When my kids were little, I was always looking for ways to bring the importance of thankfulness into their lives, especially at Thanksgiving. We did the usual taking turns around the Thanksgiving table saying what we were thankful for and brought out little items they made at school as part of our dinner each year. Pinterest wasn’t a “thing” at the time so going out and finding a multitude of ideas wasn’t readily available. Hard to believe with the access we have on the internet these days.
One year I remember reading about creating a Thankful Tree using limbs from your yard and hanging leaves (cut out leaves or fake leaves) on a string to the limbs with why you were thankful. I really liked that idea and it took on greater meaning to me in 2007. That was the year that both my mother and her sister were diagnosed with cancer. To me, for this to happen to two sisters in one year was an incredibly sad situation. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer that March and my Auntie Gail was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that September. Getting them both through their chemo, radiation, hospital stays and doctor visits was tough that year. But I’ll always remember how brave they both were and how difficult it was for them. It was a privilege to be able to support them both that year and watch their courage as they fought this disease.
At Thanksgiving that year, I asked the kids to go out into our yard and find some limbs so we could make our first ever Thankful Tree. We put them in a vase and cut pieces of brown yarn and added them to leaves. Unfortunately, we couldn’t write on the leaves so we used sticky notes and stapled them to the leaves and hung them on the tree. I remember watching my sweet Aunt write why she was thankful that year on a sticky note and then help two of her grandchildren with their own sticky notes. I was so thankful that year that we were all able to celebrate Thanksgiving together because I know how difficult it was for both my aunt and Mother to get through their treatments.
A few years later, I found some paper leaves we could write on and we used those for the tree. We had a few transitions over the next few years, celebrating Thanksgiving with the family in Jasper so we didn’t make the tree for a while. But then my sweet Sister-in-Law, Rhonda, passed away suddenly in July 2014 and finding a way to be “thankful” was something I felt we needed as a family that Thanksgiving in Jasper. I wanted to create something more permanent that year so I had this idea about using a bulletin board and using felt to create a tree on the board. I enlisted my daughters to create this tree and they did a fantastic job drawing it out, cutting it out and then gluing it to the bulletin board. They also cut out different fall color leaves from construction paper so we could write on them.
When I introduced it at the family gathering that year, it was just what we all needed. Don’t get me wrong, in no way did it replace those that we have lost over the years but it did give us time to reflect, all gathered as family, about what we still have and what we need to maintain our family ties. I think it helped us reflect on our love for one another through whatever comes our way. It was a blessing to watch the “kids” – almost all adults now – take to this “new” tradition and write something special to themselves on a leaf.
We have now used the bulletin board Thankful Tree for 3 years and I love reading what everyone writes. Whether it’s something funny in the laughter of the gathering or if there is something special on someone’s heart, it captures that person at that moment in time. I really do hope we continue to do this for years to come.
I have a larger project in mind after a few years of collecting these “thankful leaves’ and hope that by next year I can get it underway. Meanwhile, each year I take the leaves that are put on the tree, write the year they were written on the backs of the leaves, and store them with my Thanksgiving decorations. I am so very thankful that I found this idea so many years ago and I’m thankful for the creativity of my daughters in creating this on a bulletin board so we can keep it going.