Most of us think of Thanksgiving as a time of love and closeness. We eagerly await reunion with family and friends as we celebrate our special traditions. The memories we make will last a lifetime, and of course, there’s that wonderful meal we enjoy together.
Those are the ideals of the Thanksgiving holiday. But the intensity of this shared time can also cause stress. Despite our best efforts, we get swept away in exhaustive preparations and can miss the spirit of Thanksgiving. Conflicts arise when friends and relatives have different political views and strong opinions. Some loved ones may not be practicing the Faith, and some may be in different stages of their faith life. Values and worldviews differ drastically, even among those we love. Old wounds from the past can open unexpectedly in such gatherings, increasing tension and making visits difficult.
Our Lord calls us to faith, hope, and charity in the face of these challenges and in all things. In fact, for followers of Christ, every day should be one of Thanksgiving. Even our trials have a purpose in conforming us to Christ.
7 Tips for a Peaceful Catholic Thanksgiving
The Scriptures repeatedly entreat us to practice thankfulness, so how can we make certain that our Thanksgiving holiday is one of peace, enjoyment, and gratitude to God?
Here are seven tips that can help:
- Start with prayer.
Do your best to not get swept up in the chaos. Pray as you prepare, asking the Lord to give you peace of mind and heart and a cheerful disposition during this busy time. Offer up your work, your travel, or your difficulties and challenges. Try to give thanks for even the smallest things. Pace yourself and go about your preparations as peacefully as you can, asking the Lord to accompany you.
- Reveal God’s love.
Be gracious, warm, and welcoming. It can be a challenge to bring many different people together, even when they all love one another. Start by asking yourself what gifts God has given each individual. Thank God for the gifts of each loved one. It is much easier to be gracious, patient, and loving when we reverence Christ in one another. Do your best to quietly and gently accept people as they are, just as God does for each of us.
- Demonstrate a heart of gratitude.
Approach your time together with a grateful heart. Joy and cheerfulness are the fruit of gratitude. Look for opportunities to express thankfulness—this will lift up and encourage others.
- Pray before you eat.
When you all sit down together for your Thanksgiving meal, be sure to pray. Your suggestion, or prayerful leadership, may incline other hearts to God—even those who may not be practicing their faith. If we give the Lord an opening, who knows what He will do?
- Be an example.
When you are enjoying your visit together, remember that part of our duty to one another is edification. This means to help one another on the journey to becoming like Christ. The original definition of the word “edify” is to “construct” or strengthen a building. Be an example of virtue in your demeanor, showing that your faith informs your life. Build up those around you with your words, your consideration in listening, your warm reception of them, and your behavior toward everyone.
- Give a job, take a job.
Allow anyone to help put out appetizers, serve drinks to guests, set the table, put the finishing touches on the meal in the kitchen, or help with the clean-up afterwards. Many hands make light work. If you are a guest in someone else’s home, offer to roll up your sleeves. Working side by side can be a great way to break the ice so that no one feels uncomfortable. Help everyone feel included by allowing them to contribute to the tasks at hand.
- Share table talk.
Start discussions or activities that everyone can enjoy. The examples listed below are joyful reminders of God’s love and generosity to us. They open the door for others to feel grateful, appreciated, and welcomed:
- Suggest that everyone take turns sharing one or more things for which they are thankful. In recent years, my mother-in-law has led our family in taking turns around the table to do this. Years ago, when my daughter was four, she said excitedly, “Thank you, God, for dogs and raisins!” It’s a very sweet memory that I won’t ever forget. Even if many people say they are thankful for the same thing, it is a good exercise, and it is great to hear from everyone. It can also remind us of the blessings we may have forgotten or failed to recognize!
- Ask older adults to share their favorite Thanksgiving memories.
- Ask children to share their favorite food or tradition.
- If you are the host, decorate place cards with scripture verses about thankfulness. There are more of these verses in the Bible than you can imagine! You could also have the supplies and verses ready and give children the special task of making the place cards and giving them to each person at the table.
- Plan a family game that all can enjoy after dinner. Make teams that include both children and adults so that everyone can share in the fun.
Gratitude Is the Path to Peace
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—St. Paul, Philippians 4:6-7
St. Paul tells us that thanksgiving offered with prayer and petition banishes anxiety and brings peace. Don’t let the stressors of the holiday steal your joy. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to glorify God with sincere gratitude. Be grateful for friends and loved ones. He has made them in His image and likeness and given them their own particular gifts. This holiday, celebrate your connection to the people you love, and thank God for them as well as for other blessings.
Most importantly, invite Jesus to be your special guest, and ask Him to help you make this Thanksgiving enjoyable, peaceful, and memorable.
Do you have tips on how to foster peace or handle conflict at family gatherings?
Do you have special family traditions for Thanksgiving?
What are your favorite Thanksgiving memories?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!