Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different for most of us this year. That will be hard, but it will also be okay. This is the language we use with children; it is okay to feel frustrated about this, and it is okay to feel a sense of loss as we mourn the things we are missing out on. But ultimately this is a time to come together in whatever way we can, to make new traditions with family and friends, and reflect on what makes us feel thankful. And many of us do in fact have a lot to be thankful for this year.
I, for one, am extremely thankful that our school is open, that our children are thriving, that I can come to work in a safe and comfortable environment every day, and that my son is able to be with other children and teachers who love and care for him. I do not for one second take any of this for granted this year. I am thankful for my family, for my health, for my job, and for my TFC community. I am thankful that we are able to continue to provide a physically and emotionally safe place for children every day.
Recently, the students in our infant class have started discovering each other in the room, sharing (and fighting over) toys, noticing each other’s big feelings—both happy and sad, and coming together for meals. These are all such important steps in fostering early community togetherness and empathy. And it makes me think about how even with these youngest members of our community we are instilling values of giving thanks and making connections.
“Giving thanks” is one way I have always approached the Thanksgiving holiday with young children. There are different ways to do this, depending on the children’s ages. But there is value in this practice for all ages, from babies to adults, especially right now. I might read The Thankful Book, by Todd Parr with some children and ask them what kinds of things they are thankful for. The beauty of it is that they always have an answer, from the material answer of a favorite toy to the more heartwarming answer of a family member they love. Both responses are valid! In this time, we can all take a lesson from our children who are regularly and endlessly grateful for many things in their daily lives, both big and small.
And while this year may look different for many of us, we can still be grateful and we can create new traditions. Traditions are important, but Thanksgiving is one of many times when we can get stuck in the past, thinking things need to be a certain way to be meaningful. But finding value in the new and different is actually a gift. My husband was skeptical a couple years ago, when my father decided to use a non-traditional Mediterranean turkey recipe for our Thanksgiving bird. But now it’s become its own new tradition for the holiday… this year as we were discussing plans for our much smaller Thanksgiving meal, he said, “I hope we are making the Mediterranean turkey again this year…” And we certainly are! Here is that delicious recipe, if you are so inclined to try a non-traditional turkey yourself this year!
Holding onto some traditions, both new and old, amidst a time of uncertainty, is so valuable. But there may be some new traditions this year that hold more value than expected—a chance to try a different dish with a smaller group of people and different palates; a game of trivia with extended family over zoom. We will all be working together to keep ourselves and our families safe this holiday season, and in doing so we also keep our school community safe. I implore you to think of our community as you celebrate and spend time with your loved ones, and keep us in mind as you follow familiar traditions and create new ones safely.
Additionally, we should keep in mind that while there is great value in giving thanks, the Thanksgiving holiday is actually a particularly complex and contentious one. It is important that while teaching about the values of togetherness, appreciating community, and sharing food and traditions, we also teach our children about the true history of our country and the diverse experiences of others. Ways to start this process with the very young is often through windows into different cultural experiences, through books and food, introducing them to Native American imagery and experiences, or food shared by different cultures at holidays and family gatherings. So perhaps you will start a new tradition for your own family time this Thanksgiving of reading a new book that reflects these values? A recommended reading list can be found below:
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Fry Bread by Juana Martinez-Neal
Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules
Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell