Charles Schultz of “Peanuts” fame described many modern-day Thanksgivings when he observed, “…over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house … except she’s moved to an apartment.”
It’s not hard for most adults to recall fond memories of visits with grandparents on this special holiday. Yet, for many families today, grandparents live so far away that children must rely on parents to enrich their holidays. This can be accomplished by teaching children the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving and developing a few family traditions.
Following are examples of some special family activities appropriate to the season.
Telling the classic story of the Pilgrims is an excellent activity in November. Be sure to include interesting details, such as, that 34 of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower were children. Also, share the importance of the “Mayflower Compact,” the agreement to make laws together, and the contribution of Squanto’s guidance in planting crops. It’s a dramatic story that never grows old.
Parents can use the President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation printed in newspapers to point out the religious freedom and the abundance for which the Pilgrims in 1621 and Americans today express gratitude. Defining such ideas as gratitude and religious freedom will expand a child’s concept of Thanksgiving.
There are many excellent children’s books that will support and expand your storytelling. Here are a few available in most public libraries:
The Adventures of Plimoth Plantation As Told by the Mayflower Mouse, by Marian R. Carlson
The Plymouth Thanksgiving, by Leonard Weisgard
The Thanksgiving Story, by Alice Dagliesh
N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims, by Robert San Souci
The Very first Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene
Who’s that Stepping on Plymouth Rock? Jean Fritz
Acting out the Pilgrims’ adventure will be a natural and creative follow-up activity for young children. The props can be simple items around the house. A corrugated box makes an excellent “Mayflower.” Confined in this small space, the little “Pilgrim” can sense how crowded it must have been on the ship. A broom serves as a sail, and dolls and animals as passengers. Blocks, orange crates, and boxes can be used to re-create old Plimoth Plantation.
On Thanksgiving Day, children might be given a special job such as make paper place mats or passing the hors d’oeuvres. But families can have great fun cooking together a few days before the holiday itself. There are many things that young children enjoy making which can contribute to the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Cranberry bread, pumpkin pie, butter, and turkey stuffing can all be made from basic ingredients to help illustrate the way it was long ago.
These activities will promote a sense of tradition which extends beyond feasting on a variety of foods and cutting out Pilgrim hats. The timeless tale invites children to appreciate the Pilgrims’ qualities of courage, faith, and perseverance, as well as their ability to work together with the Wampanoag people for the good of all. Americans have a rich Thanksgiving heritage that can be appreciated more each year by all members of the family.