Thanksgiving is a time when the whole country seems to heave a collective sigh of relief. The rush of Christmas is coming up, but not quite yet, which leaves room for the preparations and time with family during Thanksgiving to be enjoyed and relished. And the Thanksgiving traditions that are established in various households make the day even more special.
We all know the traditional foods that are served this time of year—many different types of stuffing or dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, gravy and, of course, the perfectly cooked turkey. There are also traditions that are held on this day that have stood the test of time, such as watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or asking everyone to share why they are thankful. However, if you’re looking for a new tradition to add to your family’s Turkey Day event, you’ve come to the right place!
Whether you’d like to ramp up your current customs or start being more intentional about planning out exactly how you’ll celebrate, we have the best Thanksgiving traditions and rituals for you to add to your family gathering!
50 Thanksgiving Traditions
1. Shop and Cook Together
This doubles as both a fun and bonding activity, as well as helpful, as you’re able to assist the host! If you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your house, grab your husband, your sister, or one of your cousins and take them along to gather all the ingredients. Once you get everything home, plan out who can cook what and make a party out of the prep!
2. Make Breakfast Together
This is a great way to include children who want to help cook on Thanksgiving. Some can be great helpers when it comes to dinner but there’s a great chance that most won’t have the attention span for the long haul.
3. Watch the Parade
I know the parade air time is early for some, but setting an alarm and waking up early to experience this long-time tradition will be so worth it! Grab an extra cup of coffee and make yourself cozy in front of the TV to get into the festive spirit!
4. Watch the Dog Show
If you still aren’t quite awake by the time the parade is over, go ahead and keep on watching TV and enjoy the dog show. You can even watch it with your dogs to get them involved in your annual rituals!
5. Set Aside Alone Time
If you are hosting and cooking all the food, chances are you won’t stop for the remainder of the day. Schedule some time in your morning to pamper yourself before preparing to pamper everyone else. Allowing yourself this much-needed time will have you refreshed and ready to host!
6. Write Thank You Notes
Giving out handwritten thank you notes to your guests will help them feel that much more included as they join you this holiday.
7. Play Charades
Everything is prepped, but the turkey just needs to cook a little longer before it’s perfect. What will get everyone involved to take their minds off of being hungry? Charades! Making it Thanksgiving-themed will be that much more festive!
Related: Best Thanksgiving Games
8. Set the Table With Themed Decor
We all know of the dishes that are kept hidden away for special occasions. Why not take it up a notch with a Thanksgiving table setting that will inspire oohs and ahhs from your guests?
9. Host Friendsgiving
Friendsgiving is a perfect way to experience the holiday if you can’t make it home for the “real” event, or if your family isn’t celebrating. For example, plenty of college students who live in the dorms of their university host a potluck Thanksgiving to keep the tradition alive if they’re not able to travel home. Even if you are able to go home for the holiday and your family does celebrate, why not have a Friendsgiving as well? The joys of this season can be shared with all of your loved ones!
Related: Best Friendsgiving Quotes
10. Host a Friendly Baking Competition
This is the perfect way to inspire your guests to help out and bring a homemade dessert! Offer a prize they can’t resist for an incentive, (like an early taste of your famous recipe or first dibs on getting in line to get food). Nothing is more motivating than food on Thanksgiving!
11. Swap Thanksgiving Cookies
Have each guest bake (or buy, no judgment!) their own Thanksgiving-themed cookie to participate in a cookie swap. Better yet, have a cookie decorating station set up to allow everyone to decorate their own cookies, and then split them up so everyone gets to try the different options!
12. Have Pie for Breakfast
Did you happen to go overboard on practicing your pie recipes for that baking competition? Well here’s an easy fix, eat those pies for breakfast! It’s a win-win, who doesn’t like to have dessert first?
13. Set Out a Gratitude Jar
This can be done throughout the year, and can be opened up on Thanksgiving! It’ll be a nice reminder of things to be thankful for that you could have forgotten. Reading them privately with your family will make these thankful memories that much more special.
Related: Thankful Quotes
14. Play a Gratitude Game
This idea is very similar to the gratitude jar. Set out a bowl (or a pilgrim hat—keep it fun!) and ask each guest to write down what they are grateful for. During dessert, or after dinner, have each guest pick one out of the bowl, read it and try to guess who wrote it. Get ready to have some laughs!
