The Thankful List: A Thanksgiving Tradition

The Thankful List: A Thanksgiving Tradition


I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday that explicitly rejects consumerism and instead pushes us to pause and reflect on what we already have to be thankful for.

Years ago when my wife and I were hosting our first Thanksgiving we wanted to make the day special. We didn’t want everyone to just gorge on a big meal and fall asleep in front of the TV watching football. We wanted the focus of Thanksgiving to actually be thankfulness.

That was the beginning of the “Thankful List.”

Here’s what we do:

Whatever day Thanksgiving lands on, each person attending our Thanksgiving festivities makes a list of things for which they are thankful up to that number. So, for example, with Thanksgiving on November 23 this year, we’ll be making lists of 23 things.

Here’s what I love about the thankful list.

The first few things are easy.

Those first few things on everyone’s lists are also quite similar. Family and friends, God, our health; the things in the forefront of our lives.

But once you get into the teens it’s where it starts to get interesting.  You start to really think about what you’re thankful for.  I always find that when I am making my list I start to feel like I am reaching somewhere around 19 or 20.  And then something magical happens.

I hit stride.

There’s something about making such an extensive list of things you are thankful for that makes you realize how much you have to be thankful for.  By the time I end I realize that I could keep going.  I always feel like I could keep going forever.

After we’ve had our Thanksgiving feast everyone pulls out their list.  We call out a number and go around the table. It’s a special time.

It’s also hilarious.

It’s hilarious because for #13 I may have listed something quite serious.  I may have said something like, “I’m thankful for my wife’s support–that she believed in me when no one else did, even if that did mean up we’d end up in the in-law’s garage.”  There’s a somber moment.  We’re talking about what a crazy year it’s been.  How our faith has been tested.  How we’ve learned so much about life, love, friendship…

And then it comes time for the next person to share what they listed at #13….

And they’re thankful for Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream.

Let me tell you, everyone is thankful for those lighthearted moments.  I’m not sure we could handle 24 rounds of such serious topics without a good laugh here and there.

The Thankful List spurs everyone to linger… to stay at the table a little longer… to pour another glass of wine or grab a piece of pie.

I hope you’ll join us in the Thankful List tradition.

You’ll be amazed how much you have to be thankful for.

My book unWorking is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

  • Ooohh I can’t wait to experience Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving list sounds like an amazing idea!! Pardon my ignorance (we don’t have Thanksgiving in Australia!) but you said the date for thanksgiving changes. How is the date decided?

    • Tracey,
      Thanksgiving is on the 4th Thursday of November each year so it ranges from about the 22nd to the 27th. The thankful list is so great. What used to happen is we would spend all day preparing a huge meal. Everyone would sit down, pray and eat. After about 10 minutes it would all be over. A bit of a bummer when you spend so much time preparing. This activity allows us to stay at the table, enjoy each other’s company and really reflect on the blessings in our life, small and big.

  • That’s such a great idea! I’ve been keeping a thankful journal this year, and it’s so good to be intentional about giving thanks! Blessings to you!

    • Thanks, Rebecca! I love the idea of keeping a thankful journal too.

  • Noah

    Great post and a great idea!

    My Thankful List:
    1 God
    2 my family (especially my wife!)
    3 church
    4 great freinds (like Clark & Monica)
    5 surfing
    6 books
    7 …on and on!

    • Thanks for your comment Noah. If you haven’t, I really encourage you to sit down and write a list all the way out to 24. Maybe you did and did not want to share such a personal list with the millions of readers of this blog! 🙂

      The reason I encourage you to do so if you haven’t is because of what you put for Number 7. (…on and on!). We all know we have a lot to be thankful for. We all say we could go on and on. But when you’re making a list and really stretching your brain to actually list those things….. wow…. what a feeling of gratitude! And what funny things we think of.

  • I love that idea, Clark…thanks for sharing! I also love the fact that you mention that you hit stride as you have to list more. Kind of like praying, perhaps. You touch on the same things you’re grateful for over and over…but when you really really think about things, you realize how much more there is to be grateful for!! Thanks for this post!

    • I had not thought about it that way, but yes, it is like praying!

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  • Melanie Murrish

    I am making Thanksgiving obligatory in the northeast of England after reading this post!

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