I imagine that the very first prayer was “thank you.”
Saying grace at meals is a lovely practice, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to begin or re-introduce it. Sung graces are great for little ones. If you sing the Doxology in church, you might start with that:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise God all creatures here below, Praise God above ye heavenly host, Praise Creator, Son and Holy Ghost.
The first grace my son Peter learned as a toddler is sung to the tune of “Frère Jacques”:
God our father, God our mother, we thank you, we thank you, for this food before us, for this food before us. Amen, amen.
Friends and family are a great resource for collecting graces and blessings from other cultures and religious traditions, which can be a great way “in” to this universal and timeless tradition. This year, you could crowd-source your Thanksgiving dinner blessing using this simple template from Episcopal priest Kyle Oliver, whose Creative Commons Prayer website has all kinds of engaging multimedia prayers. Sybil MacBeth, creator of one of my favorite prayer practices, Praying in Color, has some fun turkey templates you could use for gratitude prayers.
The Quakers have a very simple said grace:
Us and this, God bless.
Their most common form of grace, however, is everyone holding hands around the table in silence. It’s easy to add the invitation to each person to name something for which they are thankful. Cultivating a practice of gratitude, a habit of noticing and naming what we are thankful for is of profound benefit to our physical, spiritual and emotional health. Doing Good Together offers a number of great ideas for families who want to practice active gratitude, and learn more about the science behind it. You could keep a thankfulness journal to which each family member contributes throughout the year, or throughout the long Thanksgiving weekend, ask each person to write their thanksgivings on leaves of colored paper to fill a jar or a window. My son Peter noticed and remarked on a significant decrease in complaints when our household became more intentionally grateful.
Here is my go-to grace:
Bless this food to our use and us to your loving service, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others.
Christians and Jews end prayers with a declarative, amen, which in Hebrew means “firm.” It is nearly the same for Muslims, who use the related Arabic word “amin.” Think of it as a strong YES. Let it be so.
Pray in whatever way works for you and your family, pray when you can, and where you can. Pray for what you need, what your loved ones need, what the world needs. Give thanks, give praise, give your heart. And let the people say, Amen.
- Here’s my favorite book for Thanksgiving, The Greatest Table by Michael Rosen, newly reissued with illustrations by Becca Stadtlander.
- Kids can make these adorable thank-you cards over the long weekend, just in time for the gift-giving season.
- Now you can preorder this lovely book, Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy Seamans, which includes table graces and prayers for expressing gratitude throughout the day and year.
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, from which this post is adapted.