Giving Thanks | 5 Unique Ways To Celebrate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Gathering family and friends around the table for an epic feast is something I will always look forward to. But it requires a lot of work, too, and amid all the cooking, cleaning, and hustling, it's easy to forget that Thanksgiving is about so much more.

In my little family, as we sit around the table, we have a tradition where each person shares something they are grateful for. It's a simple exercise, but is by far my favorite part of the day. Expressing gratitude is its own reward -- it feels good to think about what's going well in life! -- but even better are the conversations it starts, which often wind up being the most meaningful conversations of the evening.

With one small gesture of appreciation, a whole new way of connecting opens up. Whatever stress or family tension there was before begins to melt away, bad moods start to change, and you can feel a shift in the room as everyone relaxes a little deeper into their seats. To me, this is what Thanksgiving is all about.

As the holiday approaches this year, I find myself wanting more ways to celebrate that are just as meaningful. So without further ado, here are five ideas to make your Thanksgiving celebration a little more special:

1. Write a letter to someone who has made an impact on you. Handwritten letters may seem archaic in this day and age, but the time and thought that goes into them can make the message so much more meaningful. Whether it's your parents, a favorite teacher, or someone you haven't seen in a long time, a letter is a great way to let them know what they're presence in your life has meant to you. Another idea: include a letter-writing station on thanksgiving day, and encourage everyone to write a letter to someone they are grateful for!

2. Share the bounty. Every year I think about how fortunate I am to have the resources to enjoy a big meal with the people I love, but I'm always aware there are plenty who aren't so lucky. In the past I have volunteered at my local shelter, but to be honest, they tend to get swarmed with people wanting to help during the holidays. This is not to say that you shouldn't volunteer still, but here are a few other ways to help: when you buy your family's meal, get two and give one to a family you know is struggling. Invite someone to share your feast who might not have their own family to be with. Or call your local food bank and find out what items they are short on, so you can provide exactly what they need (they might not be the things you'd think).

3. Give thanks to our troops. Did you know you can donate to organizations like Operation Homefront to send holiday meals to military families? This is a great way to help feed a deserving family and show appreciation at the same time. Or, pick another organization you feel strongly about, and if your family is up for it, make it a part of your Thanksgiving by asking everyone to donate if they can. If you have a big family, even a dollar per person can make a big difference.

4. Ask everyone at the table to share what, or who, they are grateful for. As I said above, hearing what others are thankful for is my favorite part of my Thanksgiving tradition. Any stress or family tension melts away, bad moods start to change, and we all feel a sense of appreciation and connectedness. It's the simplest thing, but don't underestimate it -- sharing what and who we are grateful for can have a profound effect on an otherwise hectic holiday.

5. Host a thanks-giveaway. Ask family and friends to gather clothes, shoes, cooking supplies, or anything else they are ready to part with and make a group donation to your local salvation army, homeless shelter, or goodwill. If you have some nicer items to get rid of, try selling them on craigslist and put the money you make towards whatever organization or charity you feel needs it most. Sometimes being thankful for what we have means letting go of what we no longer need, and using our extras to help others.

I'd love to hear...

Does your family have a special thanksgiving tradition?

What, or who, are you grateful for?

Do you have any ideas to add to this list?

Share in the comments below!