Thanksgiving is a classic American holiday, but it’s also quintessentially Jewish—nothing is more Jewish than taking time out to feel gratitude and say “thank you” for all our blessings. Here are five ways to tap into Jewish wisdom to enhance your Thanksgiving.
1. Bless your children.
At Jewish festivals, it’s common for parents to bless their children; try incorporating this at your Thanksgiving table. Blessings can either follow a traditional Jewish format, or reflect your own thoughts. Singing after a meal is another Jewish custom that enhances the moment, letting everyone at the table revel in each other’s company for a little while longer.
2. Choose symbolic foods
You can look to a recent Jewish holiday that featured festive meals for ideas: On Rosh Hashanah, it’s customary to eat symbolic foods that convey our hopes and wishes for the New Year. Carrots represent gold and wealth, for instance, and pomegranates reflect our hope that we’ll be as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds. Spend some time thinking of what your hopes are, and consider choosing foods that convey those ideals.
3. Borrow from Passover
Despite being time consuming and even difficult, Passover remains the most-widely celebrated of Jewish holidays. Why? Many Jews point to the introspection and discussions that the Passover seder, with its many questions and quotes, inspires. Borrowing a few tips from Passover’s playbook can help jump-start some meaningful conversation at our Thanksgiving table, too.
Consider spending a few minutes pondering Jewish views of thanks. One possibility: The Hebrew word for “thanks” (todah) is related to the Hebrew word for “praise” (hodu); why would this be? (To add a truly Thanksgiving-esque twist, hodu is also the Hebrew word for turkey!)
5. Learn your family’s story
With relatives in town for Thanksgiving, one powerful way to take advantage of all that togetherness is to get to know your family’s history. According to a study done by Emory psychology professor Marshall Duke and his wife Sarah, a child psychologist, kids who were more familiar with their family’s history rated higher in terms of happiness and overall psychological health.
Even when faced with tragedy and problems, those kids who knew more about their family’s story weathered trauma better. “The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” Duke noted.
This Thanksgiving, try tapping into this powerful sense by interviewing older relatives about their lives, and giving everyone a better sense of your family’s unique trajectory.
6. Celebrate on Friday, too!
Finally, with relatives in town and school and work on hold, consider extending your Thanksgiving break into the weekend by having a Shabbat meal together, too. Besides being a great way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers, sitting around the table on Friday night with candles, challah, and wine or grape juice can give you another chance to celebrate, to enjoy each other’s company, and to give thanks for all our many blessings all over again.