Creating ritual objects for the Thanksgiving table

When I set the table for  Shabbat or Yom Tov, my children immediately recognize that this is no ordinary meal. It’s not just that the piles are cleared off the kitchen table (we don’t have a dining room), and that I’ve put out a tablecloth and taken time to fold the cloth napkins rather than toss them vaguely near each plate, though these factors certainly raise the bar slightly. It’s not just that I’ve often spent many hours preparing the meal, rather than opening a box, a can, a jar and a bag. It’s not just the nicer dishes. It’s the ritual objects – usually the candlesticks, the kiddush cup and the challah cover – all of which let my kids know that this time, we aren’t just going to sit down and plow into the food. We’re going to pause, and take time to set this meal apart in ways that are not simply aesthetic.


Certainly, Thanksgiving gets the special treatment. I spend a long time cooking, and I fancy up the table (though we can’t actually sit at the table because we can’t all fit.) But we do tend to plow into the food. And I’m not sure if I’ve ever succeeded in setting the meal apart in any meaningful or spiritual way.

This year, I took a cue from Freedom’s Feast, an organization dedicated to enriching the celebration of American holidays so that we can “pass on the stories, values and behaviors we care about to our next generation of American citizens and leaders.” We’ve tried their seder-like 10-minute ceremony in the past, but it turns out my kids (and, well, I) are equal-opportunity-haters of responsive reading, whether from the siddur or the internet. So this year, I tried a different approach (which I’m also doing with my Kindergarten class tomorrow.) Zoe and I each created a ritual object for the table – a gratitude plate.


We started with magazines and photos and a clear, sturdy plastic plate. I would have used glass but didn’t have the budget to buy those for all my students. We looked for pictures and words that would represent things we are grateful for and cut them out. Then we painted watered down elmer’s glue on the BACK of the clear plate, and laid the pictures upside down on the glue so that they would show through the plastic. After putting down each picture, we painted more glue on top of it. I would have used Mod Podge, but again, I was working with a budget since I wanted to use Zoe’s plate as an example for my students.


Zoe ended up choosing only pictures of pets. ( Well, and one doughnut.) At first I was a tiny bit annoyed by this. I tried to make some gentle suggestions and cheerful hints  – “Look at this BEAUTIFUL PICTURE of you and your sister!” -As always, she was not swayed; she knew exactly what she wanted. It took me a few minutes to realize that her choice was not surprising, given that our beloved dog Zev died just a little more than a month ago.

Once I actually stopped to consider her choice, rather than try to influence it, I was reminded that  we never had any formal ritual to mourn or remember Zev, and his absence is still terrifically palpable. Freedom’s Feast offers another suggested ceremony for the Thanksgiving table called a Memory Harvest, a gathering of stories of those who are no longer her to join us at our celebrations. While I’ve learned my lesson about imposing scripts and songs on my family before we dine, using Zoe’s ritual object as a springboard for storytelling might just work.


I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about any strategies you have for making Thanksgiving meaningful to you and yours.


Comments read comments(6)
post a comment
Jen B

posted November 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Love this! I love ritual, readings, anything to lend more meaning…and that makes me the opposite of my husband and pretty much both our families. This is a lovely way to incorporate meaning without “inconveniencing” everyone at your dinner…and without having the kids bring home just another pinecone turkey.

report abuse

Morah Mary

posted November 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for the FANTASTIC suggestions and the great link!

We’ve always lit the “Yom Tov” candles here and said the “Shechehiyanu” – both seem appropriately to me initially, and ultimately, to our family.

Enjoy the holiday!

report abuse

Frume Sarah

posted November 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm

This is the first time that I will be making Thanksgiving dinner. I am SOOOO excited to (finally) be able to create the types of rituals and traditions in which I find meaning. I think we might try this… Thanks!!!

(And it was so great seeing you today!)

report abuse

Lee Hendler

posted November 21, 2011 at 11:42 am

Love this! We have found that the brief ceremony doesn’t inconvenience. We aren’t slavish about it but relaxed and adapt it to our needs. It says to everyone: Listen up, this is important. This holiday matters and this day isn’t like every other. Some things need to be said and if we just left it to happenstance they might not get said. Civics are rarely taught in school so we should teach them at home. Holidays are a great time for starting that conversation.

report abuse


posted November 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

While we don’t celebrate thanksgiving, we make a habit of saying “Baruch Hashem” in all our conversations. It’s a great way to incorporate G-d and Gratitude into our every day lives. Great post! Thank you!

report abuse

Pingback: Why I send my children to a Jewish Day School – the Thanksgiving edition - Homeshuling

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Teaching the Four Questions to young children
One of the greatest privileges of being a kindergarten teacher in a Jewish day school is having the opportunity to teach children to recite the four questions. Unlike almost anything else I teach them about Jewish ritual, this is "real work." ...

posted 7:36:03am Apr. 01, 2012 | read full post »

Guess what's Kosher for Passover (this will change your life.)
I'm not exaggerating. The bane of my Passover existence has been pareve baking. I cook a lot more meat during the holiday than I do the rest of the year, which means a lot more pareve desserts. Which has, up until now, usually meant margarine ...

posted 5:02:27pm Mar. 22, 2012 | read full post »

Why I love the New American Haggadah (and it's not just because I got to have a martini with Nathan Englander.)
I'm not a haggadah junkie. I know many Jews whose shelves are overflowing with numerous versions of the Haggadah - from the traditional Maxwell House to the not-so-traditional Santa Cruz - and whose seders are an amalgam of commentaries, poems, ...

posted 9:25:37pm Mar. 14, 2012 | read full post »

Best Hamentashen Ever, even better. And, a Purim opera.
This time of year, I'm always excited when I look at my google analytics and see that people have landed at my blog by searching for "hamentashen recipe". I love the idea of people all over the world making my great-grandmother's fabulous ...

posted 7:13:38pm Mar. 05, 2012 | read full post »

Edible Purim baskets. And, introducing...the cookie fairies!
My very favorite Jewish holiday tradition, bar non, is the mitzvah of mishloach manot - preparing and delivering gifts of homemade goodies to friends and neighbors on Purim day. This is a mitzvah which embodies so much of why Judaism is ...

posted 8:16:28am Feb. 26, 2012 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.