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Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Small This Thanksgiving


Leaves on the gratitude tree - COURTESY OF MEREDITH BAY-TYACK
  • Courtesy of Meredith Bay-Tyack
  • Leaves on the gratitude tree

Thanksgiving gatherings will likely look different this year, but feasting and giving thanks are still important ingredients. However you choose to celebrate, here are a few ways to make the occasion feel special.

Feast Locally

Whether you prepare a meal for two vegetarians or 10 carnivores, it's easy to feature Vermont food at your table.

Challenge yourself to shop locally as much as possible. Yes, this helps the environment from a shipping perspective. But supporting local food producers is also more important than ever this year, as the pandemic has disrupted many of our Vermont industries and small businesses.

If you typically support local farms and shop at independent stores, examine whether there are areas you can improve. If a locally grown Thanksgiving meal isn't the norm for you, choose one dish or dessert that can be made with entirely local ingredients. If shopping in person at multiple stores or visiting farms doesn't work for you, check out local delivery services such as BBz Delivery Collective and Local Maverick. In addition to vegetables and meat, these businesses offer special desserts and other treats. Your favorite farms may also be offering delivery this year. Go in on an order with a neighbor, family or friends to split the delivery charges.

While prepping food, and after the meal is over, honor the food (and your wallet) by reducing food waste. Save veggie scraps and turkey bones for making stock. Make sure to give leftovers to your dinner guests. I like to save large yogurt tubs and takeout boxes for this purpose. Then there's no need to ask people to return the containers.

Land Acknowledgment

The history of Thanksgiving many of us were taught as kids — and many kids are still being taught — revolves around a false tale. We were told that Native people and early American settlers met up as friends to enjoy a joyful, celebratory Thanksgiving dinner at a long table. Many of us are now working to unlearn these untrue histories and honor the Indigenous people whose land we currently stand on. We are all on land forcibly taken from Native Americans. Finding ways to learn about, honor and wrestle with this fact may feel daunting.

Start with Vermont-specific organizations, such as the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. There is currently an exhibit at the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum in Burlington showcasing "an exploration of Vermont Abenaki Spirituality through regalia, art, and ceremony," and there are videos and resources on the museum's website.

In my house, we read the children's book Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message year-round, but we make a special point to read it together as a family during our Thanksgiving celebration. At a past Shelburne Farms Harvest Festival, we picked up several kids' books at the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association tent, including a now-favorite, Turtle's Race With Beaver by James and Joseph Bruchac. Joseph is a prolific author and storyteller well known in New York, New England and beyond, and James is his son, also working to continue to uplift Indigenous people and share Abenaki history.

Gratitude Tree

  • Courtesy of Meredith Bay-Tyack
  • The gratitude tree

My family typically kicks off the Thanksgiving season by building a "gratitude tree." Before I had kids, I stumbled upon a kit for a simple standup tree in a craft store and was enamored. I realized I could make one myself with reused materials, and the low-waste (but high-value) tradition began. The tree also serves as a table decoration during our Thanksgiving meal.

You will need pieces of cardboard as big as you'd like your tree. I try to choose pieces that are at least 24 inches so my tree will be about that tall. Use a grease pencil (an eco-friendlier version of a Sharpie marker) to sketch out a tree outline, with branches and a trunk. Look up "simple tree icon" if you want more direction, but in my experience any general treelike shape ends up looking great.

Cut out your tree shape with sharp scissors or a detail knife, and then lay it on top of another blank piece of cardboard. Trace the tree shape and cut it out so you end up with two identical pieces.

Now, put the two pieces together to transform the tree into a three-dimensional decoration. Choose one of the tree pieces and cut a slit up the center of the trunk from the bottom of the tree, ending an inch or so before the top of the trunk. Now grab your other tree piece and cut an approximately one-inch slit down the center of the tree, starting from the top of the trunk. Slide the two trees together perpendicularly, adjusting the length of the cuts as needed to make the tree sit stably on a table. There are clear photos of this process on

You could also skip this craft project altogether and put a bunch of sticks into a vase to act as a mini tree.

The next step is to gather members of your household to write down what they're thankful for. Cut out leaf shapes from colorful paper. Affix them to the branches with glue or washi tape, or get a little fancy with a hole punch and yarn to make leaf "ornaments." Add new leaves every day, or whenever the mood strikes. Save the tree base for the following year, or simply toss it in the compost or recycling when the holiday is over. This year I might leave the tree up long past when I'd typically take it down. I think we may all need more reminders of what we have to be thankful for during this challenging time. 

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.