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Just Living seasons and celebrations

Alternative Thanksgiving Ideas


Perhaps more than any other time of the year, we celebrate the bounty of the harvest at Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday, the way we, as Christians, celebrate reflects our faith commitments. Our celebrations can extend the love and fellowship of Christ beyond our own dining room tables.

We can practice our faith at the table by choosing foods and ingredients that honor the people who produced them as well as God’s creation. We can engage in Christian hospitality by welcoming strangers and providing for those in need. Simplifying our lives and being mindful of the spirit of “thanksgiving” by taking time to relax, pray, play and spend time with those we love returns the focus to God’s blessings. With a spirit of celebration for the breadth of God’s goodness, we have compiled this guide to living faithfully throughout Thanksgiving.

Keep it local

Support food sovereignty, the ability of communities to produce food for themselves, by purchasing local foods. Throughout creation different foods grow in different regions. As we are reminded by the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) God’s intent for our world is diversity. Cherish the beauty and blessings of food grown locally by incorporating them into Thanksgiving meals. Local foods, like those from farmer’s markets, require less energy to transport to your Thanksgiving table and help minimize your environmental impact. Local foods are fresher and reflect seasonal flavors.

Main course selections
Hunt rather than purchase the main course for the meal. If hunting is not an option, select locally grown turkey or game. Heirloom varieties have not been genetically modified, organic meats are free from pesticides and free range animals have had the option to live outside. Select the option that best fits your needs.

Regional representations
Encourage visitors from out of town to bring a regional item to share. Challenge guests to create side dishes containing ingredients that have come from within a 100-mile radius of their homes. This will help to diversify the presentation on the Thanksgiving table and reflect regional foods. Incorporate as many local foods as possible. Find local vegetables, fruits and herbs by perusing farmers' markets. As an added benefit your foods will be fresher and likely more favorable.

Vegetarian options
Eat lower on the food chain and serve a vegetarian meal. Decreasing the amount of meat present at the meal or going completely vegetarian can have significant positive environmental consequences. Meat production requires three to eight times the resources as grain, fruit and vegetables.

Buy organic

Care for the creation in preparing for the meal by selecting organic foods. Organic foods are not made with pesticides, hormones and other potentially harmful chemicals, preventing such chemicals from polluting water systems, soil and air. Organic farming means farm workers and consumers are saved from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Buy fair trade

God calls us to do justice. This includes ensuring all people have what they need to live in the world. Fair trade products support justice by increasing tangible income for farmers and producers around the world. Fair trade certification requires certain environmental standards to be met as well. As you prepare for Thanksgiving, consider increasing the number of fair trade products you will use.

Fair trade table spread
There are many organizations that offer pottery, decorations and other craft items for decorating a table and serving a meal. Linens and placemats are readily available from co-operatives around the world. If your church has a mission partnership with a specific country, you can celebrate by decorating with fair trade products from that country. SERRV, Ten Thousand Villages and many other Global Marketplace partners offer tablecloths, placemats, serving bowls, utensils, pitchers and more to assist in creating a fair trade table spread this season.

Eat, drink and be merry
Cornucopias represent a celebration of the harvest’s bounty associated with the Thanksgiving meal. In seeking to do justice, we can tie fair trade food and beverage items into our holiday preparations. Edible items are required to meet somewhat different standards for fair trade that include environmental regulations. Thus by purchasing fair trade food and beverage items, we can care for the earth and its people, reflecting God’s call in our daily living. The Presbyterian Coffee Project offers a variety of fair trade beverages and snacks to compliment your Thanksgiving spread.

Cook and bake responsibly
Sugar, cocoa, vanilla, spices and many other baking items are farmed and harvested under grueling conditions. Unfortunately the reality of these industries, and trade policies in the United States, drives prices down for goods. Generally the people who bear the greatest cost are those who are most vulnerable in their communities: women and children. We are called to care for those who are least among us, which, in this case, can be done by selecting more responsible goods. Purchasing fair trade items for cooking and baking prevents child labor and oppressive working conditions. Workers are paid a fair wage that they can live on in their respective community. Local natural foods stores should offer a variety of fair trade products, which can be recognized by carrying fair trade certification. Produce and flowers may also be available as fair trade items.

