How to make a Gratitude Tree

How to: gratitude tree | Clean.

How to: gratitude tree | Clean.

How to: gratitude tree | Clean.

When I was a child I don't think I really "got" Thanksgiving.

Sure, we gathered around my grandparents table and used the fancy dishes. We said grace and ate a glorious meal.

But I didn't get it.

Not really.

I knew the story of the first Thanksgiving (the version we were told at school anyway), but the meaning was lost on me.

Because grace was just a prayer we said before meals.

It was a memorized and recited, not felt or understood.

I was glad to gather and eat my grandma's cooking, but that was as deep as my gratitude ran.


And then one year – as an adult – I got it.

I really got it.

I'm not sure when Thanksgiving clicked for me, but now I count it among my favorite of the year.

Because it's all about gratitude.

("Well, duh," you say. But truly. It didn't sink in until adulthood.)

It's counting blessings. Being thankful for the abundance that we possess.

It's about deeply feeling and noticing all that we have.

And as you might guess, I'm all about that.

And now I look forward to Thanksgiving like I once looked forward to Christmas.


Several years ago we started a Gratitude Tree tradition.

It quickly became our favorite Thanksgiving tradition, and one that really brought home the meaning of Thanksgiving for our kids. And come to think of it, for the adults as well.

The Gratitude Tree is a place to note all that you are thankful for.

A way to count your blessings and be mindful of all the richness in your life.

Quite simply it's a tree branch decorated with leaves upon which you've written what you're thankful for.

But it always seems like more than that.

So much more that my mom sometimes keeps the tree from the previous year on her dresser until the following autumn.

Because these blessings are worth remembering throughout the year.

How to: gratitude tree | Clean.

Want to start your own Gratitude Tree tradition?

I thought so.

But keep it simple, won't you? We get so carried away trying to make our traditions picture-perfect to the end of losing our way and forgetting why we're doing it to begin with.

Don't let perfection stand in your way.


  • One branch (or bundle of smaller branches) small enough to fit in your jar or vase
  • Mason jar or sturdy vase
  • Marbles or stones (optional) to stabilize vase
  • Paper (colored paper or old water color paintings are nice but not necessary)
  • Paper punch or something pokey to work a hole through your paper
  • Yarn or string
  • Scissors
  • Pencils or pens


Create your "tree"

Cut your branches.

My kids go out each year with clippers and select our branch. It isn't always the most perfect specimen, but I love the role they play in selecting it. If you want a stunning branch, select one on a hike well before the hustle of Thanksgiving.

Feeling fancy? Coat that baby with silver or white sparkly spray paint. Yowza.

Trim the branch so that it isn't obnoxiously tall or wide on your table. You're making a centerpiece – not a brush pile, my friend.

Place the branch in a jar or base. Add pebbles or marbles (optional) to give it a more stable base.

If you have young children and visions of broken vase and bits of tree branch wedged into your turkey, consider a smaller centerpiece. Or as an alternative you can suspend a single branch horizontally above the table. Gorgeous.

Make your leaves

From your old watercolor paintings (or colored paper, or old telephone bills or whatever you've got) cut out leaf shapes. I free form cut simple almond shapes with a little stem, but you can use these templates if you want something more refined.

Punch a hole near the leaf end of your leaves and thread some scrap yarn or string through. Knot.

How to: gratitude tree | Clean.

Arrange your table

Place your tree on your Thanksgiving table.

Surround the tree with scattered leaves and pencils. (Glitter pens would be lovely, but we eat Thanksgiving on Great-Grandma's handmade lace tablecloth. So pencil it is.)

We put our gratitude tree on the table before the guests arrive. Then throughout the evening we all write down anything that we're inspired to share.

Even my dad – not famous for pouring his heart out through the pen – gets into the act.

How to: gratitude tree | Clean.

Share your blessings

After dinner we remove the leaves from the Gratitude Tree and place them in a basket. Then as we gather for dessert or a glass of wine, we pass the basket around the room, taking turns reading the anonymous blessings that were shared.

It's a magical time – sometimes resulting in tears – as we find the words to express all that we are thankful for.

So. Good.

Want more? Five Family Projects to Cultivate Gratitude might be just the ticket. (A post I wrote for Simple Homeschool last year.)

How does your family make Thanksgiving (or a similar holiday in your culture) more meaningful?

8 thoughts on “How to make a Gratitude Tree

  1. emma says:

    Rachel this is beautiful. I love the picture of your dad – sometimes it’s difficult to write what we are thinking because we are worried about it sounding silly, or just not knowing how to express how we feel, but it’s so important to be able to share these thoughts with family and friends.
    Love it. x

  2. Charli Mills says:

    What a great tradition! This is a project even an un-crafty writer with grown kids can do. And I am ever-so-grateful that they will be gathering around my table this Thanksgiving. I see a Gratitude Tree in our near future. Thanks!

  3. Megan says:

    I can’t wait to start a gratitude tree with my daughters for Thanksgiving this year. They always go with their dad on Turkey Day(the dangers of being a vegetarian) so this year I think we’ll do a veggie feast, a gratitude tree, and some movie time together as a family.

  4. Dulce says:

    i wish we could adopt thanksgiving here in portugal rather than halloween.
    it’s such a beautiful and meaning holiday.
    And the idea of the Gratitude tree is beautiful !
    i guess i could adopt this holiday here in my home …
    beijos !

  5. Kelly Sage says:

    This is beautiful! We have a little wooden pumpkin we write on what we are most thankful for each year. I keep it out and love to look back at the way what we were thankful for has marked certain things about years. This is a lovely thing to do with family and friends though, and I know my kids would be super excited to pick the branch 😉

  6. Angie says:

    I agree with you 150%. I love the idea of having a gratitude tree. I often talk about gratitude garland, which is somewhat alike. With the tree, I love that everyone is involved. So brilliant. 🙂

  7. Karen C says:

    I love this idea! I already have a branch “tree” that I use to decorate for the seasons. I will be using paper leaves of gratitude instead of crocheted ones from now on. Or maybe in addition to the crocheted leaves – I think they would look great together. Thanks for the wonderful idea.

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