23 Thanksgiving Family Traditions You’ll Cherish Forever

Updated November 23, 2021
mother and daughter preparing turkey

Thanksgiving is all about family, food, gratitude and traditions. Enhance what your family already does to celebrate the holiday by adding some of these creative activities to your plans. These fun and unique Thanksgiving family traditions are ones that everybody will look forward to each year.

1. Begin the Day With a Thanksgiving Breakfast

Dinner is the star of the show on Thanksgiving, but why not put the turkey in the oven and begin the day with a special Thanksgiving breakfast? Choose fall-inspired pumpkin pancakes with pecans and maple syrup, or pumpkin spice oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar. Consider setting up a stellar Bloody Mary bar for the adults. Follow breakfast with a brisk family walk to connect with nature before guests and family start to arrive. This cluster of Thanksgiving morning traditions will set a leisurely pace for a day that is full and busy.

2. Have a Thanksgiving Picnic

If you live in a part of the world where November is still warm and toasty, take Thanksgiving dinner outside and have a picnic with turkey and all the trimmings. For a midday meal, decorate picnic tables with rustic fall decor. Incorporate a few outdoor family games into the day to work off all of those mashed potatoes. If dining in the evening, set a table up under the trees and string fairy lights to illuminate the space.

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 a to-go container, 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

Host a leftover party the day after Thanksgiving, where everyone gathers again to finish up odds and ends left from the holiday feast. If you like the idea of Friendsgiving, try hosting a family gathering on the actual day of Thanksgiving, but then combining leftovers from all your friends to throw a delicious post-holiday dinner party that includes no extra cooking!

5. Make a Grateful Tree

There is likely a lot your family has to be grateful for, and Thanksgiving is prime time to reflect on all that you are blessed with. Each year, create a Grateful Tree in the dining room. Using brown board paper, make the trunk and branches of a tree. Cut out leaves in various fall colors and have everyone fill the leaves with words of thankfulness. As you eat your holiday meal, gaze upon an artistic reminder of how fortunate you are.

6. Take a Thanksgiving Trip

If your family loves to travel and go on adventures, 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.

Take a Thanksgiving Trip

7. Watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A great way to kick-start Thanksgiving dinner is for everyone, especially the kids, to turn the television on and watch a classic holiday show. Make a tradition out of Charlie Brown! The bonus here is if you plan this tradition right before mealtime, a few adults will be able to slip into the kitchen and finish prepping the feast while everyone else watches the show.

8. Have an Ornament Exchange

Sure, it's Thanksgiving and the attention should fall squarely on mashed potatoes and the bird, but you all know what holiday is lurking right around the corner... Christmas! Use your Thanksgiving time as a family to host an ornament exchange. Everyone can head home and have something special to kick off their Christmas decorating with the following day.

9. Zoom With Faraway Family

Thanks to 21st century technology, even the farthest 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 number one new 21st century Thanksgiving family tradition.

Zoom With Faraway Family

10. Make a Special Centerpiece

Each Thanksgiving, set aside some time for making Thanksgiving crafts. Turn crafting into tradition by making new, festive fall centerpieces for the dining areas every year.

11. Remember Lost Loved Ones

Thanksgiving can be bittersweet when a beloved family member or friend is missing from the gathering. Make it a tradition to honor them at your meal. Set a place out just for them. Create a placemat that contains images and mementos specific to them. Be sure to have everyone share a favorite memory or story about the person everyone is missing.

12. Play Thanksgiving Mad Libs

Mad Libs is a hilarious game of words that will have every person at the dinner table chuckling. Before your meal, go around the table and offer words to complete the Thanksgiving Mad Libs puzzle. Read it aloud before everyone takes their first bite.

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 wishes came true.

14. Play a Game of Family Football

For many families, football on Thanksgiving is almost as important as the food itself. Each year, split into two teams, take to the backyard and play a game of touch football. Build upon this tradition and have teams create hilarious uniforms to whip out at the start of each game.

15. Keep Someone Company

If you're alone, with no invites, perhaps a seniors' 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.

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. Do an Annual Thanksgiving Theme Photo

Every year, the guests gather to take a picture of the gang. The twist is that every year comes with a bit of a theme. Ask guests to dress in pajamas one year, coordinating colors another year, their favorite football team's gear another year, or even ugly holiday sweaters. Everyone will enjoy gathering together and looking back on the fun photos you were able to capture on the holiday.

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. Create an Annual Canned Food Drive

In lieu of the usual Thanksgiving gifts of flowers or wine, ask everyone to bring canned food items that can be donated to a local shelter after the holiday. Many people donate goods to food banks prior to the holidays, but those stocks will have to be replenished after Turkey Day.

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 unwrapped 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. Participate in a Turkey Trot

Make room for that massive midday meal by getting the gang to do an annual Turkey Trot together. Walk or jog the trot, dress in matching shirts or outfits, and have fun getting fresh air and exercise before a day of feasting.

23. Craft a Signature Cocktail

Every year, create a signature cocktail to serve to guests. Choose a Thanksgiving beverage that is fall-inspired and make sure it is something that can also be made into a nonalcoholic drink for those who don't enjoy libations. Ideas for Thanksgiving signature cocktails could be anything from apple-inspired drinks to pretty pumpkin cocktails. Try something with a pop of cranberry and rosemary if you are feeling adventurous.

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 can evolve over time to create even more joyful memories together.

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23 Thanksgiving Family Traditions You’ll Cherish Forever