Note from Carolyn:  I have just received a tender Thanksgiving gift that I want to share:  Meridian first published this article in November of 2014. I had not looked at it since then and found this touching comment from a Meridian reader below:

Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I just finished reading the “card”…through my tears. Being unable to tolerate the stimulation of a family gathering, due to severe health challenges, I have just spent another holiday alone. Yet, not alone as I very much felt unseen company as well as the love and regret of my not-present family. This story, and especially the “card”, truly brought me to my knees in tears. I have struggled to feel gratitude for my challenges. Somehow, your article broke through to my aching heart. Thank you, many times over!” 

Here is the article, updated with some exceptional links for delicious and healthy holiday fare.

How will you and your dear ones celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Will you be at home or a guest? Will it be just a few adults or with extended family including babies and seniors?

Thanksgiving is actually my own favorite holiday of the year. There’s something sweet and simple for everyone as we honor God and take time to discover and express gratitude.  It’s a joy to celebrate harvest time, our country, our families … and feast!

As a young married couple far away from home and family, we learned that we needed more than a meal to fill the day. That need became more pronounced as children came along and there really was no family close to spend the day with. We came up with satisfying activities that became family traditions (that are now evolving into the next generation of our family) that may be of value to you and yours.

Much has changed. Our children are all grown now with families of their own.  We’re no longer regularly eating meat or missing it. Yes, there will be turkey (and we might have a bit) and all the trimmings, but there will also be lots of veggies and healthy things to choose from. We’ve spent enough time growing into our whole-food plant-based lifestyle to know that we’ll be just fine without making our food preferences a big deal for the dear ones around us.

To help you on your way, here are three excellent links for many deliciously healthy Thanksgiving recipes this year. These sites are extremely interesting and educational as well!

1.  Dr. T. Colin Campbell Thanksgiving Recipes and Menu

2.  The Green Loot 40 Best Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes

3.  Forks Over Knives 100+ Family-Pleasing Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanksgiving Day, however, is more than feasting. It’s a day of gratitude, for celebrating the Lord’s generosity and goodness, for strengthening our country, families and friendships. It’s a day for creating memories worth remembering. When our family was very young, we started the day with a “Thankful Walk” where we walked the baby in a stroller and toddlers in tow through the neighborhood.  The only conversation allowed was each of us taking a turn talking about something he or she was thankful for. I wish we’d kept a record of the cute things our kids were thankful for all those years ago!

No one is too young or too old to enjoy this. As the years went by, even our reluctant teens got into the spirit of this important tradition. It’s also a great day to do a mini-service project such as raking leaves for a neighbor.

Long before Pinterest and perfect blog photos, we figured out the fun of some crafts on Thanksgiving Day. Making Indian costumes and vests from brown-paper grocery bags is delightful and far more satisfying than more screen time. Little hands are terrific at opening up the center of the brown paper grocery bag, cutting out a hole for the neck and arms, then decorating it with crayons or even sparkles and feathers. You can suggest geometric patterns and forest animals.  Add some extra flair and fun by cutting a fringe with vertical slits along the bottom.

You can Google for easy ideas for construction paper Pilgrim hats, collars, and even Thanksgiving centerpieces! These projects can keep little people busy for hours while you cook.  They’ll be thrilled to wear their costumes to the feast and see their centerpieces on the table.

While growing up, my husband’s family had enjoyed going out for Thanksgiving Dinner. This felt like “cheating” to me. However, one year with five children including a 6-month- old baby and having not fully settled into a new home, we were not up to cooking and tried it out. What a hit! We chose a nearby family-friendly “All You Can Eat Buffet” where our little kids got to choose their favorite food, whether it was jello, lasagna, or the traditional turkey.

After feasting, we headed for the park where everyone played and played. It was so much fun that this became our annual way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Sometimes other families even joined us! In the following years, I learned to fill in the need for leftovers to nibble on by cooking a turkey breast in a crockpot.  

(Though I am no longer eating meat, this is an easy way to provide it for those who do with absolutely no effort. It doesn’t need anything at all. Do not add broth or water or seasonings.   Make sure it is sealed well in your crock pot. using aluminum foil if necessary if it’s too big for your crock pot. Allow at least 4-6 hours on high. It will be very moist and delicious.)

I allowed Mrs. Smith to bake the pies and we’d bake some rolls either from the family recipe, or freezer dough roll balls. I would often cook some potatoes and vegetables the next day for a satisfying “day after Thanksgiving” meal.

Children’s story books for the holidays were, and are, still important! Bob or I would go to the library and just checkout a stack. The artwork and stories of gifted artists and writers are always a treat and absolutely free. Though our children are grown and gone, these children’s holiday storybooks from the library are still something that Bob and I very much enjoy. They provide light hearts and a sweetness to any holiday that are especially treasured when little ones are grown and gone.

Thanksgiving is a day for relaxing with the TV parades and football, movies and games!

Quiddler

Our favorite card game that we play year-round is “Quiddler – The Short Word Game” and it is good for ages 12 and up. Easy, quick and flexible, it’s worth 15-30 minutes or several hours of fun. It is a delightful challenge for rookies and wordsmiths alike, and equally fun for just 2 or up to 6-7 players. The challenge is to arrange your entire hand into words. Draw and discard each turn. Try to use your high point letters, but don’t get caught with them in your hand at the end of the round. It’s been our family game for years and we often play a round or two in the evening, accumulating our scores to tally at the end of the week to see who is the winner. You can order it at Amazon or in specialty toys and games stores.

While every family has their favorite movies, I admire the tradition of a wonderful family in our Ward who use Thanksgiving as the day to watch “A Christmas Carol” and launch the Christmas season with the important message there. (I myself am very partial to the Muppets version, and if you haven’t seen that, it’s well worth your time, no matter your age!)

Most of all, however, Thanksgiving is a day for reflecting on the Lord’s blessings, along with reflecting on both the joys and challenges that define both families and earth life. Several years ago, the following story was shared in Sacrament Meeting. I sobbed my way through it then and am grateful to both share and read it again this year.

(And if anyone knows the author of this, I’d surely love to give them credit!)

The Blessing of Thorns

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.

Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole that from her.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come for the holiday.

Then Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. She has no idea what I’m feeling, thought Sandra with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” The shop clerk’s approach startled her.

“I….I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving “Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Just then the shop door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara…let me get your order.” She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

“Yes, please,” Barbara, replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest. And she left with her order.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh….she just left with no flowers!

“Right, said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. That’s the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.

“Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.”

“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.

“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for the good things in my life and never questioned the good things that happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask questions! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”

Just then someone else walked in the shop. “Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving Special….12 thorny, long-stemmed stems!” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“No…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from “thorny” times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific “problem” and give thanks for what that problem taught us.”

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”

“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life.” Sandra said. “It’s all too…fresh.”

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you. What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.” The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first.”

It read: “My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorns. I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to thee along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of thy rainbow look much more brilliant.”

Praise Him for your roses; thank him for your thorns!

My dear, Meridian Brothers and Sisters, I wish each of you the happiest and healthiest Thanksgiving ever.  May it launch a Christmas season of joy, health and peace!

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband, Bob, are happy empty-nesters and grandparents in Sandy, Utah where they center their online business for Meridian’s amazing herbal detox. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE