Readers and staff share the rituals that make their holidays special.
Celebrate the date
"Guests during the holiday place an 'I am thankful for ...' card on my Thanksgiving branch display. I take a tall vase, fill the bottom with nuts and put branches in it. I hand cards to guests who visit, ask them to write what they are thankful for, then tie the cards with ribbon to the branches. The arrangement stays out all fall."
-- Cathy Robbs Turner, Christ United Methodist Church director of education
"My daughter and I get together the day before Thanksgiving and begin the cooking process, prepping everything we can before the big day. The Christmas music is blasting, and we have a ball."
-- Brenda Rayburn, Silverdale Baptist Academy director of admissions and college guidance
"Watching the Macy's parade with my son while drinking hot chocolate. While everything's cooking, I make hot chocolate, and we watch the parade. We've done it 15 years."
-- Debbie C. Brown, Morgan Keegan/Raymond James vice president
"Drinking hot apple cider next to the fireplace while we watch Christmas movies (after we've eaten leftovers.) We started this several years ago to get in the mood for the season when my children were younger, but even as teens they've continued to enjoy it."
-- Tina Hullender, Signal Mountain resident
-- Compiled by Susan Pierce
30 Days of Thanks
Many people are taking advantage of social media to express their thankfulness this month, citing one thing they're thankful for each day.
"I think that sometimes we get caught up in life and forget just how thankful we are for little things that we might take for granted," said Chattanooga teacher Lisa Breedlove, 54.
Breedlove has posted thanks on Facebook for blessings such as God, parents and friends -- and also for things as obscure as eyelids (which help get unwelcome things out of her eyes).
"One of my favorites is that I am thankful for my mistakes," she said. "Mistakes are great if you learn from them. They will give you a quick education about yourself and others. They teach you what to do, what type of man to date, what kind of friend to have, what products to buy and how long to leave the cake in the oven.
"They are responsible for a lot of my growth as a person, and they have helped me to improve myself. I think if you make a mistake, at least you are trying."
Janne Spencer Garrett, 53, of Chattanooga said she saw others posting thanks on Facebook and immediately joined in.
"I do think that it has made me focus my thoughts," she said. "The 30 Days of Thanks has made me look at those things around me that I take for granted on a daily basis and re-evaluate."
Garrett said she is thankful for "parents who taught me so much," a "husband of 10 years who is truly a gift from God" and extended family she is "blessed to be placed in the company of."
"It's not the material things for which I am so thankful," she said. "It's the people that are in my life. They can never be replaced."
Misty Martin, 32, of Chickamauga, Ga., said the thankful postings this month have encouraged her to continue the practice in a journal.
"As mushy as it seems," she said, "I chose to do it because it forces me to take a look at my life on a more day-to-day basis and the many blessings in it. I find it difficult to list one thing each day because I'm thankful for so much"
-- Compiled by Clint Cooper
'The blessings all come back to you'
For two decades, members of the Chattanooga Sai Center celebrate Thanksgiving with a charitable act that channels their spiritual leader's humanitarian teachings.
Every year, the local chapter of the International Sri Sathya Sai Organization donates food and blankets to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. That act is in keeping with the humanitarian teachings of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru, or spiritual leader, who called for peaceful, loving selflessness among adherents spanning a wide range of religions.
"He doesn't tell you to follow one religion but to just be a good human being," said Dr. Lotika Pandit-Chandra, a Hindu and co-founder of Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders with her husband, Dr. Anuj Chandra.
Pandit-Chandra is originally from Kashmir but grew up in the Northeastern Indian state of Assam. She and her husband moved to the United States 20 years ago and to Chattanooga 16 years ago. They have been taking part in the Sai Center's Thanksgiving outreach for more than a decade.
In addition to increasing their regular donations to the Community Kitchen, Pandit-Chandra said that every Thanksgiving the group also hands out 108 blankets, a number with special religious significance to Hindus. On their own, Pandit-Chandra and her family also have donated gift cards the last four or five years to local needy families to buy food for Thanksgiving.
Sai Baba died in April 2011, but his Chattanooga followers continue their outreach. Pandit-Chandra said she feels these donations -- and other charitable acts throughout the year -- contribute to good karma that ultimately will benefit them.
"I think the blessings all come back to you," she said. "I think that is because of the people's hearts you have touched. It all comes back to affect your life."
-- Compiled by Casey Phillips
Four generations together
KAREN NAZOR HILL (staff writer): As hard as you try to hold on to them, family traditions change with time.
When my children were young, it didn't occur to me that one day they'd be celebrating the holiday on the other side of the continent -- where all four ended up living for a period of time for either work or graduate school. My stepsons stayed nearby in Knoxville.
This year, though, for the first time in more than a dozen years, four generations of my entire immediate family (including my husband's side) will celebrate Thanksgiving together at our home. For that, I am most grateful.
Our meal, with the focus on a plump turkey, will include family favorites: my husband's oyster dressing, my mother's cranberry salad and sweet potato-stuffed oranges, and my sister-in-law's grits casserole. We'll begin our meal with a sincere prayer of thanks, and we'll spend the next few hours eating, laughing and enjoying one another's company.
At the end of the day, one of my favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions takes place. I begin decorating my home for Christmas.
-- Karen Nazor Hill
HOLLY LEBER (staff writer): For my family, Thanksgiving is the big holiday of the year.
Growing up, we always went to my uncle and aunt's home. My aunt went all out, setting up an elaborate spread on the dining room table and decorating with a detailed touch. We ate on trays wherever we could find a spot, and I spent time playing Ping-Pong and listening to the jukebox in the basement with my older cousins.
As time passed and the family grew unwieldy in numbers, we began to split off into smaller factions. We also began losing people -- my father's mother, my mother's parents, two of her cousins, my aunt. For a while, Thanksgiving seemed a bit adrift.
But we have our footing again. New traditions have emerged: dinner at my parents' with good friends or extended family. I do most of the cooking. The holiday includes the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, my grandmother's pumpkin ice cream pie and then Friday dinner at the home of close family friends.
Even the seemingly endless string of menu-planning emails sent among myself, my mother and my sister seems to have become a new tradition.
Fun on the field
BARRY COURTER (staff writer): Thanksgiving is all about traditions: my grandmother's oyster-based dressing, pumpkin pie, leftover turkey sandwiches the next day and spending the day with family. Every year since I was a small child, we have tried to play touch football before the big meal.
All ages play, and we've had games that featured as few as four people and as many 30. We've had games featuring an NFL quarterback, who lined up across from a tenacious 5-year-old, and we've had games where the main goal was to just be able to walk off the field uninjured.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving football memories was the year the late Parker Smith played with us. It happened to be the first year my father brought a cassette player and a tape of college fight songs, which played for the entire 90-minute game. He also brought a copy of "The Star Spangled Banner," which we reverently played before kickoff.
Smith wasn't quite sure what he'd gotten himself into, and he stayed uncharacteristically quiet all day. Like every other game we've played, everybody had a good time.
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