10 meaningful and fun family Thanksgiving traditions you can start this year

Oct. 16, 2020

Turkey, football and the Macy’s Day Parade may be Thanksgiving go-tos, but the holiday can have so much more depth when you incorporate some truly unique family Thanksgiving traditions that will stick with people for years to come. 

“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 add fun Thanksgiving traditions to your family’s holiday repertoire? Here are 10 meaningful and creative ideas the whole family will cherish.

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. 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.” 

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 back yard and turn them into place cards. Even the act of collecting items for the table will make a myriad of memories to share!”

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 “their” 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

Let’s not forget what the most important part of Thanksgiving is: being thankful. 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

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Auf meiner Suche nach kleinen Übungen, die mich zu mehr Achtsamkeit im Alltag verhelfen, bin ich auf das Dankbarkeitsglas (oder auch ‘Thankful Jar‘) gekommen. Hierfür nimmt man sich ein Glas, welches einem besonders gut gefällt, beschriftet es, bemalt es oder lässt es so wie es ist – je nach dem eigenen Geschmack. Jeden Abend nimmt man sich ein paar Minuten Zeit und reist in Gedanken noch einmal durch den Tag. Was habe ich erlebt? Was hat mich bewegt? Für was in diesem Tag bin ich dankbar? Denn eigentlich erleben wir täglich kleine Augenblicke des Glücks, an denen wir uns erfreuen, die uns dann aber schnell im Trubel des Alltags wieder aus dem Sinn kommen. Wenn man eine oder mehrere dieser Momente auf Papier festhält und sie in dem Glas aufbewahrt, so hat man schöne Erinnerungen auf die man an weniger guten Tagen zurückgreifen kann. Wenn so ein Tag einmal kommt, an dem man nichts auf Papierschreiben kann, so nimmt man sich nacheinander so viele Zettel heraus, wie nötig, bis es einem wieder besser geht. Mein Glas ist ein @sonnenglas (Werbung, selbstbezahlt). Es wurde unter fairen Bedingungen in Südafrika gefertigt und bringt so nicht nur Sonne in mein Thankful Jar sondern auch in die Herzen der fleißigen Menschen, die die wunderschönen Gläser fertigen. Durch ein Solarpanel am Deckel wird die Sonnenergie gespeichert und bei Bedarf in Lichtenergie umgewandelt. #thankfuljar #achtsamkeit #achtsamimalltag #achtsamleben #thankful #dankbar #dankbarkeit #flatlay #sonnenglas #einmachglas #fairtrade #fairproduziert #mindful #mindfullness #letteringpractice #lettering #handlettering #licht #lampe #zettel #tagebuch #ecofluencer

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Turn everyone’s gratitudes into a little friendly competition with a “thankful game.” It’s a family Thanksgiving game, posted on Reddit, that has everyone writing down what they’re thankful for on a piece of paper, putting it in a jar and then having everyone guess whose is whose. 

Sure to get everyone cracking up? You bet. Now that’s something to be thankful for. 

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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