November is just a few short weeks away. And that means it’s time for me to ramble around in the depths of my basement and pull out the holiday tree. No, not that tree: The Christmas tree won’t make an appearance around here until the turkey and stuffing have filled my tummy and the leftovers are stowed away in the fridge.
The tree I pull out each year in late October is our family Thanksgiving tree. It’s a fun little tradition I started several years ago, when my kids were quite little and my days were full of board books, car seats, and toys that make way too much noise.
(Seriously. Why does the toy have to sound like the animal or car? Aren’t our kids supposed to develop genius by making their own animal/car sounds? But I digress.)
I started the Thanksgiving tree tradition as a way to teach my kids about gratitude and give a visual picture of our family’s many blessings. Though my kids are now approaching the eye-rolling years of adolescence, I still go through the same spiel every year, explaining the meaning behind our Thanksgiving tree and why we practice this little tradition:
The Meaning of the Thanksgiving Tree
The Bare Tree: “See this bare tree, guys? Doesn’t it look kind of harsh and ugly without any leaves on it? That’s what a life looks like without any gratitude in it. When we don’t take time to remember how God’s blessed us, our hearts start to look like this tree. They can become ugly with greed and selfishness.”
The Leaves: “See all these colorful leaves? They represent all the wonderful little things God puts in our lives to bless us. Every day, God has provided enough to get us through another day. And he gives us so much more than just our basic needs: He’s filled our lives with special people, helpful things, and fun experiences that fill our life with joy.”
Hanging the Leaves: “Let’s write down some of the things we’re thankful for on these leaves and hang them on the tree. Notice how the tree looks more and more colorful and beautiful as we fill it up with the leaves? That’s what happens to us when we take time to thank God for our blessings. Gratitude makes our lives more beautiful and bright.”
“Gratitude makes our lives more beautiful and bright. It fills our hearts with color.”
After this little explanation, which I usually give at the beginning of November, each person writes down something they’re thankful for on a leaf and hangs it on the Thanksgiving tree. We continue to write down blessings and add leaves to the tree every day throughout the month.
It’s been such a sweet tradition to carry on through the years. As my kids grew, we shifted from Mom and Dad writing down thanksgivings for them to seeing their own blocky handwriting filling upthe leaves. It’s been fun to see which blessings make an annual appearance (I always add a leaf for “popcorn” and “books”) and which new blessings have “sprouted” along the way (“dance class” for my daughter, “Nintendo” for my son.)
And much as I love the evergreen wonders and holiday music of Christmas–I think this little Thanksgiving tradition might be my family favorite.
Would you like to start a tradition of gratitude in your own family?
Or maybe you’d like to bring the idea to your office, school, or church. Try creating a Thanksgiving tree of your own this year! I’m including simple instructions for how I made my tree below. Just remember: It doesn’t have to be anything fancy–you can even use a few branches from the back yard and simple circles of colorful paper to get started.
I hope your family has a wonderful time filling your home with the beautiful colors of gratitude this Thanksgiving season!
- branches (real or fake)
- vase or flower pot
- florist foam
- autumn colored scrapbook papers
- leaf-shaped punch (*If you don’t have a punch, you can cut small circles or buy pre-cut leaves)
- glue/glue stick
- spanish moss (optional)
How to Make:
1: Cut the florist foam to fit the bottom of your vase/flowerpot. Place the foam snugly inside the vase and add the branches. (I reinforced my branches with some wadded paper around the edges. Super high-tech, I know. But it made the branches more stable in the vase.) Cover the top of the pot with spanish moss if desired.
2: Use the leaf punch to cut out leaves of various colors. *Alternative: If you don’t have a leaf punch on hand, you can cut simple circles instead. Another option is to purchase pre-punched paper or foam leaves at your local craft store.
3: Cut 4″ lengths of twine. Attach to the base of each leaf using a glue stick.
4: Start jotting down the things you’re thankful for and hang them on the tree!
Happy Thanksgiving Friends. I hope we all find quiet moments to truly soak in God’s grace this holiday season and remember the many ways He’s been faithful to us during the past year.