4 Ways to Give Thanks Through Story Sharing
Sandwiched between the uber-commercial Halloween season and the begins-too-soon “December” holiday rush lies a quieter American holiday, Thanksgiving. It’s always been one of my favorites, and not merely because I love leftover stuffing.
Thanksgiving appeals to me on a visceral level: home-cooked food, family gathered around a table, tradition, laughter, and love. My family never got “dressed up” for Thanksgiving—it was a comfortable holiday, one where we reveled in being together and lingering…over the food, over football, and especially, over stories. Even for families who may not share stories regularly around the dinner table, Thanksgiving lends itself to some good old-fashioned reminiscence.
Giving Thanks—and Telling Tales
Do you have a tradition of going around the table and naming something you are each thankful for? This focus on gratitude is a hallmark of Thanksgiving—and one which we can build upon to crate new traditions that not only help us enjoy the day together, but cement a family legacy that will endure well into the future.
Here are a few ideas to turn your tradition of “giving thanks” into something even more lasting:
1 - Go around the table twice.
On the first go-round, each person shares something for which they are grateful. On the second go-round, each person shares a favorite memory from a holiday past. Designate one person to record the storytelling session, whether using the microphone feature on your smart phone or setting up a video camera on a tripod at the head of the table. Be sure to encourage questions and follow-up stories—often that is where the magic lies. I guarantee there will be few lulls in your dinner conversation!
2 - Formulate a family health portrait.
Personalize your healthcare by sharing your family health history and tracking illness from one generation to the next. Participate in Family Health History Day (the same day as Thanksgiving) and use the Surgeon General’s health portrait tool to talk about, and write down, your family's health history to help ensure a longer, healthier future together.
3 - Play show-and-tell over dessert.
In lieu of asking guests to bring a pot-luck dish, invite them instead to pack a meaningful item that reminds them of their childhood. Like that vintage Hess toy truck Grandpa keeps on the mantle, or the grease-stained, handwritten recipe Aunt Ginny pulls out every Christmas. Set up an area to photograph their heirlooms, and record the stories behind them over pumpkin pie.
4 - Make a paper trail.
Books, documents such as old Passports and birth certificates, scrapbooks, boxes of old photos—there are lots of papers that hold bits and pieces of family history, but usually they are scattered among homes of various family members near and far. Take the first step in cataloging your family archive by polling all the guests at your Thanksgiving gathering to see what they may have; we’ve even created this handy inventory worksheet for you to keep track of it all. Then, when you’ve got more time, you can begin digging into your family history in earnest—with a plan.
Thanksgiving Family History Resources & Links
Consider participating in StoryCorps’ Great Thanksgiving Listen.
Download our free guide: 55 Questions to Spark Thanksgiving Story Sharing.
Use a family tree form to keep genealogical information organized.
Download this pedigree chart to record information you get from family members.
A genealogy correspondence log helps keep track of which people you've talked to and which people you still need to contact.
Let the kids plan their interviews with family members using a simple oral history worksheet like this one.