5 Fun-filled Ways to Put the Thanks Back in Thanksgiving

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

This marks the last in a three-post series on gratitude. Click here for part I and here for II.

This Thursday, we will celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. The very first nationwide proclamation of a day of Prayer and Thanksgiving was made by George Washington on November 26 in 1789 to “with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”

Since then, Thanksgiving has morphed into a different kind of observance, one punctuated by football, turkey and day-after mega sales.

In fact, most of our special days seem to have become special only by virtue of the days off with family, a special meal, the Turkey Bowl and special discounts on our favorite electronic gadgets at the local electronics store.

But the original intent, the holy part of the holiday, its significance, deeper meaning and importance, has largely been squeezed out of the celebration. It’s not helped by a public education system that is fanatical in its belief that the public sector needs to be sterilized of anything smelling at all of religious historical relevance.

And so Christmas has become Wintermas and Easter has become Spring Break and Thanksgiving has become Turkey Day—no more inherently meaningful than summer vacation or April Fools.

But life needs traditions that point and direct and remind and recommit us to higher things. Thanksgiving can serve such a purpose.

Following are 5 practical and fun and meaningful ways your Thanksgiving Holiday can once again become a day we teach our children and remind ourselves of something more important, lasting and happiness-promoting than watching football and eating a nearly flightless bird.

5 Practical, Fun-filled Ways to add more Gratitude to your Thanksgiving Celebration

1. Create a Gratitude Tree

Step 1: Draw a large leafless tree on construction paper or poster paper with branches arching outward and down toward the floor.

Step 2: Cut out orange, yellow and brown construction paper leaves big enough to write on.

Step 3: Pass out pens and ask family and friends to write what they are grateful for on the leaves and tape them to the tree.

  • For a twist, designate certain colors as repeatable basics (family, faith, friends) and other colors as unique unrepeatable things family members are grateful for.
  • Or colors can be divided between age groups or between women and men (or however you would like to subdivide? A contest can be held to see which group comes up with the most unique. Participants can be given a certain number of leaves and each person privately writes what they’re grateful for.
  • After taping them to the tree, repeatable items can be crossed off a list and those that are unique counted up and a “winner” proclaimed (all in the spirit of fun, of course).
  • You can also go around the room for everyone to briefly explain why they are grateful for the unique items they wrote on the leaves.

2. Create a Gratitude Box

  1. Get an old shoe box or a bag of one kind or another and pass out one 3×5 index card to each person in attendance.
  2. Instruct each person to write 5 or 10 things they are grateful for (or whatever the set number is you decide on).
  3. Gather the cards and shake them up in the box or bag.
  4. Then randomly pull a card and read what was written.
  5. Based on the things people wrote they were grateful for, go around the room giving each person a chance to guess whose card it was.
  6. Repeat until all cards have been guessed.

3. Express Gratitude by Service

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, children’s hospital or retirement home.
  • As a family, create Thanksgiving baskets and deliver them to the hungry or lonely.
  • Write thank-you cards to neighbors, family members, teachers, service providers, anyone who has done you a good turn or for whom you are grateful. This has the added benefit of having to think about what others have done that you’re grateful for.

The key here is that whatever it is you do, do it as a family. Friends, of course, can always be included.

4. Have a Dedicated Day of Gratitude

  • Establish Thanksgiving (or any other day) as a day you will only expressing gratitude. Fill prayers with gratitude. Fill conversations with it. Be particularly expressive of your appreciation for doors held open, dishes passed at the dinner table and kind words expressed.

5. Play Gratitude Round Robin

  1. Each person takes a turn expressing one thing they are grateful for.
  2. Everyone else in the room then has to state something they are grateful for that is not the thing just stated, but related to it.
  3. The next person states something different than has been said originally and different than the related things people said they were grateful for (This can usually be accomplished by getting more specific with the general topic).
  4. Continue until everyone has had a turn at expressing something they’re grateful for.

It will likely get progressively challenging to come up with new items people are grateful for, forcing players to think outside the box, extending their awareness of things they are thankful for.


Round I

Player One: “I’m grateful for my family” (the general theme or topic)

Related (or more specific) topics:

  • Player Two: “I’m grateful Mom did so much to teach us kids how to cook and balance a budget”
  • Player Three: “I’m thankful for brothers I can look up to”
  • Player Four: “I’m thankful our kids grew up to be such amazing people”
  • Player five: “I’m so glad we have a Dad who worked hard to clothe us and redirect us when we acted dumb”

Round II

Player Two now goes first

Player Two: “I’m thankful for freedom”

  • Player Three: “I’m thankful for the right to speak my mind”
  • Player Four: “I’m grateful we live in a country that protects a free press”
  • Player Five: “I’m glad our parents always cared about our thoughts and opinions and let us tell them what we truly thought”
  • Player One: “I’m thankful for the right to choose our own paths in life”

And so on…


We can talk all day about the importance of infusing holidays with meaning, making Thanksgiving a day of truly connecting with gratitude for all our blessings—both the obvious and hidden. But we can nod our heads all day long at the recognition of the need to start without ever doing anything to actually start.

So today, I thought I would put together a more practical post than I usually write to provide some ideas for specific ways to get straight to the work of so infusing.

Hope this serves you well and you begin (if you haven’t already begun) to add a deeper level or profundity to your Thanksgiving celebration this year.


I would love to know what you do to fill your life with more gratitude and your holidays with more significance and your Thanksgiving with more thanks. Let us know your traditions and practices in the comments below (whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not).