tree: We cut out hand, feet or leaf shapes in various colors from construction paper. On each, we write something we are thankful for. We hang these on a large flat “trunk” created from brown construction paper on a wall or we get a leafless branch from the backyard to hang the “leaves of thanks” off of like ornaments.
- Thanksgiving Chain Garland: We cut strips of colored paper and write something we’re thankful for on each strip. Then we create a chain that we can hang for a Thanksgiving decoration. Later, we transfer this to the Christmas tree.
- Thanksgiving Journal: When our children were old enough to read the Bible on their own daily, we also gave them a notebook in which to write five things they are thankful for.
- Thank You Notes: Thanksgiving is a perfect time to learn to write thank you notes. This is becoming a lost art, but what a way to bless other people. It is proper etiquette to send thank you notes for gifts, but why not bless those in our children’s lives with thank you notes for being a teacher or pastor or to dad for working hard for our family…?
Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday that often gets overlooked. Instead of treating Thanksgiving like Black Friday Eve in the anticipation to get “good deals” as consumers and so usher in the commercialism of Christmas, let’s take advantage of this day to focus on gratitude and our many blessings and teach our children the enduring value of thanksgiving everyday!
For fall walks:
For younger children:
For older children:
For source documents:
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All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®, Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica Inc.™ unless otherwise indicated. Used by permission of Zondervan.