So how do you do Thanksgiving? And this time I’m not talking about the recipes. I’m talking about honoring the spirit of the day, and engaging in conversation with your loved ones about what is important to you. I find it helpful to focus on the spirit of the holiday, rather than the complex historical reality of its origin.

Many of us will be celebrating with family members or friends that come from different religious traditions. I know that because it did not used to be my habit to pause before a meal. I would be startled and embarrassed when the people I was with stopped to say grace, and I very slowly and quietly put down my fork and hoped nobody noticed. When I started seminary, I often got asked to pray, but I didn’t quite know how. But when everyone is holding hands and looking at you, you can’t really say, “I’m sorry, I haven’t had that class yet…!”

Even if you aren’t in seminary, you can avoid this sort of awkward moment by planning ahead. Especially if you are hosting the meal, you can start your own tradition, and explain it to the people who are at your table so that they know what to expect. It doesn’t have to be a traditional prayer before the meal. Depending on your setting and your own beliefs, you can do all kinds of different simple things, with adults and children, to bring your attention to the moment.

Here are some ideas:

  • Focus on the things for which you are grateful, by going around the table and each saying something.
  • Light a chalice. If you don’t have one at home, you could put a tea light or other candle in a small bowl, or use any candle flame and share a moment of silence or a short reading.
  • You could try saying a spiritual or secular grace. Some ideas about gratitude are available in this article from the UU World, which also has a number of helpful links at the end.
  • Ask your children if they have something they would like to say, or if there is something they learned in church or at school they could share.

Honestly, the possibilities are many, and limited only by your creativity. I am grateful for the sacred circle of this beloved community, and the ways we challenge each other to learn and grow together.

Happy Thanksgiving!