People around the world love and cherish their traditions, don’t they? Our work among the African refugees here made me reflect on this. Particularly on Thanksgiving traditions around the world. Many nations, like Italy, don’t celebrate it, while others do, or at least have harvest celebrations. 

Like the Nigerians with their traditional Thanksgiving, known as the Festival of Yams. Yams are their most common food, and the first crop they harvest. In true African style, the days-long celebration consists of thanking God, ceremonies, and traditional dances, each of which recounts a unique story.

But the special part of a Nigerian Thanksgiving, and that which most struck me, is the offering.

Nations like Ghana and Nigeria really grasped the Thanksgiving spirit after the Americans introduced them to it. And now entire villages unite to share their bounty with the poor. Each family brings an offering of food or money, which they later distribute to the village poor. What a wonderful way to not only express our gratitude, but to share our blessings with others!

It seems anymore that Thanksgiving is more about getting and gorging, than gratitude and sharing.

Especially with Black Friday. How sad though, that the nation which birthed this special holiday is straying so far from those roots. Many people feel lonely and forgotten at the holidays. But by making gratitude and sharing the heart of Thanksgiving, we can do something about it! Like many churches in the USA and Canada do, by giving food baskets or feeding the needy.

If you’d like to keep gratitude and sharing at the heart of Thanksgiving too, try these ideas!

1: Volunteer at a soup kitchen.

It’s great to invite a lonely person or family over for dinner. But working at a soup kitchen is a way of reaching out to even more! But don’t leave that lonely person or family out. Invite them to go with you!

2: Visit a hospital.

Imagine how depressed someone could feel laying in a hospital for the holiday. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take a little something to pass out in one of the wards? Not food, because medical personnel don’t usually approve of that. But something else to cheer them up. Like flowers or magazines, or balloons for the children’s ward.

3: Give an anonymous gift.

In these hard times, many people have a hard time making ends meet. Perhaps we could show the Thanksgiving spirit by eating a normal, inexpensive meal, and use the money we would have spent to buy groceries for a needy family for groceries, or to pay their utility bill. Or if everyone you know is doing well, donate it to a local food pantry.

4: Visit a senior center.

When our children were small, we often took them along to visit senior centers. The residents particularly enjoyed the life and vitality children bring. So many of them either have no one at all, or no family nearby. Wouldn’t a visit make their day?

Special times with family are so meaningful — and to be cherished.

So keep your own family celebration. But consider moving it perhaps to another day or time. And remember to look beyond the family circle. If we want to teach kids to think of others and share, example counts a lot more than mere talk or theory.

Invite some lonely or needy people to your own family celebration! Involve them in giving thanks around the table. And then invite them to partake of your new outreach. This will put the GIVING back into ThanksGIVING. And create special memories for family and friends, while giving holiday cheer to lonely, needy people too!

We’ve found that sharing creates greater joy, giving us twice as much to be thankful for!

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

Happy Thanksgiving from Italy!


13 thoughts on “A New Kind of Thanksgiving

  1. Fine suggestions–we all need to find a way we can make things better for others. I know of a tremendous number of opportunities here in our city in Oregon and people who are generous indeed and all year ’round, as well–so don’t give up on us over here! I do appreciate your thoughts.


    1. Thanks for the encouragement Cynthia! I know many people and churches in the USA do all they can toward reaching out to others. That’s why I made a point of saying so! I try to too, all year long. Yet I know I could do so much more. So I’m trying to find new, creative ways for it. And I’ve especially been thinking that the holidays are an important time, because #1 Hearts are often much more open, and #2 It’s easy to get caught up in activity and lose sight of the holiday’s true meanings. But do enjoy your holiday season – it’s the most wonderful time of the year!! Be blessed, Sheila


  2. I always say that I want my family and I to serve food at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, but something always keeps me from going. I feel more determined now to give back to others during the holiday season. Great Read!


    1. Thanks Torre. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t always follow through. But that can change. And I, for one, am determined to make that happen! Be blessed, Sheila


  3. Thank you for these thoughts. My daughter and her family just left our home after our bountiful Thanksgiving meal. I agree, Thanksgiving has become a focus on our families, which is great, but it’s much more. It’s gratitude for our freedom, our provision, our God. Thank you for the reminder. Karen


    1. I remember when we lived at Aviano, Italy and at Clark in the Philippines, holidays were tough. Although we had friends, we longed for family. My heart empathizes with you. May your husband’s family help fill the gap. Blessings, Karen


      1. Thanks Karen, for your wonderful kind wishes. But my Hubby’s family is also far away. His parents have passed away and all his family are in the USA too. We’re grateful for friends and especially for our church family. But mostly for each other, and for the Lord – the most faithful friend who never leaves us! I think sometimes only those who have lived so far away fully appreciate how difficult distance can be. But the Lord is good and always provides us with the needed strength! He is good!! Be blessed, Sheila


    2. Getting together with family IS so important, Karen. I called my folks yesterday, and could just hear the yearning & longing in their voices – wishing to see us. Perhaps because of our years overseas we realize just how lonely holidays can sometimes feel. So we always look for someone more lonely than us! Be blessed, Sheila


  4. Happy Thanksgiving regardless of where you are. I’m Italian and you’re absolutely right, it’s not a holiday or even a notion celebrated. So much of this post is spot on. It’s really quite sad when you think of it – paying it forward somehow, somewhere would be such a lovely idea.


    1. We live in Abruzzo, Jenny. And one thing we have always missed is Thanksgiving. Sure we had it as a family. But the overall “holiday” spirit was missing. We love reaching beyond our walls, and are always looking for ways to do that! We’ll have to try some of these at Christmas!! Be blessed, Sheila


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