I've heard many people say that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Is that surprising? Though it's a holiday sandwiched between the increasingly popular Halloween and the overwhelmingly merchandised Christmas, Thanksgiving remains the holiday of "coming home." It's a holiday of rest—in stark contrast to the frenzy of obligation and spending that threatens to destroy the essence of Christmas.
Our national observance of Thanksgiving is unique. It is both distinctly Christian and exclusively American, a holiday for celebrating faith, family, and freedom.
Having majored in history in college, I've been concerned for years that "we the people" don't know and understand what Abraham Lincoln referred to when he began his famous Gettysburg address with the statement, "Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty … " I was determined that my children would hear the stories of the courageous men, women, and children who lived honorably and, through faith in God, made enormous sacrifices to secure freedom for us all.
I wanted them to understand God's sovereignty at work in the lives of our forefathers and His providential direction of their circumstances. For the Rainey family, Thanksgiving was not going to be just eating, hours of TV, naps, and leftover turkey sandwiches—followed by a stress-filled Friday of frantic Christmas shopping at the mall.
With my husband's help I initiated some new traditions into our Thanksgiving Day. The two more important ones are the reading of stories about the Pilgrims' journey of faith from England to the shores of Cape Cod and the recording and sharing of our family's personal blessings. As believers in Christ, we have so much to be thankful for and as Americans God has abundantly blessed our nation.
During the years when all our children were still at home, our family would travel to my parents' home for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Before we left our home, however, we enjoyed another tradition—a special brunch. Everyone wore his or her Sunday "dress up" clothes for the meal. The children made place cards, decorated the table, and set it with special plates and glasses. The brunch always included a special French toast that requires 45 minutes to bake.
While this meal was baking in the oven, we gathered around the table and began reading about the Pilgrims. I've always been impressed by the faith the Pilgrims demonstrated when they held the first Thanksgiving festival. Though they had suffered much while starting a new life in the new world, they also recognized that God had clearly and miraculously guided their steps. Though they had suffered much, their experience was remarkably better than others who had attempted to colonize on the American shores. Plymouth had lost 50 percent of its numbers, but Jamestown in Virginia had lost 90 percent. The Plymouth settlers had successfully built a little community and grown crops to provide for themselves, while other colonies were totally dependent on supplies from England. Yes, God blessed them abundantly, and they sincerely offered Him their thanks and praise.
Just before our family began eating our Thanksgiving brunch, we would all write (on special place cards) five things for which we were thankful to God. On each of our plates were five kernels of corn—a reminder of the Pilgrims' daily ration during one of their first difficult winters. As we ate, we passed a basket around the table, each person placed one kernel of corn at a time into the basket and told of one thing for which he or she was thankful. The basket went around the table five times.
I've saved all of these place cards as reminders of how God has worked in our lives. Here, for example, are some of the things our children wrote a number of years ago on one Thanksgiving:
"I'm thankful for being able to have a family."
"I'm thankful Ashley got to come home from college for Thanksgiving."
"I'm thankful for having a big sister."
"I'm thankful for God in my life."
"I'm thankful for my ministry at my high school."
"I'm thankful for my sisters and all they've taught me about relationships."
"I'm thankful I got to shoot a deer!"
"I'm thankful for a great brother."
Dennis and I were thrilled to hear the kids actually thank God for each other! After so many years of arguing and fighting with each other, they were finally beginning to show each other the affection we hope will continue through their lives.
That year we also were touched by something our son Samuel wrote: "I'm thankful for my muscular dystrophy." He had been diagnosed with the disease earlier in the year, and we had been through some wrenching, emotional months. While Dennis and I had prayed aloud many times, thanking God by faith for how He would use this disease in all our lives, this was the first time we heard Samuel express this sentiment.
It was a big step of faith for him. And it provided another sign that our children were truly learning the authentic spirit of Thanksgiving.
As you plan your family's Thanksgiving this year, you might want to try something like the simple routine I've described. To help you, I've written a book called Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember that helps tell the story of the Pilgrims and their faith in our sovereign God. It is written so it can appeal to children of different ages.
Part of this article was adapted from Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, copyright 2002.