skip navigation

Inspiring Gratitude in Families

Gratitude and Family Traditions

Traditions are practices or beliefs that are often handed down from generation to generation. These traditions can be intentionally developed to cultivate gratitude through spiritual, joyful, and meaningful experiences. Traditions focused upon gratitude create happiness, strengthen families in appreciation for others past and present, and teach generosity of spirit. Traditions that bring your child closer to God should be a priority.

Inventory your existing traditions and determine which ones are truly meaningful and affirm appreciation and gratitude for everything in your life. Think how you can make an intentional gratitude connection to your family tradition. 

Spiritual Practices
- Give thanks and praise for God’s abundance in your prayers throughout the day. Recognize God as the ultimate source of all you are and all you have in life.

  • Frame a Morning Prayer and set it by your bedside, sink, table or special chair. Pray the words as you begin each day.

Each day before the children head out the door have them repeat a phrase that demonstrates their attitude for the day. An example: “God help me be a friend today in all I do and all I say. Thank you for shining your light on everyone. May we be aware of your abundance and respond by sharing what we have”

  • Pray your table grace holding hands and each person state one thing for which they are grateful.
  • Every night, make the sign of the cross on your child’s forehead and share a blessing such as, “May the Lord bless you and keep you,” or “Jesus loves you”.
  • At special mealtimes, make a copy of the dinner prayer for each place setting.  Read the prayer together.
  • Each night at dinner, have family members share their “highs” and “lows” from the day. Recognize these situations as incidences for which to be grateful and when appropriate create an understanding of the role of gratitude in difficulties.

Baptism Anniversary - Thank and praise God for the gift of life, the gift of Baptism, and pray that their special gifts be developed that they may know the joy of sharing them with others.

  • Light the baptism candle.
  • Use the “You Are Special” plate at dinner time for the person whose anniversary is being celebrated.
  • Look at baptism day pictures; recall memories from the special day that fill you with thanksgiving.
  • Share a baptismal gown from generation to generation.

Christmas – Thank God for this blessed day to focus on God’s loving gift for us in the birth of Jesus.

  • Read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before opening Christmas presents.
  • Bake a Jesus Birthday cake to celebrate with gratitude the birth of this special baby.
  • After dinner, while the dishes are being done, send the children off to plan a Christmas program.  After clean-up, enjoy the show!
  • Drive around before/after midnight services Christmas Eve and look at Christmas lights. Bring cocoa and listen to Christmas music.
  • On St. Nicolas Day, leave treats in each family member’s shoes.
  • Have a Santa come visit your house. Plan a conversation about giving and receiving.


  • Listen to the Hallelujah Chorus in the car for the weeks leading up to Easter.  The choir at church often sings it on Easter Sunday. Talk about the significance of the song in praise and thanksgiving.

Family Themes - Thank God for opportunities to strengthen your family and pray that your sharing and discussions may lead your family grow in appreciation for others, for your abundance and in generosity to others.

  • After a family gathering provide a ‘take home item’ commemorating the event. It becomes a gift of gratefulness for the guests and it becomes a memory for which they are grateful.
  • Choose a theme of the year and post it in large letters in the family entrance into your house. Select a family value such as gratitude, kindness, or determination, and make a bulletin board or visual of your goal. Set a time each month to see how you are all doing to achieve the goal.
  • Walk to Manhood - The walk to manhood was a tradition started by a friend's relatives. The father took his 16-year-old son on a walk with four other gentlemen. They had chosen five topics ahead of time and had assigned one topic to each of the men. The first man started walking with the boy. They walked for one mile and talked about the specific topic to which he was assigned. At the mile mark, the young boy was passed off to the next man. The two of them walked the second mile and talked about the second topic. This continued for mile three and four with two new men and two new topics. The boy's father met him at the four-mile mark and walked with his son the final mile. At the end of the fifth mile, all the men met and celebrated by praying together and enjoying breakfast at a local restaurant. 
  • Select a family motto.

Seasonal Traditions - Thank God for the wonders and the gifts of nature given to us to use and to cherish. Realize God’s gifts are undeserved and unearned and be filled with gratitude.

  • Early in the fall gather the family for a fall hike. Remember your camera to record family changes from year to year. Appreciate the nature that surrounds you and have conversations about returning our gratitude by the care we give to our earth, water and skies.
  • Family Cottages are good environments for creating traditions and valuing the gifts of nature. Express gratitude to Papa for the adventures of sailing and donuts. Tell Grammie how special it is to go turtling and take trips to the candy store. Let gratitude spill out as you lie on the dock and wonder at the miracle of stars and God’s universe.

Music - Thank God for the gift of music that enriches worship, nurtures our spirit and causes such joy.

