Catholic Thanksgiving Day Lesson Plans on the Eucharist as Thanksgiving

Catholic Thanksgiving Lesson PlanEucharist means first of all “thanksgiving” (CCC, 1360). I can think of no better lesson to teach to our students this Thanksgiving week than this. There are many images that express the intense mystery that is the Eucharist, but the Eucharist as thanksgiving is the most appropriate for November. A simple connection that you can help your students make is that every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we share a Thanksgiving meal.

The word Eucharist comes from “the Greek words eucharistein and eulogein, which recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification” (CCC, 1328). We are united as one body, one family sharing in the one bread and one cup of Christ.

Many people assume that the United States has celebrated Thanksgiving Day since the time of the pilgrims as a sign of thanksgiving for the harvest season. This is not exactly true. President Abraham Lincoln instituted the holiday in 1863 during the Civil War. However, he did not have the harvest in mind. He wanted Americans to celebrate the holiday as a sign of unity and thanksgiving to God.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” (President Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation, October 3, 1863).

I can think of no American holiday that so closely resembles the symbolism and meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist. We celebrate Thanksgiving as a sign of American unity and thanksgiving to God who has given us great gifts.

Use the following lesson plan variations to teach your students about Thanksgiving and the Eucharist:

Elementary School Lesson Plan

Objective: SWBAT make connections between Thanksgiving dinner and the Eucharist (food, family, unity, and giving thanks).

Materials Needed: blank copy paper, colored pencils/markers/crayons

Prior Knowledge: experience of celebration of Thanksgiving dinner at home; experience of the celebration of the Eucharist at Church

Learning Tasks:

  1. Distribute one sheet of blank copy paper to each student. Instruct them to fold the paper in half (hamburger-style).
  2. Instruct the students to label the left side of the paper “Thanksgiving Dinner” and have them draw a picture of their Thanksgiving dinners using colored pencils, markers, or crayons.
  3. Pair-share: After they have finished their drawings, invite students to explain their pictures to a partner.
  4. Instruct the students to label the right side of the paper “The Eucharist” and have them draw a picture of the Mass. (Hint that they should start by drawing an altar.)
  5. Pair-share: After they have finished their drawings, invite students to explain their pictures to a partner.
  6. As a class, ask students to point out what is similar about the two pictures they drew. You should especially direct students to see that both pictures will have food (turkey/bread and wine), families (remind the students that the Church is God’s family – he is the Father), unity (everyone shares the meals together as one family), and giving thanks.
  7. Ask the students what they will give thanks for at Thanksgiving this year. Instruct them to write those things down on the back of their Thanksgiving Dinner picture.
  8. Ask the students what they will give thanks to God for the next time they go to Mass. Instruct them to write those things down on the back of their The Eucharist picture.
  9. Close by asking the students, “Do you know what the word Eucharist means?” Take guesses, then tell the students that Eucharist means “thanksgiving!” Invite them to share these pictures and this lesson with their families this week.

Middle School Lesson Plan

Objective: SWBAT make connections between the purpose of Thanksgiving and the purpose of the Eucharist as thanksgiving.

Materials Needed: Copies of the Thanksgiving Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1359-1361, 1352), and the Thanksgiving and the Eucharist graphic organizer (PDF / Word)

Prior Knowledge: the Civil War was fought between Americans during the 1860s and Abraham Lincoln was the President during the Civil War

Learning Tasks:

  1. Bell Work: In their journals or on sheet of notebook paper, ask students to answer the question, “What is the purpose of Thanksgiving.”
  2. Discuss the students’ answers to the bell work.
  3. Explain to the students that the holiday of Thanksgiving was started by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 during the American Civil War. If they have not learned about the Civil War in Social Studies, briefly explain the most important events of the war.
  4. Give students a copy of the Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863. Instruct them to read the proclamation once, then read it a second time searching for the answers to the following questions on the  Thanksgiving and the Eucharist graphic organizer (PDF / Word).
  5. Discuss their answers as a class. Ask them to relate what they found by reading the proclamation to what they wrote was the purpose of Thanksgiving in their bell work.
  6. Distribute copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1359-1361. First ask students to skim until they find the sentence, “The Eucharist means…”
  7. Instruct the students to read the excerpts from the Catechism once, then read it a second time searching for the answers to the following questions on the  Thanksgiving and the Eucharist graphic organizer (PDF / Word)
  8. Using the graphic organizer, instruct students to complete the final column, “similarities.” *Note: Challenge students to make a connection between the unity of the country symbolized by Thanksgiving and the unity of the Church symbolized by the Eucharist.

High School Lesson Plan

Objective: SWBAT compare and contrast the purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday and the purpose of the Eucharist.

