10 family Thanksgiving traditions you can start this year

Articles & Guides

What can we help you find?

10 family Thanksgiving traditions you can start this year

Consider adding these Thanksgiving traditions to give more meaning to your holidays

10 family Thanksgiving traditions you can start this year

Those who celebrate the holiday likely have their Thanksgiving go-tos, be it a certain meal or a game watched on TV. But the holiday can hold more weight when unique family Thanksgiving traditions are incorporated, as they can get everyone to slow down, be in the moment and focus on each other.

“Thanksgiving should be made up of rituals and customs we all remember forever,” says Jordan Stringfellow, owner of Jordi & CO Events, a Los Angeles-based event planning company that also specializes in seasonal decor and holiday table settings. “Passing on family traditions to our children and sharing them with a table full of blended friends and family is one of the most satisfying things a parent can do.”

Looking to change or add new Thanksgiving traditions to your family gathering? Here are 10 meaningful and creative ways to share time with the family this holiday.

1. Pass around a journal

“A favorite Thanksgiving tradition I learned from a client was ‘pass the journal,’” says Stringfellow. “Simply pass a blank journal around the Thanksgiving table, asking all the guests to write at least one thing that they are thankful for. For kids too young to write, have an adult transcribe.” She adds, “Over the years, fill the book with comments and enjoy reading them aloud at Thanksgiving celebrations to come. It is truly wonderful to read how gratitude reflections change over time.” 

“Simply pass a blank journal around the Thanksgiving table, asking all the guests to write at least one thing that they are thankful for.”


2. Volunteer

One of the best Thanksgiving traditions for families? Volunteering together! Thanksgiving is a great time to give back to your community and help those in need — and it’s one of the richest customs you can incorporate into your family’s holiday. How and where you choose to volunteer depends on the age of your children, but there are tons of ways to give back — simply research local volunteer opportunities in your area. 

“Whether you work at a local soup kitchen, volunteer to serve a church supper [or even run a Turkey Trot, which typically benefits a local charity], the rewards are great and wide-reaching for labors that are easily performed,” says Stringfellow.

3. Kick off the holiday season

These days, the December holiday season kicks off the second the last bite of pumpkin pie is eaten. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. 

“Every year, my sister gets matching Christmas pajamas for all the kids and they all get them on Thanksgiving night,” says Jaclyn Santos, of Hazlet, New Jersey. “It’s so much fun. They all take baths and showers together, put on their jammies and usually have a disco-style dance party for the adults.” 

4. Personalize the table

Sure, there are a zillion Pinterest images of stunning Thanksgiving tablescapes, but instead of having everything just so on Thanksgiving, aim to mix it up — literally. 

“Some of the most beautiful Thanksgiving tables I’ve seen bring family stories to life by mixing and matching dishes, napkins and serving trays,” says Stringfellow. “Instead of reaching for the fancy china set, choose pieces with history — and be sure to tell stories about where you were when you collected it, who gave it to you and why it’s special. Even a chipped china plate can be reused with love and laughter as you share how that chip occurred and why that person, perhaps no longer alive or nearby, brought joy to your lives and hearts.” 

Additionally, don’t worry about fancy Etsy-bought place cards. Instead, have the kids put their beloved art skills to good use. 

“Making homemade place cards is something everyone can enjoy — and it makes the table that much more special,” says Stringfellow. “Have kids trace and cut out leaves or collect pine cones from the backyard and turn them into place cards. Even the act of collecting items for the table will make a myriad of memories to share!”

“Making homemade place cards is something everyone can enjoy — and it makes the table that much more special.”


5. Have a special breakfast

While, yes, dinner is the meal on Thanksgiving, why not have a special breakfast, too? 

“Every Thanksgiving morning, we sit down to a family breakfast of homemade pancakes,” says Denise Mackey, of Rochester, New York. “We didn’t mean for this to turn into a tradition, but over the years, it’s seemed to happen! It sets a nice pace for the day — as opposed to our usual mornings, which are spent running around!”

6. Go for a morning family walk

Sure, a rosy-cheeked morning walk is good for working up an appetite for the much-anticipated smorgasbord, but also … it’s just a nice way to connect to nature and to each other. It’s the perfect beginning to a busy — and often stressful! — day. 

7. Give kids an important job they do each year

Serving Thanksgiving dessert? Making coffee? Setting the table? Help kids feel like an important part of the festivities by giving them a kid-friendly Thanksgiving job each year. 

“When I was younger, my mom would always let my brother and I set the table on Thanksgiving,” says Kristen Gallo, of New York. “I’m not sure how great it came out, but I remember feeling so proud when all the grownups would make a fuss over how nice the table looked.”

8. Have a table toast

If passing around a journal feels a little too formal for your family, have a roundtable toast. “Asking each guest to raise their glass — even if it’s a sippy cup full of milk — and make a toast about what they’re thankful for is a great way to start Thanksgiving dinner,” says Stringfellow. “Also, while it’s touching, don’t be surprised if elicits big time laughs!”

9. Leave room at the table

Whether it’s due to location or strained relationships, fact is, not everyone has a place at a Thanksgiving table. Do your part to change that in whatever small way you can. 

“What’s the point of a beautiful Thanksgiving table and delicious food if you can’t share in it?” says Stringfellow. “Extend an invitation to an elderly neighbor whose family can’t visit or a coworker who’s far from home — and if they opt to stay home, take them a plate.” 

If doing the latter, though, Stringfellow advises towing a sensitivity line. 

“It’s important to be sensitive to the recipient,” Stringfellow says. “You don’t want to insult them or make them feel like they’re the object of charity. Sometimes this is best done by simply leaving the gift at the door and ringing the bell.”

10. Play a thankful game

Turn everyone’s gratitudes into a little friendly competition with a “thankful game.” Simply have everyone in the family write down what they’re thankful for on a piece of paper, put it in a jar and then have fun together guessing whose is whose. 

Sure to get everyone cracking up? You bet.