The Meaning of Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Art

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On the fourth Thursday each November, people travel long and far to be with the ones they love the most to celebrate one of America’s biggest holidays, Thanksgiving. These days, as in times past, Thanksgiving is a time of giving and sharing – coming together for an abundant feast while enjoying each other’s company.

Thanksgiving art centers on traditional images that symbolize the original meaning of the holiday. To understand the origins of Thanksgiving art, let’s travel back in time to the origins of this special holiday. The specific starting point of the holiday is debatable, but here is one of the most popular legends surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday:

Imagine you’re one of the first Pilgrims to colonize America. After a long ride across the Atlantic, you reach the shores of America and work hard to set up your homestead. You have plenty of seeds from England, so you dig a large garden using the same farming methods you and your ancestors used for centuries back in England. Unfortunately, your crops fail. Your family is desperate for food. What do you do?

Luckily, the Native Americans notice the many hardships that you and the other colonizers face. They feel compassion for you, so they generously share their native seeds and show you how to raise crops in your new homeland. Finally, you manage to yield a bountiful crop! It’s time to celebrate! What better way to honor your new friends than to create a holiday where you can thank your new friends for all they have done for you. It is a time of thankfulness for having enough food to eat, as well as expressing gratitude for the many blessings in your life.

Whether or not this generous exchange between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans is historically accurate or a fabricated legend (or a bit of both), both Pilgrim and Native American imagery are an important part of Thanksgiving iconography. Thanksgiving arts and crafts projects for kids often include making feathered Native American headbands and Pilgrim hats.

Other important Thanksgiving art symbols include:

  • turkeys
  • cornucopias
  • images of a bountiful harvest
  • food, especially a feast on a dinner table
  • pumpkins and pumpkin pie
  • the Mayflower

Here are some fun Thanksgiving art ideas:

  • Color in pictures of pilgrims, turkeys and cornucopias. You can hang the finished pictures on your front door or on your refrigerator.
  • Trace a child’s hand onto a piece of paper. The four fingers will become the feathers of a turkey, and the thumb will become the turkey’s head. The child can color in the turkey accordingly.
  • Hand-color Thanksgiving name tags with images of turkeys and fall leaves (as shown in the photo above). These name tags can be used for seating placements around the dinner table.
  • Arrange a display of food, such as a pumpkin, corn, and apples, in a basket and place it as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving dinner table.
  • Create a wreath to hang on your front door. You can direct your child in making a wreath by drawing on construction paper, or you can make one with interlacing dried twigs, interwoven with flowers or other festive items.

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