Do you eat turkey or ham, pumpkin pie or apple pie; serve at a food kitchen; watch football; individually share something for which you are grateful while sitting at the table? What are your Thanksgiving traditions? My family traditions at Thanksgiving include being together but not always on the Monday and the menu can vary from turkey to pizza.
The traditions we practice are a powerful, influential gift to posterity and indicators of our priorities. We can ask: How did our personal and family traditions begin? Are they accomplishing the purpose we wish for our loved ones?
Traditions reveal who we are and predict our future behaviour. As a young girl I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Ontario. I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but my aunt and uncle were not. My uncle, in his kindness, drove me to the chapel and patiently waited in the car so I was able to attend sacrament meeting. He repeated his tradition of kindness each time I visited showing great respect for my church-participation tradition.
What does God expect us to do?
In the Book of Mormon, we are admonished to “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you” (Alma 34:38).
What does it mean to live in thanksgiving daily? A simple interpretation is giving thanks daily, to offer thanks to God with words as we pray. This can make us “doers of the word” (James 1:22).
Thanksgiving Day has always been designed to be a religious experience, a day to know the Lord and bless His name. The tradition of thanking God extends through history.
The Canadian Thanksgiving story
My curiosity led me to research the tradition of Thanksgiving in Canada. The only story I knew was the American account of the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. I should not have been surprised to discover that Canada has its own story rooted in gratitude to God.
“Traditions of giving thanks long predate the arrival of European settlers in North America. First Nations across Turtle Island have traditions of thanksgiving for surviving winter and for receiving crops and game as a reward for their hard work. These traditions may include feasting, prayer, dance, potlatch, and other ceremonies, depending on the peoples giving thanks.” https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/arts-culture-society/the-history-of-thanksgiving-in-canada
“The first Thanksgiving by Europeans in North America was held by Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew in the Eastern Arctic in 1578. They ate a meal of salt beef, biscuits and mushy peas to celebrate and give thanks for their safe arrival in what is now Nunavut. They celebrated Communion and formally expressed their thanks through the ship’s chaplain, Robert Wolfall, who, according to explorer Richard Collinson, “made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for theyr strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places [sic].””
There was a time in Canadian history when Thanksgiving was celebrated on November 6th. This timing resulted in a divide for attention between Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day. As a nation we made alterations to prioritize both celebrations: to allow the opportunity to offer thanks to God for the harvest; and also, to honour the sacrifice of veterans.
In 1957, the Canadian Parliament made the holiday official with the following proclamation: A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.
In a recent general conference address, Elder Gary E. Stevenson spoke about Easter traditions, and his remarks could apply to Thanksgiving traditions (Gary E. Stevenson, “The Greatest Easter Story Ever Told,” Liahona, May 2023).
I heard Elder Stevenson say the word “poetry” and immediately wrote a note to myself as tears welled in my eyes – “write a poem every day this week - a poem about Jesus.” I did write a poem about Jesus Christ each day of Easter week. My love and understanding of the last mortal week of Jesus Christ was greatly enhanced as a result of my efforts.
By request, here is one of them:
Jesus is the Hero to My Story (Revelation 7:9-17)
A little girl delicately cradles
A palm frond cross
Symbol of sacrifice and
Love of her Heavenly friend
Palms waved in the air
Symbols of triumph and peace,
Eternal life and immortality
Hosanna in the highest
Jesus prayed on the altar
Of Gethsemane for me
Graven upon His palms
His love is firmly fixed
Washed white in His blood
Crowned with glory
Waving palms in my hands
With the angels I’ll sing
Come, O thou King of Kings!
Altering our traditions
How can I follow Elder Stevenson’s example to consider ways I can make my Thanksgiving more Christ-centred?
It’s never too late to start a new tradition.
President Russell M. Nelson offered a global prayer of gratitude in November 2020. He prescribed two activities to help us experience the blessings of gratitude. I am considering altering my current Thanksgiving traditions to include these suggestions from the Lord’s prophet:
“As a doctor, I know the value of good therapy. So, dear friends, may I prescribe two activities to help us experience the healing power of gratitude.
“First, I invite you—just for the next seven days—to turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. Post every day about what you are grateful for, whom you are grateful for, and why you are grateful.
“At the end of seven days, see if you feel happier and more at peace.
Use the hashtag #GiveThanks. Working together, we can flood social media with a wave of gratitude that reaches the four corners of the earth. Perhaps this will fulfill, in part, the promise God gave to Father Abraham, that through his descendants ‘all families of the earth [shall] be blessed.’
“Second, let us unite in thanking God through daily prayer. Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray by first expressing gratitude to God and then petitioning Him for the things we need. Prayer brings forth miracles.”
This Thanksgiving I plan to follow the example of the disciples on the road to Emmaus who invited the Lord to “abide with them” (Luke 24:29). The Lord has promised if we ask, we shall receive (Matthew 7:7). I believe that if I invite the Lord to my Thanksgiving He will surely come and we shall surely feast together.