Advocate for others

Fair trade, organic and local food items all require greater wealth to purchase than their conventional counterparts. The cost of these items may be prohibitive for many, especially as costs rise. This does not mean that one is living unfaithfully by purchasing a conventional product. Advocating for just and fair labor laws, food sovereignty and trade justice are only a few ways in which Christians can further live out God’s call to justice. It is important to use systems of power to benefit those who are the most vulnerable and ensure equal care and opportunity for all the people of the world. The Office of Public Witness and the National Council of Churches offer a number of means to engage in campaigns to change national policies. Let your voting and public voice cry reflect your commitment to Christ by advocating for the needs of others.

Share the work

Celebrate with the gift of service by encouraging everyone to help with preparation. Embrace the gifts and talents represented by people around the table and spread out the work associated with the meal. Create times of fellowship around meal preparation and service. Spread hospitality by inviting guests to share stories and memories during meal preparation. Spreading out the work builds community and diminishes the pressure on any one individual.

Decide together as a family how you want to celebrate Thanksgiving. What traditions are important to everyone? Which are essential to you and your family? Consider letting go of things that are not essential to make room for more family time! Avoid highly-processed foods and include as many whole foods, such as autumn fruits and vegetables, as possible. Cook from scratch as much as possible and make preparing the meal a fun activity for the whole family.

Establish a family kitchen
If your family is one where one person tends to do most of the cooking, cleaning or other planning and preparation, consider giving that person a break this year and offer to help or share tasks among all involved. This helps everyone take part in the planning and preparation, and everyone take part in the fun and meaning and relaxation!

Play together

While the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of hard work, modern celebrations have also become associated with parades, football and even dog shows! Sometimes everyone enjoys watching these together. However, why not make the day more memorable by establishing your own sense of holiday play.

Play games
Cards and board games can be great for building community. Organize a tournament or set out games for those who are interested. If your family is one to watch the games on television, try to take a break during halftime and go outside for a game of your own!

Walk outdoors
Give thanks to God by exploring the beauty of creation. Spend time outdoors by planning a walk around the neighborhood, a farm or wooded area. Take time to explore God’s world and learn about the creation around you. Check the availability of migrating wildlife. Depending on your location, eagles, geese or even whales can be viewed.

Take it slow and savor the meal

Relax and savor the day. Thanksgiving is a holiday. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle of everything. Planning ahead can help to prevent some holiday stresses.

Coordinate cooking times
Turkey takes a long time to cook. Use this to your advantage. While the meal cooks, spend time out of the kitchen with your friends and family. Some items may be able to be cooked in advance and then reheated. By coordinating times, you can create a more efficient kitchen that will allow more free time during the day.

Enjoy slow food
Enjoy each bite and encourage others to take it slow. Let your palate discern the flavors of the ingredients. Take time to share Thanksgiving memories and allow for each person to explain what he or she is thankful for. Savoring the meal honors all of the work that was put into preparing the meal as well.

Serve someone and share the wealth

Thanksgiving is known as a celebratory feast, and we hope that it will be for all people. Indeed God’s word states that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. However, there will be those who are not able to partake in a Thanksgiving celebration. Perhaps they do not have the money or resources; perhaps they do not have a family or friends to visit; perhaps they do not have a home. Whatever the reason, we can work together to eliminate the causes of hunger. If we love others as our own selves, we need to strive to share our food and resources so that the hungry are fed.

Volunteer and give
Taking the time to visit a local shelter or food bank can help develop a strong sense of service. If it is possible, take the time to serve a Thanksgiving meal to others outside of your home. Food donations, meal preparation and delivery are all forms of ministry you can embrace. Invite new guests to your home and engage in a ministry of hospitality.

Take action against hunger
You can take up a collection at your meal to support local efforts to eliminate hunger or have your guests bring nonperishable items to give to a local food pantry or shelter. Consider a letter writing campaign or initiative for your guests to support. The Office of Public Witness provides updates about action items and ways in which you and your church can get involved. You may also feel called to state or local advocacy based upon your sense of call.

Retell the stories
You may also serve others by teaching about the legacy of oppression associated with Thanksgiving. For many, Thanksgiving is a holiday that reminds of great loss rather than great sharing. Take the time to learn the story of Native Americans and share this legacy at your table. The PC(USA) Native American Congregational Enhancement office provides historical information on the history of PC(USA) relationships with Native Americans.

Stay home

God calls us to abundant life, but this does not mean a wasteful and exuberant life. Rather the call to abundance is one for all people. God’s vision is one in which every person has enough to live and thrive and creation is cared for. Presently our consumptive lifestyles have created an unsustainable world.

