When author Amy Latta first came up with the idea of using a pumpkin as a place to write down things her family was grateful for seven years ago, she didn't have a blog. She was just looking for a way to teach her son Noah, then 3, about Thanksgiving without getting "caught up in the craziness of the holidays."
"At meals, we were playing the 'thankful game,' where we would take turns going around the table and saying things we were grateful for, and I thought it would be fun for him — and for all of us — to physically see just how many blessings that added up to," Latta told TODAY Parents.
Latta had taken Noah to a pumpkin patch near their home in Hampstead, Maryland, and brought home several pumpkins. On a whim, she grabbed one and started writing things they were grateful for on it with a permanent marker. "It was a great visual reminder of how blessed we are, and he loved watching the pumpkin fill up as we added to it every day," she said. They now enjoy looking at photos of their Thankful Pumpkins over the years and laughing about different things that made it onto the pumpkins at the time.
Though she had no idea back then, Latta's idea would catch on with other busy parents looking for low key ways to celebrate the season meaningfully with their kids. In 2012, Latta posted about the tradition on her blog, Amy Latta Creations. "I was excited to get the project out there, because it is so simple and requires no special skills or materials," said Latta. "Literally anyone can do it, and I was excited to think about other families taking time to focus on gratitude."
In the years since she first posted the Thankful Pumpkin on her blog, Latta has heard from families across the country — and even the world — telling her how much they have enjoyed incorporating it into their annual holiday traditions. "My favorite thing is when people send photos of the pumpkins they created, filled with all kinds of wonderful things!" she said.
Occasionally, commenters will criticize Latta's pumpkins, noting that things like "Elmo" and "Starbucks" are listed before "Grammy and Poppy," but Latta said those commenters are missing the point. "It's not an ordered list," she explained, "just something fun where we write things down as they come to mind. I promise; we're most grateful for the people in our lives."
Last year Latta's family created a particularly special Thankful Pumpkin: It was the first year they celebrated with their new son, Nathan, 11, whom they adopted from Chengdu, China, last October.
"When we got home from China and started our pumpkin, we explained the activity to him and he was excited to participate," said Latta. "At the time, he spoke very little English, so he wrote the Chinese characters for mama, baba (daddy), didi (little brother), and jiating (family). It was our first bi-lingual pumpkin and it was so beautiful.
"It touched my heart so much, and all of us certainly had many extra things to be thankful for last fall as we started life as a family of four," said Latta.
This story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.