10 Ways to Have a Meaningful Thanksgiving

November 6, 2017

1. Read the Thanksgiving Proclamation by President George Washington.

When I was serving as a missionary I was able to many different Thanksgiving dinners with several families. Because I was so far away from my own family, I was taken in as a new addition to other’s families. I will come back to what kinds of lessons those Thanksgivings away from home taught me about caring for others, but first I’d like to talk about one specific family’s lesson for me. 

The Mother of this family was an American History teacher for the high school. She had American decorations all throughout the house during Thanksgiving. She had so many children and grandchildren attending the dinner that I feared we would even have a place to sit.

She quieted the large group of family members and explained to them that she would be reading the Thanksgiving Proclamation. I had never read this document, thought of reading it before, nor heard of it as a family tradition. She read the entire document and the atmosphere in the room changed. It changed from a loud riotous family party to a place of peace and gratitude. It was quiet, solemn, and even the children were listening. I decided from that point on that I would read this document to my children and grandchildren.

Here is a quote that I stood out to me:

“Now therefore I (George Washington) do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national. One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”


How many of us have thought to thank God for all He did for, not just our family today, but our Fathers of old who established this country? I certainly didn’t. I think of our country on the 4th of July, but not particularly on Thanksgiving. That all changed after reading the Thanksgiving Proclamation.

This holiday was created and set aside as a day of gratitude FOR GOD. George Washington set it aside as a day for us to remember that He is the author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Pray to God First.

Begin Thanksgiving dinner with a prayer.

My Father usually says begins the meal with the prayer. He thanks God for how we have been blessed throughout that year. He offers gratitude to Heavenly Father for the food on our table, the people we were able to invite that year, for his dental practice so he can provide for our family, his children that are home with him, etc. This prayer always sets the tone of the night and reminds us why we were all feasting together.

A few years ago my family started praying by, rather than just my father saying it, each person contributing to the prayer. My Father would begin and when he was finished the next person would add to the list of what they were grateful for. It was amazing to see how different each perspective was in the room.

For example, my Mother was grateful for the dishwasher or for the messy children she gets to clean up after each day. My siblings were grateful for their good grades in school, winning a soccer game, or the relationships they had just begun. I love hearing every person in my family express gratitude to God for something personal that represents their stage of life.

3. Have each person say something they are thankful for.

We usually go around the table each Thanksgiving and say something we are thankful for. This is similar to the prayer we each say together to Heavenly Father, so you could do both or just pick one of the options.

My family (it’s a long time to get around the table).

Going around the table and having each person share was a great way to involve children. Children love to share what they are grateful for and participate. I remember as a child that my parents would often have to remind us not just to say which toys we were thankful for, but also to be grateful for what gifts God had given us. This is a key factor in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

After the last person shared what they were thankful for, it was important to extend an invitation to the family to make Thanksgiving a part of their daily lives instead of an annual part of their lives.

Extend the invitation to have an attitude of gratitude. Remember the way that you feel as you go around the table and remember your blessings. Imagine how that could impact your life as a family at every meal together.

4. Really BE there. No cell phones.

Here are a few ideas for special occasions when you don’t want cell phones as a distraction:

  • cell phone basket or bin that you have each person place their device into at the beginning of the meal. Set this basket away from the table so there are no distractions.
  • If each person keeps their device, have them turn it off or on silent so they aren’t tempted to check their messages.
  • Also in the situation where everyone has their device, you could have them use it for good. Ways to use it for good would be to take family pictures, open up a scripture app on the phones so everyone can follow along and read together, etc.
  • Remind everyone at the beginning of dinner that this is family time and ask them to set aside their devices.

5. Invite someone over who needs a family.

There were only two Thanksgivings that I was away from my family. Both of them were some of the happiest times of my life. This was because I finally understood that even though my family was not there with me, because of the kindness of others, I could have a family anywhere I went. Everyone that welcomed me into their home made me feel like I was apart of their family. They shared their traditions with me, made special gluten-free food so I could join them, and taught me lessons I’ll never forget.

If you know of anyone who doesn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, invite them over! You will never regret it. Not only will they feel loved and respected, but you will feel the true spirit of Thanksgiving. It’s not only about donating to a charity to give turkey’s to those in need, but also about stepping outside of your front door and helping your neighbors and friends.

This scripture always reminds me of how I felt with no family or friends on Thanksgiving day when I was invited to others homes:

“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye visited me….Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

6. Help make the meal.

Have you ever made a Thanksgiving meal before? How long did it take?

What kind of preparation went into making everything taste so good?

What about how long it took to clean up the food?

This Thanksgiving, that is my goal; to help prepare the meal. I want to be more of a help to the one making the meal. After being married for one year and making dinners every night for us, I have learned some valuable lessons.

Here are two of those valuable lessons: It’s hard to make things taste good. AND, it’s not fun to make dinner for 5 hours by yourself.

Make it a priority to not just speak of gratitude, but to ACT GRATEFUL. When I am truly grateful for what someone has done for me, it shows. Show gratitude this year.

7. Deliberately remember to thank God and Jesus Christ. 

This one is important. This is one of those lessons that I learned while serving as a missionary. It’s important to be thankful, but are we a little too superficial when we remember our blessings?

Do we just remember our monetary goods on Thanksgiving? Do we remember all the things we have accomplished? What about the things God has helped us accomplish?

Ask yourselves; what am I TRULY grateful for?

When I was a missionary I had nothing. I had a suitcase of clothes I had worn a thousand times, no home, no friends, no family, one pair of shoes, no job, etc. However, it was only then that I realized what I was truly thankful for. I was thankful for, not only the one pair of shoes I had but that God had changed the person who had worn those shoes into a better woman.

I was thankful for every step I could keep taking. I was thankful for each person I was able to serve and share the message of Christ. I was thankful for my scriptures that I could read every day. I was thankful for every chance I got to be a better person the next day. My gratitude list went from shallow to deep that year.

Remember WHO made everything possible for you this year. Make this a time of reflection, pondering, and meditation. What are you really grateful for this year?

8. Make a gratitude journal.

I have noticed on my Facebook feed that there are many people who are using their Instagram and Facebook accounts to make a gratitude journal for the month of November. That’s a great idea! Post every day what you are thankful for!

Another idea would be to specifically get a journal and dedicate it as your gratitude journal. Write down every day, one sentence, of what you are thankful for. Over the months you will look back and remember how blessed you have been.

I had a hard time writing down something in a journal for a long time. So, I set aside a wall in my room where I would stick a post-it note every day for something I was grateful for. I called it my “Gratitude Wall”. Others may have put it on the back of their door as a poster and written something each day. Get creative! This is something that will really benefit your life.

If you aren’t convinced of the blessings and power of a gratitude journal, here is a video to convince you to do it and start now.

9. Make it fun. 

Do something fun together. Have a backyard football team going, play a game of cards, apples to apples, etc.

The Family Proclamation, written by the prophet and apostles of the church, states:

“Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”


There you have it! You have got to have fun. It might not be practical to go play soccer after eating a Thanksgiving meal, so you might have to be creative. However, it’s a successful Thanksgiving if you can have fun together.

10. Read General Conference Talks on Gratitude.

Here are a few that I am especially fond of:

Specifically, study and ponder the topic of gratitude through the words of the living prophets. Study the scriptures alongside these talks. Fill your life with the messages that these prophets teach.

One of my favorite quotes is from, “The Divine Gift of Gratitude”, which reads:

“My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.”


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year and remember to start preparing now to make it a better day than ever before. Also, comment below and share your thoughts, talks or scriptures you enjoyed in the past or traditions your family has.

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