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23 Creative Thanksgiving Family Traditions

mother and daughter preparing turkey

Thanksgiving family traditions serve as reminders of times past that might have slipped away if not for the annual Thanksgiving gatherings. However, a tradition only becomes a tradition if someone starts it. These creative and unique Thanksgiving family traditions are sure to add a personal touch that can change your holiday for the better.

1. Begin the Day With a Thanksgiving Breakfast

Dinner is the special meal on Thanksgiving, but why not put the turkey in the oven and begin the day with a special Thanksgiving breakfast - perhaps pumpkin pancakes with pecans and maple syrup? Then, follow breakfast with a family walk to connect with nature before the other guests and family arrive. This is likely to set a leisurely pace for a day that is busy and often stressful.

2. Have a Thanksgiving Picnic

If you live where it's warm enough in late November, take Thanksgiving dinner outside and have a picnic with turkey and all the trimmings.

Friends having a thanksgiving picnic

3. Make a Plate-Take a Plate

Why not make it a new tradition to send everyone home with Thanksgiving leftovers? The guests make a plate and take a plate home. Have everyone bring, or you can provide, at least one container for guests to carry home another helping of dinner. Everyone, including the host, will have something to be thankful for later.

4. Have a Leftovers Party

It's almost a tradition to shop until you drop on Black Friday, but a great new tradition would be to have a leftover party the day after Thanksgiving where everyone gathers again to finish up Thanksgiving dinner while planning family Christmas gatherings.

5. Plan a Family Hayride

A hayride on a crisp Thanksgiving afternoon could become a favorite family tradition that's highly anticipated each year.

family hayride on thanksgiving

6. Take a Thanksgiving Trip

If the family is small or only a couple, try to make a Thanksgiving vacation an ongoing tradition. You can book Thanksgiving dinner at many resorts and destinations and make memories that will last a lifetime.

7. Make a Thanksgiving Toast

A great way to start Thanksgiving dinner is for everyone, even the kids, to raise their glass and make a toast to what they are thankful for in the year that is coming to an end.

8. Take a Break

Thanksgiving feasts always end with amazing desserts. But you really can't appreciate that perfect pumpkin pie or cheesecake when you're stuffed to the gills. Why not give everyone a break from the food fest and head outside for a walk? The fresh air will invigorate everyone, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to enjoy the beauty of autumn.

9. Gather With Faraway Family

Thanks to 21st Century technology, even the furthest flung friends and family can join together on Thanksgiving festivities. Plan a convenient time for everyone to get together on Zoom and record the gathering to commemorate the occasion. This could be your #1 new 21st Century Thanksgiving family tradition.

10. Have a Movie Marathon

After dinner, many people are ready for football. It's almost become a tradition to lounge around in front of the TV watching football for the rest of the day. However, if you're not a football fan and prefer a more subdued activity, select a few Thanksgiving films and settle in. It may not be the most exciting Thanksgiving tradition, but it's sure to be one that everybody will look forward to.

family watching movie on thanksgiving

11. Remember Lost Loved Ones

Thanksgiving can be bittersweet when a beloved family member or friend is missing from the gathering. Gathering around in a circle and holding hands while sharing happy memories and giving thanks to a lost loved one is a lovely way to honor their memory.

12. Share Loving Feelings

Gather friends and family together and have each person share what they love about their family. This would be a great new Thanksgiving tradition that would encourage closeness by sharing feelings of love and appreciation.

13. Make a Wish

It can be fun for everyone to make a wish for the coming year out loud and then write it down in a Thanksgiving wish book. Wishes spoken aloud can inspire everyone at the table, and writing it down is a powerful affirmation of intentions. Bring the wish book out at the following year's Thanksgiving gathering to see whose wish came true.

14. Interview Older Relatives

Take some time during the day to ask older relatives about their life and record what they say. Ask them questions about how they met their mate, what they remember from their courtship, and if they remember their first Thanksgiving in their first home. This can inspire empathy and compassion for your older relatives and generate a sense of thankfulness.

15. Keep Someone Company

If you're alone, with no invites, perhaps a senior's residence would like visitors for their guests who are also alone on Thanksgiving. Spending time with someone else who would otherwise be alone is an excellent way to be thankful for what you have and realize that your situation could be worse.

keep someone company on thanksgiving

16. Celebrate Everyone's Birthdays

Often an extended family only sees each other once a year on Thanksgiving. This makes it an excellent time to celebrate everyone's birthday. A great new tradition would be to have everyone sing Happy Birthday just before dessert. You could even have a birthday cake with candles for everyone to blow out. This way, everyone gets to celebrate their birthday with those they love, even if they can't travel to be together on their actual birthday.

17. Create a Keepsake or Memento

At the end of the day, ask guests to write down what they are thankful for, their favorite Thanksgiving memory, or their favorite part of Thanksgiving. This can be done on a paper taped to a wall or in a journal and then tuck it away for the next Thanksgiving. And you'll have a reusable memento that may soon become the centerpiece of all future Thanksgivings.

18. Volunteer to Help Those in Need

Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to help those in need by volunteering the family to help prepare and serve a Thanksgiving meal to those who might otherwise go without. This could be one of the best new traditions you could incorporate into your family's holiday.

volunteer on thanksgiving

19. Give to Others

In lieu of the usual Thanksgiving gifts of flowers or wine, ask everyone to bring gifts of clothing or canned food that will be donated to a local shelter after the holiday. Then, sit down together after dinner and plan a day for the whole family to volunteer to help those in need.

20. Read Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

"Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation" of 1863 declared that the fourth Thursday of every November would be the official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Hearing these words read would be a fantastic new Thanksgiving Day tradition. It's often helpful to look back at history and realize that even if a country or family is going through bad times, there's always something to be thankful for.

21. Have a Dirty Turkey Gift Exchange

A Dirty Turkey gift exchange is always good for laughs. Like Dirty Santa, it's a party game where inexpensive, amusing, and impractical gifts are exchanged during the festivities. The rules of Dirty Turkey are:

  • Each person brings one wrapped gift. The first guest opens a wrapped gift, and their turn ends.
  • After the first gift is unwrapped, subsequent people choose to steal the unwrap gifts of others or select a new wrapped present.
  • The unwrapped gifts can only be stolen once per turn.
  • The game is over when everyone has a present.

22. Guess Who Is Thankful

As family and friends arrive, have them write down on a piece of paper what they're thankful for, fold up the paper, and place it in a basket. After dinner is over, let everyone draw one out, read it aloud, and let everyone try to guess who is thankful for what.

23. Showcase Your Year in Photos

Make a collage of your favorite photos from the past year and display them on a wall to remind you of experiences you've had during the past year, for which you're thankful.

Evolving Thanksgiving Family Traditions

Every family has its own Thanksgiving family traditions. When children leave home, they often start traditions that are more personal and meaningful for them. While Thanksgiving traditions will probably always include family and turkey with all the trimmings, traditions evolve.

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23 Creative Thanksgiving Family Traditions