Celebrating Thanksgiving

by Jeanne Hunt

Thanksgiving originated at a time when the spiritual dimension of life was an integral part of people's lives. Eighteenth-century Puritan society was centered in a deep, abiding faith in God. These "pilgrim people" of America found it natural to give thanks to God for all their blessings. Thanksgiving still offers a great opportunity to reflect on all that God has done for us and to give thanks to God in recognition of that goodness and providence. On Thanksgiving, we integrate the great blessings of our lives with the source of life, our creator. We can take an ordinary "turkey day" and weave a simple message of the sacred throughout the celebration.
The Five Kernels of Corn
Shortly before Thanksgiving, plan a meal for the class or for family and friends. Share the story of the first Thanksgiving. The first year the pilgrims spent in America was bleak and morbid. Starvation loomed over their heads like earth's greatest darkness. The daily ration throughout that first winter is said to have been five kernels of corn per meal. It is no wonder that their hearts were so grateful at the second year's bountiful harvest.

Invite your guests to the table, which has been decorated for a feast. Before you bring the food to the table, bring to each hungry diner a plate with five kernels of corn (use canned or frozen corn). Let everyone eat their portions, then ask if they feel satisfied with the "meal." Discuss the empty feeling after such a meager meal.

Expand the discussion to include questions such as these: What would we do if there were no more food? What might real hunger feel like? Where in our world, our country, our city do families leave their table hungry? Show some photographs of the victims of hunger. Conclude by reflecting on the bounty we have.

After the experience of hunger has settled in their souls, serve a simple meal to your guests. As they share the meal, ask again how they feel. End this meal with a mutual prayer of Thanksgiving. Ask each person for a brief prayer of gratitude, such as, "For the hands that prepared this food...." Ask everyone to respond, "We thank you, Lord."

If you are doing this activity in the classroom, you might plan a simple project to conclude your meal. Cut a four-inch by four-inch square of colored netting. Put five kernels of unpopped popcorn in the middle and tie with colored yarn or ribbon. Let the children each make enough for the guests at their family Thanksgiving meal. Instruct the children to place these party favors on each guest's empty plate before the family feast begins and share the story of the first winter in Plymouth with their guests.
Sharing the Bounty
- Provide a complete Thanksgiving meal for a needy family. If you are aware of a family that is unable to prepare the meal, cook and deliver a meal for them before your own feast.

- Collect canned goods and nonperishable items and take them to a local shelter for the homeless.

- Spend Thanksgiving Day working in a soup kitchen. The experience of giving away your time and energy on this feast will provide "food" for your spirit.

- A geography class might want to adopt a missionary church in a Third World country. Use a map of a country to locate the mission. Your diocesan mission office will be happy to supply you with a contact in the mission church. Write to the pastor or coordinator and ask what your class could do for them. Work with all your energy to fulfill their request and pray for your special people every day. Send your donations around the time of Thanksgiving and continue to serve this mission community throughout the remainder of the year.
Fasting Before the Feast
In the days before Thanksgiving set aside one day to fast. Plan your "famine" for a day when everyone can participate. Agree on some way as a family to deny yourselves for this one day. For example, each person could eat only a bowl of rice for dinner. Before you eat this meal offer a prayer for those who are dying of starvation. Let it be a day of reflection and prayer for those without the food gifts we take for granted.

You might want to invite a group of families to join you in this effort. On the designated day, each family can abstain and fast during the day and then gather in the evening for a simple shared meal, perhaps a meatless soup with bread. Allow the group to savor this time and share their reflections of their fasting day. End the evening with prayer. Invite each family to contribute to the prayer time with prayers of thanksgiving, readings from Scripture, stories from their own family history of days of plenty and days of want, and so on.

In the classroom this planned famine could be a lunchtime experience. Study what children in Third World countries eat for their lunch (or, more realistically, for their one daily meal). Serve this menu in the school cafeteria. It might consist of rice and water, or thin chicken broth with a few sliced carrots. After the meal is served, pass a basket to collect the money the students usually spend on dessert and snacks. Send this contribution to your school's favorite mission project.
Giving Thanks
Thanksgiving is a good time for people to verbalize what they're thankful for. Classes could do this on the last day of school before Thanksgiving; families could do this as they gather around "the bird." Invite everyone to name something they're most thankful for. The answers may surprise people, make them think and add to the prayerfulness of the celebration.

From Holy Bells and Wonderful Smells: Year-Round Activities for Classrooms and Families, by Jeanne Hunt (St. Anthony Messenger Press Books, 1996).

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