Materials Needed: Copies of the Thanksgiving Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, notebook paper

Prior Knowledge: personal experience of the Eucharist

Learning Tasks:

  1. Bell Work: In their journals or on sheet of notebook paper, ask students to answer the question, “What is the purpose of Thanksgiving.”
  2. Discuss the students’ answers to the bell work.
  3. Explain to the students that the holiday of Thanksgiving was started by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 during the American Civil War. Ask students to share what they know about the Civil War as review.
  4. Give students a copy of the Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863. Instruct them to read the proclamation searching for the original purpose of Thanksgiving. Have them write down this purpose on their notebook paper (If students have trouble, ask them to write what President Lincoln said they should be thankful for.)
  5. Discuss their answers as a class. Ask them to relate what they found by reading the proclamation to what they wrote was the purpose of Thanksgiving in their bell work.
  6. Distribute copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ask the students to find similarities between the original purpose of Thanksgiving and the purpose of the Eucharist. They must use the index to find “Eucharist” and search for similarities. (If students are having difficulty, then you may decide to have them work in pairs. You may also direct them to the key paragraph numbers related to the Eucharist as “thanksgiving” 1328, 1333-1334, 1352, 1359-1340)
  7. Discuss the similarities as a class. Ask them to discuss as a class how this changes the way they look at Thanksgiving Day, the Eucharist, or both.
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Comments

  1. Amazing_Grace says:

    Great job! Thanks for posting! :)

  2. Noah B says:

    Jared –

    Thanks for posting these great lesson ideas.

    I do have one question – why don’t these lesson plans include an assessment? I have been reading over your e-book and watching some of the videos (and I happen to be a fellow ACE alumnus), so I am wondering what happened to the assessment.

    Thanks,
    Noah B

    • Noah,

      Thanks for pointing this out! I suppose I needed the ebook a year ago as well since I clearly forgot to make the assessment an explicit part of the lesson plan. Maybe this will help:

      Elementary School
      Assessment: #6 is a verbal way of measuring the students’ ability to “make connections,” but looking at this again I would start the next class period with an Entrance Card asking them to list the connections between Thanksgiving and the Eucharist.

      Middle School
      Assessment: #8 The Graphic Organizer is the assessment in this case.

      High School
      Assessment: I would add an eighth step here to check student understanding and ability to “compare and contrast” the purposes of Thanksgiving and the Eucharist. This could be done visually in a Venn Diagram. They could do it in writing in an essay. #7 might get some of the student to show mastery of the objective, but not all of them.

      I’d also welcome other suggestions since there is no one way to assess learning. Noah and others – what would you do to assess the students in these lessons?

      • Noah B says:

        Jared,

        Great. That’s exactly what I was looking for.

        I like the idea of a written essay or Venn Diagram. I’m trying to think about how the task could be made a little more authentic. Is there way we could incorporate a letter or prayer writing task into the assessment?

        I tried to think of a prompt, but it’s a bit awkward to say “compare and contrast the purpose of Thanksgiving and the purpose of the Eucharist in a letter to God thanking him for all that you have this season” but perhaps something like this would work?

        Have a happy Thanksgiving.

        Noah

  3. Dear Jared:
    I love this plan but could not access the graphic organizer. Where do you find it?

    • Patrice – Click on the text “Thanksgiving and Eucharist Graphic Organizer” under the middle school lesson plan. It is a link to a Google Doc that you can use. I’m glad you like the lesson plan!

  4. Michele Q. says:

    This is very nice –thank you. A clarification needs to me made though. It was president George Washington who issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789 naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks.” After that different states celebrated on different days until Lincoln’s proclamation on October 3, 1863 when he made Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated specifically on the last Thursday of November.

    (And in 1939 Roosevelt moved it to the third Thursday of November to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy still recovering from the Depression. That move, which set off a national debate, was reversed in 1941 when Congress passed and President Roosevelt approved a joint house resolution establishing, by law, the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.)

    source: The National Archives

    • Wow, thanks for this clarification Michele! Teachers, please do make this correction, however, use the declaration by Abraham Lincoln to compare the meaning of Thanksgiving and the Eucharist. The proclamation is very revealing.

  5. Barbara Marano says:

    Any suggestions for a banner for thanksgiving mass. I know Eucharist means thanksgiving will put a chalice any other symbols?

    • When I think about the symbols that represent Thanksgiving (the holiday) I think of things like Turkeys, lots of food, cornucopias, and other symbols of the harvest. You might want to use symbols of wheat and grapes the connect with the harvest? It certainly fits with the liturgical prayers about this time of year. This is just my first reaction.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Love the idea for the elementary students. I know they will enjoy this and learn the importance and relationship between Thanksgiving and the Eucharist. Thank you!

  7. Thank you so very much for all that you do. I’m a first year Middle School Religion teacher, and your ideas help me a lot in planning for some of my lessons. I think the Middle School Eucharist/Thanksgiving lesson plan is brilliant! God bless you!

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