When we think of Thanksgiving Day, delicious food, football and getting together with family and friends come to mind. The original purpose of Thanksgiving was to show gratitude and give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Now, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, it is easy to get caught up in distractions like football games, Black Friday shopping and the quest for the perfect meal and table settings. We tend to forget all about stopping to give thanks for all of our blessings. Make this Thanksgiving meaningful by starting some family traditions that help everyone in the family stop and count their blessings.

Make a list

One way to remember your blessings is to acknowledge them. Go around the dinner table and have each person name something they are thankful for. This could be done each night at dinner during the month of November or for the week leading up to it. On Thanksgiving Day, have all your guests do the same. It is heartwarming to give thanks for the blessings we have. Looking for a more concrete idea? Have everyone write down or draw a picture of what they are thankful for. After everyone shares their paper, place them all in a three-ring binder. Each year, add to the binder and reflect on all the blessings of the past. “We do a Thankful Tree throughout November,” says Stephanie Loux, mom of three. “I draw a tree to tape on our pantry door, and the kids cut out leaves from construction paper. Each night, we all write one thing we are thankful for on a leaf and tape it to the tree. Kids can be grateful for a variety of things, from butterflies to Elsa. We look forward to this tradition every year.”

Donate to charity

The holiday season is approaching, and many kids will receive new items as gifts. In anticipation, have the kids help clean their closets and toy boxes and set aside items they no longer need. Donate gently used toys and clothing to a local charity or family in need. This process will not only reduce clutter around the house, but it will also teach the kid to be generous to those who are less fortunate than they are.  In the same spirit, talk with your kids about how some people may not have coats, hats or gloves to keep them warm during the cold winter months. As a family, collect hats, coats, scarves, gloves and blankets to donate to a homeless shelter. Gather items you may have in your home that you are no longer using and ask friends and family to do the same. Go to the store and have the kids pick out items they would like to give to another child their age.

Take a break

Have each family member take a break from a luxury they enjoy. Ideas may include dessert, manicures, coffee, soda or a favorite video game or TV show. This exercise reminds us to be grateful for the luxuries that are otherwise taken for granted.

Family service project

Set aside time to do a service project as a family. Ideas may include cleaning up trash in a local park, working at a food pantry, purchasing items for a Thanksgiving meal and delivering them to a family in need, organizing a book drive for a local children’s hospital or adopting a family for the holidays. When you volunteer as a family, kids see you helping others and are more likely to continue serving as an adult. Serving in an area that your children are already interested in helps create excitement for the project. If your child loves to play at the park, plant flowers or pick up litter to help maintain its beauty. If they love crafts, make blankets for a homeless shelter. There are many possibilities for children of any age and skill level.

Gather together

Encourage the kids to think of friends and neighbors who may not have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving and invite them to come over for dinner. Discuss the importance of hospitality and welcoming others into your home. If you are not hosting Thanksgiving, consider hosting a brunch the following day and opening your home to friends and family.

Little helpers

Thanksgiving dinner preparation is a lot of work. Having the kids help prepare dinner and clean up for company will teach them how much work really goes into preparing a large meal like Thanksgiving dinner. This will teach them appreciation for the work that goes into a holiday meal and also encourage a good work ethic at a young age.

This Thanksgiving, take time to remember what Thanksgiving really means. It’s not about Black Friday deals or endless football. It’s about giving thanks for what we have, sharing with and serving others and celebrating with those we love.

Opportunities to serve with your kids

  • Organize a collection drive – ideas include coats, blankets, toys or clothing to donate to those in need

  • Fill the food pantry – Take the kids shopping for favorite non-perishable food items and/or go door to door in your neighborhood to collect items to donate to a local food pantry

  • Offer to run errands for homebound neighbor or friend

  • Bake cookies for friends or neighbors or take them to the local police or fire station

  • Send care packages, cards and letters to soldiers overseas

  • Draw pictures for seniors and deliver them to an assisted living center

  • Volunteer at an animal shelter

  • Plant flowers or trees

  • Clean up the school grounds or a local park

  • Have a lemonade stand or garage sale and donate proceeds to your favorite charity