In keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, most of us aim to find some meaningful way to give thanks for all of God’s gifts on the third Thursday of November. But in the rush of cleaning the bathroom for company, stuffing the turkey’s hindquarters, and searching the internet for a solution to keep pie crusts from burning, it can be hard to find the time to properly and mindfully count our blessings. If we’re honest, even the tradition of going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for tends to feel like an afterthought (or a patience-testing impediment) when staring down at the feast spread before us.

In light of these challenges, there’s one tradition I’m so glad we’ve observed in our home for ten years now: keeping a family gratitude journal.

This little notebook makes its appearance on the buffet table in our entryway every Thanksgiving weekend. Each of us—my husband, my three kids, and I—has the span of Thursday through Sunday to take time to write a few paragraphs about what we’re thankful for that year. 

After a decade of use, this book has become a precious keepsake. Every time I hear the question, “If your house was burning down and you could run back to save one thing, what would it be?” I picture it: its faded autumnal colors and the crooked cursive words I wrote on its cover while balancing my first baby on my knee: “Giving Thanks.” Opening the book each year reveals a precious chronicle of my marriage and my children’s upbringing. From the time our kids could write, they have taken part. I look back now and read that when my now ten-year-old son was four, he was thankful for church, “maccc A roni” and cheese, and Luke Skywalker. Likewise, my daughter in her preschool years gave thanks for her “bruthers” and “that I am uliev” (alive). As grade schoolers, they now pen their appreciation for their friends, their school, and their hobbies. I look forward with pleasure to reading the contents of their entries as they grow and mature even more.

Not only is our gratitude journal an endearing annual trip down memory lane, it’s also a testament to God’s faithfulness in the life of our family. Thumbing through the pages we’ve written since 2007, I’m reminded of jobs landed, relationships deepened, illnesses healed—answered prayers, each one. Our family has been through a lot, and we’re still standing. I’m deeply grateful for a year-after-year reminder of that fact.

You might think that such a dearly held treasure came about from a firm, determined intention, but in fact, the opposite is true. Our gratitude journal started rather accidentally.

As a new mom ten years ago, I happened to attend a Mothers of Pres-Schoolers (MOPS) meeting at my church one November day. The meeting focused on finding creative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving and express gratitude as a family. At the close of the morning, each mom was given craft paper and a composition notebook—yes, complete with the old-school black and white squiggle design—and instructed to create a festive, Thanksgiving-themed journal. I complied. Bringing the book home that day, I had no idea what it would mean to the life of my family for years to come. 

Since our family has experienced first-hand the beautiful blessings that a shared gratitude journal can bring, perhaps you can, too. A gratitude journal doesn’t have to be fancy—my junior high-style comp book is proof enough of that—it simply has to be a book you can reuse as years go by. Journal entries also don’t have to be written Thanksgiving Day, when you’re up to your eyeballs in stuffing and just discovered your visiting cousin is gluten-free. Any time around the holiday weekend is fair game. Choose a time when you have a few moments for quiet reflection. Even if your family is well into its lifespan, it’s never too late to start this practice.

Family traditions, whatever they are, add up to more than the sum of their parts. They strengthen our bonds with each other through fun, happy memories. They have a magical way of instilling family identity. They tell our story: “Our family does this, and it makes us special.” 

So, let the rest of the country go ahead with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the football games, or the family-recipe green bean casserole every Thanksgiving. We may do all of these things, too, from year to year—or we may not. The one tradition I know our family will continue to observe is found in an unassuming little book resting on our buffet table.