This holiday is about connecting with family

For many, Thanksgiving has become more of holiday of indulgences as opposed to a time of savoring family moments and traditions. Thanksgiving originated as a celebration of gratitude between the Pilgrims and the American Indians. Two diverse groups joined together as a way of sharing their good fortunes and giving thanks to each other.


Somehow this tradition focused on connecting with others has transgressed to a day of consuming and overdoing. It’s become a time of excessive shopping, spending, eating, posting and TV watching. With Black Friday merging into Thanksgiving Day, shopping seems to have trumped the other distractions.

Since the start of the modern Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been known as the unofficial start to a bustling holiday shopping season. The term Black Friday was coined in the ‘60s. With work-life balance disappearing for many families, Black Friday has grown in popularity. In the last several years, Black Friday is no longer reserved for the day following Thanksgiving and now encroaches on Thanksgiving Day itself. Black Friday shopping is available as early as 3 p.m. the day of Thanksgiving. And some stores, like Wal-Mart, never close on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, is open most if not all day on Thanksgiving.

It’s a challenge for families to truly be focused on connecting and sharing when they are distracted by what time the best deal will be offered at the local mall. Those competing activities take away from a traditional family day and make it more about getting and less about giving.

Where does this leave families and their need to connect and celebrate a traditional holiday together such as Thanksgiving? Extended families are no longer competing for time with the grandkids. Instead it’s about which store shall we drag the kids to first and at what time?

REI is attempting to serve as a trendsetter this year by closing all stores on Black Friday. The email below was sent to its customers

“This Black Friday we’re closing all 143 of our stores. Instead of reporting to work, we’re paying our employees to do what we love most — be outside. We’re passionate about bringing you great gear, but we’re even more passionate about the experiences it unlocks for all of us. Perhaps John Muir said it best back in 1901: ‘Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.’ We think Black Friday is the perfect day to remind people of this essential truth. We’re going to #OptOutside and we want you to join us. While the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we hope to see you in the great outdoors.”

I’m with REI, and even if I don’t decide to #OptOutside, I do intend to be family centered. Join me and decide to close your wallets and computers. Take a chance that the items you desperately seek will be there after Thanksgiving, and acknowledge that your family traditions may not — especially if they continue to be devalued. You will be more energized by enjoying time with family than being with hundreds of strangers in the Black Friday line at Best Buy.

Here are some thoughts on how to have a family-centered Thanksgiving Day:

1. Put family first. If you’re a typical family that rarely comes together for a meal, use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to refocus priorities. It may seem unnatural or even boring to spend family time with loved ones who barely converse. Thanksgiving offers a chance to get to know each other again.

2. Lose the distractions. Commit to being present. Shut off the tech because it’s hard to be present when you’re on technology.

3. Stop Social Media. Thanksgiving is not about posting selfies, it is about giving to others. Walk the talk and stop showing off. Pictures are for family memories and not showing off to the world how wonderful you and yours are.

4. Have a plan. Prepare activities that join families and alleviate awkwardness. Remember that family Thanksgiving Day touch football game? Try one of those. Have a bean bag toss at the entry into your home, take out the charades, use that old karaoke machine, hold a mock debate, etc. Be creative and let the family juices flow.

5. Assign tasks. Give everyone involved in the Thanksgiving celebration a role. When everyone participates, the family spirit will emerge effortlessly.

6. Story tell. Recall past Thanksgivings and keep the memories alive by giving the children their family history and traditions.

7. Don’t sweat stuff. If the food isn’t perfect or the kids spill their drinks, that’s time to remind everyone of the power of gratitude. You are not together to have a food and behavior contest, you are together to enjoy each other’s company during a meal that everyone contributes to.

This Thanksgiving, decide to reclaim the tradition that is at the core of the foundation of this country and the families that make it so great; reconnect with loved ones to share, show gratitude and just have fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to, or