Make a Gratitude Tree
This is a picture or my family’s gratitude tree, which is in its 15th season this year. When I started this tradition, I had an actual faux tree on which we hung paper “ornaments” with colored pipe cleaners. Today it has evolved into a tree-shaped cutout on a posterboard, at one time displayed on an easel, but now hung on the wall.
The leaves are secured with tape or glue sticks; thumbtacks were not a good long-term choice: not only did I not want to lose the leaves that fluttered to places unknown if a thumbtack fell out, but also, no one wants to find thumbtacks with their feet.
I take the gratitude tree out every year the day after Halloween and anyone who walks into our home between then and Thanksgiving is welcome to write something they’re grateful for on a leaf and stick it on the tree. Or they can just look at the tree and remember to be grateful for all the blessings they have in their own lives.
I’ve shared pictures of the tree over the years on social media. Here’s how it looked five years ago. People have told me that our gratitude tree has inspired them to create a similar tree for their home, classroom or Sunday School.
Most of what people have written is very basic: life, love, family, friends, pets, and the occasional “oreos,” “my yoyo,” or “candy.” Some of the leaves go so far back they only have scribbles on them (with my translation on the other sides), or one of my boys’ names, when he was practicing how to write it.
A couple of the leaves say “electricity.” The ice storm of 2008 was a very dark time, not only because we lost our power but also because it was shortly after my mother passed away, at Thanksgiving time that year.
We did not put our tradition aside, though we were all very sad by this sudden and unexpected loss and it was bittersweet to see the cornucopia on the posterboard stating my youngest’s gratitude for his dog and his grandma from the very season that she passed. Still, we found things to be grateful for, even amidst great sorrow.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says give thanks in all circumstances. It doesn’t say we have to give thanks for all circumstances. I know so many people today who are facing trials they never imagined: illness, death, poverty, loss, failed relationships – unspeakable disappointments. What we need to keep in mind is something that my Sicilian colleagues used to say (that I had written on a sticky note in my cubicle during the early years of my technology career), “Si çiùri ‘na porta e si ràpi ‘m purticàtu,” which basically means “a door closes and a gate opens.”
A gate is bigger than a door. Let’s focus on the things we can be thankful for. You can make your own gratitude tree with construction paper and a posterboard. I got the tree cut-out shape at Oriental Trading Company. You probably have markers and tape or a gluestick on hand (or in your kids’ pencil pouches). You could even forego the posterboard and stick the leave to a window in the kitchen where everyone will see them.
Just because retail stores begin displaying Christmas before Halloween, doesn’t mean that we should forget Thanksgiving. (In a perfect world, we’d remember Thanksgiving year round, but in an imperfect one, let’s at least devote some time between trick or treating and hanging the stockings.)
Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving season!
P.S. This year’s leaves also said things like “home,” “food,” “relationships,” and “sports.”