Teaches pilgrim traditions

At a time when Thanksgiving often seems to be swallowed up in the commercialization of Christmas, Church member JoAn Bitton has been doing her fair share to engender a spirit of gratitude in children and remembrance of the original Thanksgiving celebration.

And she has a lot of fun doing it.Each fall for the past 30 years, Sister Bitton has been presenting Thanksgiving programs to elementary school children. Volunteering this performance, she appears in Pilgrim costume, carrying a basket overflowing with visual aids. Often accompanied by costumed grandchildren, she teaches positive traditions and appreciation for sacrifices made by pilgrims long ago.

"Thanksgiving is a holiday that is sometimes passed over, and its importance lost, because of the upcoming Christmas season," said Sister Bitton, a member of the Relief Society presidency in the Eagle Gate 2nd Ward, Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake. "I started the program to involve our children, grandchildren and their classmates in learning more about the first Thanksgiving. Through the years as children have grown, several have told me that as a child, they thought they had actually met a pilgrim after our visit."

Through the years, Sister Bitton has grown with the characters she has portrayed. When she started the annual activity, she presented herself as a young girl just off the Mayflower. Later, she played the part of a sister of one of the passengers. Now, with a grandchild next to her, she plays a grandmother.

As part of the presentation, she involves school children. They are encouraged to ask questions.

One year Sister Bitton traveled 165 miles in one day to present her Thanksgiving program to all of the schools attended by her grandchildren. A convert with roots to the island of Malta, she passes on her own love of country to her family and other children.

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