by Alexi Wilbourn

Thanksgiving is more than juicy turkey, cornbread stuffing and fresh pumpkin pie topped with the perfect dollop of whipped cream. It’s more than waking up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in cozy pajamas or cheering on the big game. Enhance your own Thanksgiving this holiday by establishing new family traditions that are all about showing gratitude and celebrating togetherness. Holiday celebrations remind us that there’s a time to work and a time to enjoy leisure activities, says Dr. Shay Thomas, Atlanta marriage and family therapist. Holidays are “good times to slow down and get out of the monotony of the day-to-day routine.”


Lend a Hand

Eight-year-old Christopher Dugger embraces the tradition of volunteering during the holiday season, even saying, “Mommy, we should go help,” when he sees someone in need on television. His mom, Rebecca Daniel Dugger of Ellenwood, has been volunteering with her children during the holiday season for the past 10 years.
“My husband and I are very thankful for the things we have and think of the holiday season as a time to give back and spread good will,” Dugger says. Her oldest kids, now 20 and 21, really enjoy their experiences with volunteering. Their work has included helping their church provide meals to those in nursing homes, as well as efforts with the Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless organization.
Volunteering is a great way to remind your family of the importance of the holiday. Chances are, no matter what financial or emotional situations your family may encounter, there is at least one person in this world worse off than you. Although you may initially hear a few groans and moans from the kids, volunteering is a way to open your children’s eyes and point out that they have many things for which to be thankful.
Hailing from a large extended family, Thomas has certain members in her family who every year spend the first half of Thanksgiving Day volunteering. She says that doing this enhances the true meaning of the holiday. It also says to your kids, “here are these families that don’t have the means and we can just go home and be with our family [unlike them],” she says.
Volunteering also gives children and families an opportunity to serve their community and feel the positive emotional rewards that only come with doing something good for others out of the kindness of your heart.
If you feel uncomfortable bringing your young children to volunteer at a shelter, cook a dish or bring canned goods to donate to a local food pantry or soup kitchen. Jeni Stephens, founder of PebbleTossers, an organization that matches kids with service projects, advises not waiting until last minute to decide to pitch in.
The holiday season is about thoughtfulness. There’s no better way for your kids to show they care than baking delicious fudge brownies and hand-delivering to someone special. Be sure to attach a note of good cheer.
If your family is feeling ambitious, call an assisted living facility or nursing home. Ask if you can bring baked goods or other treats for a group of the residents. Turn your kitchen into a bakery and whip up some tasty baked goods. Or gather the family around the kitchen table and make handmade crafts to bring.
Do you have an elderly neighbor whose yard needs raking? Your kids can show up sometime before Thanksgiving – or on the holiday itself – and surprise that neighbor by sprucing up the yard. Maybe that neighbor’s fence could use a new coat of paint. These are just two ideas to get you thinking about what’s possible.
Stephens’ family has “adopted” an elderly woman, “Ms. Barbara,” for whom they cook holiday dinner for every year, delivering it as a family to her house. “It brings so much joy to her,” Stephens says, “It’s not just about the food, it’s about taking that time out of our day to go visit with her.”


Make Memories

The holiday season is particularly close to the heart of Maxine Foster, mother of three girls. At age 10, she, her siblings, and her parents were all separated in Jamaica due to various challenges and hardships.
Thanksgiving is one of the only times of the year when her entire family, now all in the United States, is reunited for a moment of celebration, “I love my family and when we are together, it is the happiest moment for my mom and me to see them smile, laugh and hug, even when some are [usually] afraid to show their emotions,” Foster says.
Because the broader family is multi-cultural, Foster’s mother cooks up everything from Italian to Haitian to Jamaican food to create a family celebration that suits and includes everyone.
Besides celebrating the importance of togetherness, the family has a tradition of forming a circle, signifying unity that will not be broken, even when they’re far away from each other. Some of the younger children then take turns performing in the center of the circle. After sharing original songs, creative dances, hugs and laughter, the whole brood dines on the immense feast.
Like Foster’s family, the Yates family of Alpharetta has its own way of cherishing family members and celebrating togetherness. They look forward to reading and reflecting on the handprints and messages they have put every year on a special tablecloth they use just for Thanksgiving. Each year, the family traces onto the tablecloth one hand of everyone – from infants to great-grandparents – gathered around the table for that holiday feast. Those gathered write the five things for which they are most thankful inside each finger of their handprint outline.
“It is amazing to see how much the children have grown through the years, as well as to remember our loved ones who are no longer with us,” says mom Kim Yates. Some of those who are gone “counted us among their most special blessings.” She cherishes being able to see her grandfather’s handprint on her Thanksgiving tablecloth. He is no longer alive, but every year Yates can look at the size of his hand, and read of the things for which he was thankful.
Another way to enhance your holiday memories: Take the time to sit down and plan an activity with your family. Thomas recommends having everyone write down five or 10 questions that they would like family members to answer. Draw them at random. Two questions she suggests: “When was the last time you laughed?” and “What are you most proud of?” This gives family members a chance to connect on a deeper level and discuss things that may be overlooked in everyday life.
So while you may already have a familiar and lovely routine at Thanksgiving – brunch at 10 a.m., turkey at 3 p.m. – ask yourself: “Is our Thanksgiving as memorable as it could be?”

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