  • Sing familiar songs of worship such as Amazing Grace. Find a favorite church school song for each of your children and make it a special song that you can use when they feel joy or when sad and need to feel cheer.
  • Write a family song to use when cousins, aunts, and uncles, grandparents gather. “It’s great to be a family, I’m thankful for the chance, to share my life with others….”
  • For a dinner prayer, sing together the verse from Away in a Manger that begins, “Be near me Lord Jesus I ask you to stay….”

Foods - Thank God for the bountiful blessing of food, meals to strengthen and kitchens that become a center of pleasure! Ask God to direct your mission to others so that we may share our abundance with those who are in need.

  • Gather your extended family before Thanksgiving to make lefse or flatbread for the season. Remember the family members who passed the tradition to you and acknowledge their impact
  • Choose a standard Sunday Supper, maybe Spaghetti Sunday! Or, plan a family Sunday night out to serve at the Stillwater Last Sunday Supper.
  • Make Swedish pancakes or caramel rolls for special occasions.
  • Girls in the family go out for family tea.

School Traditions - Thank God for the ability to learn, for schools, teachers, materials, and the abundance of resources. Be thankful for friends, and school activities.

  • Celebrate the first day of school or report cards by going out to eat or having a special meal at home. Acknowledge your child’s efforts. Write a thank you note to your teacher.

Holiday Traditions Thank God for all peoples of the world, recognizing that we are at one with all humanity. Talk to your children about gratitude for these traditions that connect the present with the past, and direct our future. Thank God with a deeply grateful heart for the memory of the people who came before us.  Recognize their sacrifice, their efforts and values which have become blessings in our lives.


  • Make or buy a table runner. Use a black marker for guests to write their name and date. Write what you have been thankful for this year. Let guests know before coming to think about “I am thankful for….” The runner can be used year after year and become a family history of thanks.
  • Read Psalm 100 each year before eating a meal.
  • Light a small candle at each place setting. Go around the table and have each person say something they are thankful for and then blow out their candle.
  • Place three pieces of corn at each plate to remind us of the Thanksgiving Story. Guests share three things for which they are grateful for this year.
  • Teach your children how to make foods of their heritage such as Krum Kake, lefse and flatbread.
  • Give each guest a Blessing Box. Have them use it to drop coins in when they feel blessed by some action or thought. Share the ‘offerings’ as a gesture of your gratitude for the many blessings in your life.
  • Play the Thanksgiving Game (available at or make up your own: Everyone writes down what they’re thankful for on a piece of paper and then try to guess who wrote each. Figure out a point system and some fun rules. Be sure to save those notes to reread and enjoy year after year.
  • Put a paper/wooden/plastic/other number 4 on each plate. Kids can decorate these 4s in advance. During the meal, each person gets time to say what they’re thankful “4”.
  • Read together The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor.
  • Thanksgiving traditions can also nurture generosity:
  • Participate in Jesus Delivers, Feed My Starving Children, or similar event.
  • Collect food or money for Food Shelf or charity.
  • Choose a charity; plan how to support that charity in the coming weeks.

Valentine’s Day

  • Have a special sit down Valentine Party.  Have each family member write a note of appreciation to each family member.
  • Draw names within your family the week before Valentine’s Day and perform small acts of service and kindness for that person to show gratitude for them.

Santa Lucia Day
Consider your ethnicity and celebrate! The Swedes celebrate Santa Lucia Day. One grandmother gathers the women in her family each year, discusses the meaning of the day, share a meal, and a granddaughter dons the candle garland to portray Santa Lucia. Plan conversation such as the meaning of lights and the act of service.

Company Traditions - Thank God for joy of gathering with friends and family and whisper a ‘thanks’ for the people who are so important in your life.

Company coming? Jobs in a fishbowl! Place a fishbowl near the door. When your friends or family come have them draw a job so everyone participates in the event in a supportive manner. Examples might be: Watch the kids from 7:30-8:00, wash the dessert plates, put the chairs away. Add a note of thanks to each card for the help provided.

Travel Thank God for providing opportunities for times to refresh and experience the extraordinary places and event in your life.
Car trips are a good time to listen to Christian music, read/tell Bible stories, and notice God’s creation.  We also like to be silly and make signs to hold up for semi trucks that say “Honk!” Pay attention and give thanks by casual comments, “I’m so thankful God gave us this blue sky!”

BirthdaysThank God for life and acknowledge the gift you have been given.

  • Birthday pancakes with candles
  • Celebrate with a family candlelight birthday dinner in the dining room with your best dishes. Birthday child picks the meal, dessert and all help prepare the meal.
  • Always eat cake together as a family – sometimes even for breakfast!
  • Let the birthday boy/girl eat their meals on the “You Are Special” plate.
  • While your child is sleeping, decorate his/her room with streamers and balloons for a fun birthday morning surprise.
  • Make a special birthday breakfast.  Make homemade caramel rolls for each birthday – and always stick a candle in them!
  • Talk about the day your child was born.