Beyond the Food: Thanksgiving Rituals to Create Memories

Thanksgiving Rituals to Create Memories

Here are some new Thanksgiving rituals to bring extra meaning and flavor to your holiday from Nina Simone.

We have all had that moment. We spent hours preparing and then minutes eating, and then hours cleaning up. After so much anticipation and work, Thanksgiving, our yearly celebration of gratitude and family, can leave us feeling like something is missing. But often, tired, and filled up with turkey and stuffing, we are not sure what else we could possibly add.

Thanksgiving Rituals to Create Meaning and Memories

Food Writer Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story, uses the phrase Empty Celebration Syndrome (ECS) to describe that unshakable feeling that something is missing, even when each and every detail is perfect. And Jenny Rosenstrach, master of the family dinner, fears contracting ECS most with Thanksgiving! So, if you have suffered from ECS, fear suffering from ECS, or love every moment of Thanksgiving but just want to love it even more, read on for some small Thanksgiving rituals that create meaning and build memories beyond the gastrointestinal ones…

Take Notes of Past Thanksgiving Rituals

In her book “How to Celebrate Everything” Rosentrach suggests taking notes on the feast as a great way to remember what was done, what could be done better, and what should not be done again. Whether it be in diary form, or holiday journal, or just a legal pad you keep with the cookbooks, over the years you will build a treasury of details. This will help you remember food preferences and how many pies were too many, but more so, reading the notes,  year after year, can provide great opportunities for reflection and laughter, and “oh I do remember that pie that caved in!” moments.

Gratitude Activity

We are often accustomed to going around the table and stating what we are thankful for…but take a creative turn by offering a Thanksgiving Mad lib for guests to fill out with each other and then read aloud. Or collect gratitude offerings on slips of paper to be read aloud at the table, allowing guests to guess to whom they belong.

Table Prayer

My daughter’s preschool sends home a Thanksgiving table liturgy with a single candle to light. This is a simple way to pause for a longer quiet moment before the meal. Assigning roles to the prayer beforehand gives guests a way to contribute and produces a more collective experience. There are a number of Table Prayers specifically designated for Thanksgiving, or consider writing your own as a host or as a group.

Say Something to Name the Moment

This role does not have to fall on the host, but someone who is willing should offer a few words contextualizing the meal. That’s the way-too-many-syllables- way of saying that though yes, Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated throughout the United States,  around your table, Thanksgiving is happening in a very particular way with this particular group of people. What does Thanksgiving mean here, today, this year?

Often this involves naming certain realities that do not feel light. Don’t be afraid of that. Remember, on the first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims gathered with only half of the group that had first arrived in Plymouth. Realities are around us, naming them does not give them more power, it releases tension. And then you get to eat.

New Thanksgiving Rituals: Improv Hour

Do you have a gaggle of young cousins or a friend coming to your table? Consider giving them a project and some props or costumes. Preparing a sketch on Thanksgiving or – depending on your Creative Types – the topic of their choice occupies the group while final preparations are done and entertains turkey-satiated adults after dinner, creating meaning and memory on Thanksgiving.

New Thanksgiving Rituals: Improv Hour

Choosing a Thanksgiving ritual relies heavily on the culture of the group gathering. Is this a group that wants to sing together? Would costumes be weird? 🙂 Would these guests appreciate a chance to pray or share or would they feel put on the spot? Think through your holiday dynamics and build collaboration beforehand. Greeting everyone at the door with “SURPRISE! Today we’ll be sharing a high and low from each month of the year before we can eat” may not create the meaning and memories you had hoped.

Be committed to creating a ritual – America’s Favorite Holiday feels like an enduring sweet spot in a culture overcome with busy-ness and buying. Celebrate being around the table together, with each other, once again. Don’t leave with a full tummy, feeling empty.

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