Close up shop
Avoid shopping on Thanksgiving or the day after. If you own or manage a retail store, close for the day. If you are a consumer, refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Ensure that everyone can have a holiday by providing a paid holiday for employees and advocating for holiday pay in situations where it does not exist as a benefit.

Buy Nothing
Door-buster deals may seem cheap, but they come at a cost. Not only do you have to get up during the wee hours of the morning, but so do all the employees of those stores. Simplify life and take the day off from shopping. You can plan family outings or activities.

Create a gift registry
Use your wish list to encourage responsible shopping this Holiday Season. Ask friends and family for donations to non-profits, Fair Trade products and other gifts that promote sustainability and reduce consumerism with New American Dream's Alternative Gift Registry.

Pray and renew

In prayer we connect with God. We share our concerns, offer thanks, seek grace and listen for God’s call. Analyze your traditions surrounding prayers and blessings. How often do you pray? Is there one person who offers the prayer each year, or do multiple people offer prayers? Take time to talk about prayer with your friends and family. Invite others to write prayers and thanksgivings to share at the meal. Consider how your family prays, too. If one person traditionally offers the prayer, perhaps others can join in for communal prayer, or you can rotate the tradition from person-to-person year-to-year. There are a number of different prayers and ways to pray. Find the prayers that fit best with your celebration.

Celebrate diversity
God’s world is wonderfully diverse and this may be reflected by the people around your table. If your guests speak multiple languages, pray in each language. Often Thanksgiving is a time where people of different denominations and faith traditions share a table. If this is so you may wish to offer a prayer from each tradition.

Give thanks
Every item we eat comes to us by the grace of God. Give thanks for the miracles of life and food production that have gone into creating the feast. Celebrate the gifts of God by giving thanks for blessings throughout the year. Incorporate prayers for farmers and the Earth into your family’s celebrations to remember the work of all who helped make the meal possible.

Think ahead
Talking about ways to share God’s gifts with others is important. One way of ensuring a good harvest next year is discussing ways of renewing the Earth and supporting sustainable farming practices. You can share the joy of gardening by planting potted winter bulbs like Amaryllis and Paper Whites. Discuss appropriate limits on consumption and set guidelines for a Christmas celebration.


Thanksgiving, like most other holidays, is steeped in tradition. We need not be limited by our traditions. Encourage creative thought around reshaping traditions to highlight the celebration of God’s blessings in our lives.

Develop a cookbook
Develop a cookbook to share traditions and meals. Compile their favorite recipes by asking each guest to bring a side dish and the recipe for that dish. Ask each person to share the story and tradition behind the recipe. Compile the recipes and send as a "thank you" to your guests. Cookbooks celebrate traditions, share family legacy and embrace the heritage of the meal as it is embodied and retold through the food being served.

Design the centerpiece
Create your table’s centerpiece together. Take a walk in the woods or a nearby park and collect fallen items such as leaves, branches and acorns to decorate the table. Visit a nearby pumpkin patch or farmer’s market to find pumpkins, gourds, decorative winter squash, dried corn and natural arrangements. Gather materials for a centerpiece before the celebration, and then have guests assemble it while they wait for the meal. They will not only create a memorable table spread but also build community around a shared purpose.

Make crafts
God has blessed each of us with different skills, talents and gifts. Share your gifts with others by teaching crafting and creating this holiday. Animal feeders can be made to teach woodworking skills and celebrate the joy of winter bird watching. Draw on the talents of your guests to create a memorable celebration.

Use Thanksgiving worship resources in your congregation

Many of us are separated from the harvest and production of our food. It is easy to take for granted the abundance of food found in our grocery stores. Doing so, we forget the millions of hands and hard work needed to get the food to our table. This is why it is important to make connections between what we eat and how we worship a daily exercise. To be grateful for what we have and thankful for what we eat, we must learn about where our food comes from and the social and environmental justice issues that surround it.



  • Hi Ruth, ideas for Advent and Christmas are available at Both resources are part of the Just Living Series, all of which are available (including PDFs) on the Just Living homepage at by Melanie Hardison on 11/20/2011 at 11:49 a.m.

  • When will you have Advent/Christmas ideas up? by Ruth Wittorff on 11/20/2011 at 12:51 a.m.

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