When Thanksgiving Is Different: Four Ways to Savor the Season

Ungrateful. Unsettled. Unexcited. The “un” words smoldered in my heart last year when I first contemplated Thanksgiving. My gratitude journal reflected numerous blessings, but the thought of another holiday without my mother saddened me. 

Mama added sparkle to holiday festivities. She created traditions that made Thanksgiving my favorite day of the year—decorations and floral arrangements, prayer in a circle with family holding hands, croquet games after lunch, Monopoly after supper. 

“Thanksgiving won’t be the same. I wish I could skip it,” I grumbled to my husband. 

After acknowledging legitimate grief, I confessed ingratitude and a complaining spirit, then counted my blessings. 

Fast forward to this year—the pandemic year when to plan was to cancel. Would my favorite holiday traditions be thwarted again, this time by the threat of coronavirus? Pandemic precautions and Thanksgiving make an unlikely pair. 

I discovered today that two segments of our family cannot gather in the same place due to health concerns. Work schedules prohibit travel for others. Sigh. Would celebrations never return to normal?  

Once again, I have a choice—lament the unwelcome changes or accept them with a grateful heart. Scripture leaves no choice.

 In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you 
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NJKV

In EVERYTHING? In all circumstances? Even when holiday plans change because COVID attempts to commandeer the day?  

Yes, Jeannie, in ALL circumstances. This is God’s will for His children. 

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever
Psalm 136:1 NKJV

What a perfect reason to give thanks—because God is good and His love never ends. 

The truth of this verse reverberates through the Bible: Why should we give thanks? Because God is good and His love for us never ends.

God’s love can comfort those who struggle during the holidays. When I turned to Him with my laments about spoiled plans, I thought about those with aching or troubled hearts. Special days must prove difficult for them. Are they difficult for you, too? 

Despite challenges, let’s ask God to help us savor gratitude and enjoy a Thanksgiving that won’t be the same.

Four Ways to Savor the Season:

1. Reflect on past joys and acknowledge sorrows. 

Ponder sweet memories of past Thanksgivings. Write them in a journal to treasure and share with others. 

If tears come, cry. 

My mom spent her last Thanksgiving in bed. My heart broke as my brother’s poodle whined while he trotted back and forth from the table to Mama’s bedside. 

If funny happenings come to mind, laugh. 

One year my mother used a disposable pan for the dressing. When she removed it from the oven some of the “took-a-whole-day-to-make” delicacy flipped out onto the floor. My normally meticulous mother quickly scooped it up with a spoon, returned it to the pan, and said, “It’s okay; I just mopped this floor. But don’t tell anyone!” (I never told—until now. Shh!) 

2. Remember to brighten someone’s day.

Encourage people with the truths of God’s Word—it offers hope and comfort. Who in your circle of influence needs these blessings? 

  • Is this the first Thanksgiving without a loved one for someone you know? How can you add sunshine to their day?
  • Can you call someone to say thank you for their influence in your life? 
  • Is there a busy cook who needs a helping hand and acknowledgment of hard work? 
  • Would a restless child in a room full of relatives enjoy taking a walk or playing a game? 
  • Does a friend need to hear that Jesus offers forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life? 

3. Rejoice in giving thanks to God, the Giver of all gifts (James 1:17).     

  • List your blessings to change the focus from need to gratitude. Our two-year-old granddaughter recently called, “Tank you” to each nurse, doctor, and tech who administered care to her in the ER. Simple gratitude.
  • Each morning select one verse about giving thanks to write or print. Ask a family member to decorate the words or add a picture.  
  • Prepare slips of paper with these words and have each person read their answers: During the pandemic we could not __________, but we could _____________. 

4. Rally the troops to brainstorm solutions for social distancing. 

  • Weather permitting, try an outdoor picnic-style meal. 
  • Use trays to space diners apart. 
  • Plan a January Jubilee if Thanksgiving dinner isn’t possible. 
  • Arrange a Digital Dessert party and share pie and coffee via technology for those who cannot travel.

I’m not claiming these ideas will heal your heart or renew your joy. However, God can transform our Ungrateful, Unsettled, and Unexcited into Grateful, Peaceful, and Joyous.

How will you celebrate in this pandemic year?

Cover photo courtesy of Eric Tompkins on Unsplash

17 thoughts on “When Thanksgiving Is Different: Four Ways to Savor the Season

  1. Easter, Thanksgiving, and CHRISTmas have never been the same for me since mama died. At first, it felt like she took the joy of those holidays with her. In time, I realized it was the grief of her loss that robbed me of the joys of those holidays. While there’ll always be melancholy moments around these holiday-because I miss not being able to see the joy in her eyes-I find wonderful peace in the memories of those holiday past. I also hear her in my heart; encouraging those she loves to continue on with life. It’s as though I can hear her whisper, “It won’t be long at all boy…” God’s blessings; and thank you for this encouraging post Ms. Jeannie.


  2. Jeannie, one word came to mind as I read your post. Release. No matter the circumstance, our Father is the same. He is with us. Sometimes relief is found in tears, sometimes in persevering through, and sometimes in doing both at once! Whatever the circumstance, God leads us through when we release our will into His. Thank you for your meaningful post!


  3. I love your list, Jeanne, as it does give us reasons to be thankful in all circumstances. God tells us to do that because we are not to focus on situations but to focus on Him. He is always the answer to everything we face. And I can identify with your mother’s oven incident. Hey, the heat from the stove will kill any germs anyway, right?


  4. As you have done, I’m struggling with the emptiness that follows after the loss of a loved one. Your strategies to help us through this “different” holiday are very helpful. We are called to be thankful in all circumstances. While still missing our loved one, we can be thankful for the blessing of sharing life with them. Thank you, Jeannie.


  5. So much wisdom in one post! Thanksgiving will be different for sure. Neither set of parents (both have re-married) will be around the farm table, nor my aunt and uncle, who normally celebrate with us. But I’m very thankful that our youngest son and his family, who live locally, will be there. We will choose to be grateful. 🙂 Thank you, Jeannie!


  6. Jeannie, this has been a hard year in so many ways. We certainly need to count our blessings and remember our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever! Thanks for these great tips.


  7. Wonderful post. I really like the digital dessert party to share recipes. Creative outlets are more important than ever. This year may be the perfect year to launch new family traditions.

    We will have our children and grandchildren over but no other extended family. We’re trying to establish a new tradition of hiking a short but steep trail early Thanksgiving morning. We’ll see how that goes.


    1. Candyce, what a wonderful idea to establish a new tradition and build memories with your children and grandchildren. Please share your adventure with me afterwards! You’re right that “creative outlets” are more important than ever. Thank you so very much for your encouraging words.


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