At your next Thanksgiving meal, pass a side of conversation along with that turkey, turducken or vegetarian loaf. The holiday has a historic background, which is good for educational topics such as the formation of a settlement, the first meal and how life has changed in the centuries since. Mealtime should be peaceful, so avoid getting into verbal battles if you talk about things such as religious persecution and the treatment of American Indians.
Discuss with your family and guests the historical facts leading up to the Pilgrims' immigration to America, the establishment of the Plymouth colony and the subsequent famous meal with the Wampanoags. Lead an in-depth discussion about religious freedom and how that affected the Pilgrims' decision to leave England. Talk about the conditions on the Mayflower and the journey across the ocean. If there are younger kids at the table, omit facts that may not be age appropriate, such as the number of deaths. Include information on what things the native population taught the settlers as well as the ramifications of that interaction for the American Indians' future.
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As many foods are indigenous to North America, quiz your guests to see if they can correctly name at least four that might have been served at the first Thanksgiving meal. These include turkey, corn, blueberries, cranberries and pumpkins. To lengthen the conversation to more than just a list, try a little horticulture and talk about optimal planting conditions or discuss how cornmeal, which was an important American Indian staple at the time, is made and used.
If you traditionally go around the table and have each guest state what she is thankful for, extend the conversation and ask why she is grateful for something. For example, a child might say she is thankful for her pet. Gently prod her to explain what that pet means to her. If you go the religious route on Thanksgiving, talk about what each person's religion means to her. Go beyond "I'm grateful to God" and discuss what positive things she attributes to her deity.
Many people associate the holiday with giving. Pose a question to your family and guests: If you had $1 million and had to give it away, to whom or to what organization or charities would you donate it? Explain they can divide the hypothetical money and parcel it out to more than one place. Ask for the reason each recipient was chosen. This will get your tablemates, especially children, thinking about gratitude and kindness.
Let's Talk Turkey
Many children are taught about Thanksgiving in school but the subject lesson often does not include the annual presidential turkey pardon. The president receiving a turkey dates back to Lincoln but official pardoning did not begin until the late 1980s when George H.W. Bush was in office. While information about the pardon itself doesn't make for a long dinner conversation, this could be the opening to talking about the pros and cons of vegetarianism.