How to Share Thanksgiving With Your Adoptive Child


6343226130_f803b6e59c_oThanksgiving is almost here!  It has always been one of my favorite holidays due to the time honored traditions, celebrating with family and, of course, the amazing meal. Thanksgiving is also an opportune time to “welcome” your internationally adopted child(ren) to our American customs surrounding this special day in November by  teaching them a bit about its history, nurturing a sense of gratitude, creating meaningful family rituals, and incorporating cultural celebrations from all over the world.

It is important to share with your child(ren) the history of the holiday and why Americans celebrate it. We all remember the many craft projects, plays and stories told to us in elementary school about the first Thanksgiving, but your children may have never heard this information. Talk to them about October 1621 when the remaining Plymouth Colony pilgrims held a celebratory three day feast to thank the neighboring Abnaki Indians for teaching them how to cultivate crops, cook new foods and endure the harsh winters in America’s New World. Tell them about the tradition of our U.S. President issuing a pardon to the “official” turkey so he can live out his life on a farm. Note that in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving. Utilizing crafts, decorations, activities, and story books will help your child gain an understanding of this holiday and make it meaningful to them.

Thanksgiving is an ideal time to discuss one’s many blessings, nurture thankfulness in children and demonstrate the many ways one can show their gratitude to others. Gratefulness should begin early in a child’s life so they can learn to appreciate their blessings, large and small, and learn to care for and demonstrate empathy for other people. Christine Carter PhD, a University of California at Berkeley sociologist and author of Raising Happiness, says that “40 per cent of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities during the day. Thankfulness is not a fixed trait.  It’s a skill that can be cultivated.”  There are many ways you can help your children internalize the gift of gratitude such as volunteering  to serve meals at a homeless shelter, involving them with a canned food drive, helping them to create a food dish to share with a neighbor, or engaging in activities with your family to show your appreciation for them. Special activities to demonstrate “What Are You Thankful For?” can include:

  • A Thankful Jar- Using empty jars designated for each guest at your Thanksgiving celebration or decorated by each participant, have everyone write on a piece of paper why they are thankful for each person and place it in the individual’s jar. Each guest takes home a gift of positive affirmations!
  • A Thankful Tree- Get the children to help find a leafless tree branch from your yard to be placed in a vase on your table. Cut out leaves from colored construction paper and have each guest write what they are thankful for on a leaf. Tie the leaves on the tree with colorful ribbon for a festive and very personal family Thanksgiving decoration.
  • Create a Memory or Scrapbook Page decorated with family pictures taken throughout the day and notes mentioning what each guest voiced as their greatest blessing. The children will enjoy looking at this in coming years.
  • Simply Taking Turns around the Table to state what you are most grateful for this Thanksgiving is a way to celebrate and show gratitude for one’s many blessings. Be aware that the children’s responses will be creative, age dependent and even inspiring!

Creating a meaningful family ritual allows children to foster memories of cherished family traditions which will lead to anticipation of the holiday in years to come. What do you recall from your childhood traditions during Thanksgiving that you would like to pass on to your family?  These can be anything you choose to do—decorations, foods, activities, crafts, or games, but they will be unique, personal and special to your family for years to come. Include your children in the meal preparation and decoration. Have them help you set the table. Let each child choose a favorite recipe to make or choose one representative of your child’s country of origin. Say a special prayer or incorporate a poem that describes your family. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or root for your favorite football team together. The key to creating a family ritual is continuity; you will need to repeat it each year!

Finally, remember to bring in the spirit of international celebrations of harvest and thanksgiving to your family event. This unites you and your internationally adopted children in a more global celebration. Although our American Thanksgiving grew out of a specific event, many cultures have long histories of celebrating the harvest during the fall season. Britain has Lammas Day to celebrate the wheat harvest; Jewish culture celebrates Sukkot, the harvest festival; ancient Egyptians honored Min, the god of vegetation and fertility; the ancient Chinese had Chung Ch’ui, a harvest moon celebration and feast; and the Greeks held a three day festival to honor Demeter, their goddess of corn and grain. The United Nations even declared 2000 as the International Year of Thanksgiving in an effort to spread brotherhood, harmony and peace among all countries. They felt that expressions of gratitude would foster friendly cultural relations among nations. Help keep the spirit of international unity alive by incorporating elements of your child’s cultural heritage into your celebrations.

Harold B. Lee said “The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own home.”  Take time this November to give your children a Thanksgiving to remember and memories to cherish for the future.

Photo Credit: Julie

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.