So How Was Your Thanksgiving? Grandparents Keep it Simple, Special, and (almost) Stress-Free


When I was in elementary school, my favorite Thanksgiving holiday song was Over the River and Through the Woods. Since I grew up in the snow belt on the east side of Cleveland, I easily connected with the song’s images of the “white and drifting snow-oh” and cold that “stings your toes and bites your nose!” Just thinking about that song brings back great memories: feeling all grown up at the adult table with good china, Grandma Rose’s best ever stuffing roasted inside the turkey making it moist and flavorful, a few but classic toys to play with on the living room carpet, Grandpa’s big arms to envelope us in bear hugs.

Fast forward fifty plus years.  Now I’m that grandma with little ones  making their way “through the woods” to our home.

When grandkids come our way for holidays, my goal is to keep the day simple, special, and (almost) stress-free.

Here are a few ways that worked for us. I hope you chime in and share some of yours!

For the Grandkids:

1. Two weeks before, visit the public library. Scout out age appropriate books about Thanksgiving history, family traditions, and other quality children’s literature. I like to bring home about 4-6 so the kids have a selection. (You never know what will they’ll be drawn to.) Reading library books with grandkids is free entertainment, good for their minds, and provides special moments of bonding.

bedtime stories with Grandpa


So many books, so little time! For families with pre-schoolers,

a beautiful wordless picture book
a sweet story about nap time

My three year old grandson really likes Thanksgiving is Here! by Diane Goode.


(Note: all book images from

2. Purchase inexpensive (or make your own) pilgrims’ hats and Indian headdresses. I found Indian feathers for the kids to wear from The Party Store.  We enjoyed having “little Indians” at the dinner table! (I was going to make pilgrim hats for the adults but ran out of energy.) I’ve supplied hats for other holiday occasions, as well.  Children love to dress up and play “make believe.” Hats are a simple way to tap into their imagination.

Happy little Indian boy!


3. Make the dinner table kid-friendly. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time designing the centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table. I do enjoy decorating, but this year I promised myself to keep it simple. So with kids in mind, I covered the table with a cloth, lined the perimeter with white butcher block paper, and placed a small jar of crayons at everyone’s place setting. The centerpiece was just a lantern with a pillar candle (that I pulled down from my mantel) surrounded by a few mini pumpkins. Both grown-ups and kids had fun tracing their hands for turkeys, drawing pumpkins, adding stickers, and doodling while we lingered over dinner. I figured if crayons and paper work well for families at a restaurant, they’d help the same at home.

Oldest Indian boy, Levi!


4. Provide one “creative play” toy. This year we invested in Kapla blocks to keep at our home for grandkids’ visits. Kapla blocks are pricey.  Since we aren’t in the habit of purchasing a lot of toys, spending more than usual on one item doesn’t break our bank. Jim and I discovered these simple yet brilliant blocks at a specialty shop while vacationing. The manager of the store assured us our grandsons would spend hours with these. He was right on! Our five year old and four year old grandsons amazed us with their building skills.

Owen, age four, Kapla tower

5. If you are looking for creative play at a lesser expense, make a tunnel fort out of free boxes! One Christmas season I frequented our local ACE hardware shop to collect appliance boxes. I learned what day and time to go; the key is to get them before the clerks break the boxes down for recycling. (Ignore the silly sponge painting.)

Christmas 2011


Christmas 2011


Hint: No need to buy anything with batteries that makes noise. Children come with their own built in sounds that are much more pleasant! The adults will thank you, I promise.

For the Meal:

6. As much as possible, make the side dishes one or two days ahead. This year I tried Ina Garten’s Make Ahead Gravy. True to most of Ina’s recipes (IMO) this gravy was delicious. I’ve spent too many Thanksgiving mornings in the kitchen, missing out on visiting with all my guests. Each year I try to get better at make aheads.

In the past, I’ve done Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes; heavenly, creamy, and decadent. (I adjust the recipe to taste. Omit the bouillon cubes.) Every year I make the stuffing the night before.

Don’t be shy about assigning side dishes for guests to bring. Ask the early arrivers to bring appetizers.

7. Set the Thanksgiving table the night before. As you do this, pull out platters, serving spoons, and hot plates. This year I forgot to look for my turkey platter, creating a little last minute frustration. (I never did find it. I think I gave it away!)

8. Ask guests beforehand to bring the desserts. I always make my traditional pumpkin roll, but am relieved when others can bring the pies and cakes. For me personally, making desserts is tiring. I need to save all the energy I can for the big day. This year my daughter’s dessert offering was quite creative. She made several different variety of cheesecakes, served in small canning jars. Guests had a lot of fun as they chose their individual cheesecake containers.

These are just a few random ideas. I hope you share a few of your own with us!

As we bowed our heads to give thanks to God for our meal and multiple blessings, I couldn’t help but think about the harvest feast of the first Thanksgiving. Indians and pilgrims came together, in unity to celebrate. What an amazing day!

Today we are painfully aware of the disunity amongst neighbors and nations, and yes, disunity amid Christ followers. Truly this must grieve Jesus, as his mission for us was unity, which always circled back to love. (John 17)

Love, blessings, and unity to you in this season and beyond,










3 thoughts on “So How Was Your Thanksgiving? Grandparents Keep it Simple, Special, and (almost) Stress-Free

  1. We added leaves to our ‘Thanksgiving tree’. This is not an original idea, but last year I took several branches-I used my red twigged dogwood for added color-and put them in a glass Mason jar. They were held in position with colorful pebbles. Then, I cut leaf shapes out of brightly colored paper. We all wrote what we were thankful for on them and hung them on the twigs. This year we added a few more branches to the mix. It is a nice colorful way of remembrance.


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