Explain the ancient origins of the harvest festival to your children. In ancient times, people of many cultures (including the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Egyptians and Chinese) gave thanks to their god or gods for a successful harvest, and some of the traditions associated with modern Thanksgiving celebrations have their roots in these ancient festivals.
Discuss the roots of the American Thanksgiving celebration. In 1621, near the end of the Plymouth colony's first year in America, the settlers gave thanks for a plentiful first harvest. The pilgrims and the natives celebrated together (they had arranged a peace treaty), and everyone feasted on geese, ducks, deer, corn, oysters, fish and berries.
Discuss Native American issues surrounding Thanksgiving. Despite the harmonious relations that may have existed between natives and pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving feast, many subsequent American Thanksgivings involved settlers giving thanks for victories over the natives. Ask your children how they feel about this, and discuss the recent efforts that have been made by the American government and people to apologize for past discrimination and violence.
Explain when ' and why ' Thanksgiving became an official holiday. In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving should be a national observance. To some degree, this was a way to brighten the spirits of the American people, who were dealing with a great deal of difficulty and deprivation.
Explain that one aspect of Thanksgiving involves gratitude for having enough food to eat, and encourage your children to help you buy groceries for the food bank, or make a donation to a local soup kitchen.
Talk turkey. The wild turkey is native to the eastern states and northern Mexico, and while it probably wasn't served at the first Thanksgiving feast, it has become a symbol of the holiday.
Offer your children some relevant books. Many books that discuss the Thanksgiving tradition from a variety of different perspectives are available for readers of all ages.
Tips & Warnings
Let your children help with preparations for your Thanksgiving meal, and encourage them to make appropriate decorations. This gives you an opportunity to discuss the symbolism of many objects associated with Thanksgiving, and to share family traditions with them as you prepare the feast together.
While you may want your children to understand the true history of the Thanksgiving holiday, try to emphasize the joy of the harvest feast, too. Whatever Thanksgiving may have been in the past, it is now a time for people to celebrate with family and friends, to be grateful for what they have, and to help those who may have less than they do.