The Thanksgiving Tree
Adding a Thanksgiving tree to your fall holiday celebration can help you teach children about the importance of gratitude and the Thanksgiving tradition. For those who celebrate Christmas, a Thanksgiving tree can offer you and your family a lovely way to transition from one holiday to the next.
If your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, a Thanksgiving tree can represent the tradition of bringing nature indoors as we transition from the abundance of harvest to the dormancy of winter.
What You Need:
- Basic tree: Any size artificial evergreen tree or potted living evergreen (see note below).
- Lights (optional): Indoor holiday lights in colors such as white, amber or green. Any color or mix of colors will work. If you use red and green, your tree will look more like Christmas than Thanksgiving.
- Trays, if you have them. If not, you can use cookie sheets.
- Ornaments: Use any of the items below, or get creative on your own. The best approach is to use ornaments and materials you already have.
- Purchased ornaments: Balls in fall colors, artificial fruit, artificial squash, woodland animals such as birds and squirrels, bird’s nest or anything else that fits with your theme.
- Materials to make your own ornaments: Pinecones, acorns, feathers, colorful fall leaves, raffia, ribbons, grapevine and/or willow balls.
- Pictures: Family photos, photos from favorite vacations from the previous year, photos from past Thanksgiving celebrations, etc.
- Fall themed and/or colored decorating ribbon.
- Tree skirt: fabric, tablecloth or purchased tree skirt.
- Paper fall leaves or collect leaves and greenery from outside.
- Fall-colored construction paper.
- Glitter pens, markers, colored pencils, crayons as appropriate for your child’s age.
- Safety scissors and glue sticks.
Note: A living tree is a wonderful way to start a conversation with your children about the importance of trees in our environment and continue the discussion long term as they watch the tree grow from year to year. You can also continue to decorate the tree outside each Thanksgiving. Should you decide on a potted tree, plan on keeping it well watered, in a sunny location and away from direct heat sources. Your living tree should only be kept in the house for about one week.
- Start by deciding where to gather ornaments, materials and/or your ornament making station. Time spent getting everything in one place will save you time once you start and help spark creativity by seeing everything together. You may also notice that you need to add something, such as another color or type of material.
- Lay a dishtowel or paper towel on each tray and/or cookie sheet to make cleanup easier. You may need a towel under the trays/sheets as well to protect your table. Trays give each child their own space for making decorations, sorting and moving ornaments safely from your table to the tree.
- If you like, decide on a theme for your tree. Ideas include woodland nature, Thanksgivings past, harvest and abundance and positive events you are grateful about from the past year.
- Once you have your theme, assign tasks to each child with just enough guidance to get them started. Allow for creativity in how ornaments are made and decorated, giving lots of positive reinforcement and questions about how your child feels about what they’re making. Talking with your children while making ornaments and decorations gives you an opportunity to prompt thoughts on what thankfulness means to your family.
- As an option, cut colorful construction paper into fall shapes like leaves, acorns, etc. and decorate, leaving plenty of room in the center to write a message of gratitude. You may want to solicit and write your messages on the papers during your craft session, keep the papers blank to be filled in on Thanksgiving by all at the dinner table or a combination of the two.
Assembling the Tree:
- Choose a location where the Thanksgiving festivities will be focused. Generally, a dining room or kitchen will work the best. If you plan to use lights, test them ahead and make sure you have access to an outlet near your tree location.
- Set up your tree with safety in mind, ensuring that the base is stable and will not topple over while being decorated. You can install hardware under a window sash, onto a wall or in the ceiling, running a filament or twine that has been secured around the tree.
- String your lights next if your tree is not pre-lit. If the cord from your lights will be exposed, consider taping it down to prevent tripping and/or attracting “play".
- Now it’s time to decorate! With the decorating complete, wrap your skirt around the bottom. You may want to place fall items, such as real or artificial squash and pumpkins under the tree, avoiding small items such as acorns if you have pets and/or young children. When you’re done, light your tree and admire as a family.
Wishing you health, abundance and family love this Thanksgiving!