15. Share Family Recipes
The best Thanksgiving recipes are handed down for generations. Continue that tradition by sharing family recipes with the next generation! Maybe a niece or nephew wants to host next year, and this could help them make their event a hit!
16. Set up Arts and Crafts for the Kids
Keeping kids calm all day can be quite the feat. One way you can keep them entertained (and possibly confined to a space that is not the kitchen) is to set up an area for them to do arts and crafts. Have them create their own versions of fall-themed decor so they can still feel included in the Thanksgiving festivities.
17. Hand Out Party Favors
Everyone loves a good party favor! Include the kids’ artwork in the favors as a tangible memory for years to come.
Related: Thanksgiving DIY Crafts
18. Kickstart Christmas
The day after Thanksgiving used to be reserved for Christmas decorating at our house growing up, and it was a great tradition! Play Christmas music all day and bake cookies to really amp up the festivity!
19. Exchange Ornaments
Our family has a “memory tree” that is solely for ornaments that represent a milestone from each year. Buying multiples of the same ornament to hand out to family could be another way to keep everyone feeling closer, especially during the holidays. Don’t forget to write the year and your initials on the ornaments!
20. Make Christmas Sweaters
Making Christmas sweaters together is, in fact, just as enjoyable as it sounds. It’s even more fun getting together again at Christmas and wearing them!
21. Draw Names for Christmas Gifts
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to organize Christmas gifts with family since everyone will be together. You can decide if your family will do an exchange or if everyone will buy for everyone! If you do choose to go the Secret Santa route, use this time to draw names!
22. Host a Potluck
While some hosts prefer to prepare the entire feast themselves, for others it can be quite the task. Ask family members to pitch in by hosting a potluck dinner! As an added bonus, this will guarantee that every guest has at least one dish that they enjoy.
23. Reflect on the Year
Going over goals met, or ones that you are still striving for, with your family is the perfect tradition to not only keep everyone up to date with what’s going on in the family, but to celebrate everyone’s achievements.
24. Participate in a Turkey Trot
Do you need an excuse to eat way more than you should? Go for a turkey trot on the morning of Thanksgiving! You’ll definitely be ready to eat your fill after that run.
25. Video Chat Family
If there are family members that are too far to join in person (or have other commitments that require them to miss dinner), consider a video call to keep them included!
26. Try New Leftover Recipes
One of the best things about Thanksgiving is all that leftover goodness. However, turkey sandwiches can get a bit boring after a while. Mix it up by trying out some new recipes and share your favorites for others to try next year!
Related: 8 Leftover Thanksgiving Recipes
27. Send Leftovers in Recycled Cookware
If you pick up old cookware any time you’re at a thrift shop, you’ll have plenty to hand out when the holidays roll around! That way, they get to either keep the container or re-gift it. A collective sigh can be heard as we realize we never have to remember to bring that Tupperware back again!
28. Include Other Cuisines
A fun way to add some pizzazz to your holiday could be to include foods from around the world. This would also be a good way to experience other cultural cuisines as a family!
29. Watch a Movie Together
Sitting down for a classic like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a great way to wind down the evening. You could even opt for a Christmas movie to get everyone in the holiday spirit.
30. Have a Bonfire
If the weather is permissible, have a bonfire in the backyard. There’s just something about an open fire with good company, and it’s made even better if that company includes graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows!
Related: Julia Child’s Thanksgiving Spreads
31. Host an Ugly Thanksgiving Sweater Competition
Who says ugly sweaters have to be reserved for Christmas? Show off your love for pumpkin pie with a themed sweater this holiday and take home those bragging rights!
32. Take a Nap
That tryptophan is no joke! Go ahead and take a few minutes out of the day to sleep off that turkey-induced drowsiness. It’s a good possibility that the rest of the family will be glad to join in!
Related: 7 Reasons for Food Comas
33. Share Family Memories
Reminiscing with family is one of the most important parts of Thanksgiving. It’s a time to reflect on the love that’s been shared and passed down through generations. Sharing memories of your family growing together is a great way to continue that bond.
34. Remember Lost Loved Ones
While sharing those memories, don’t forget to talk about the ones who are unfortunately no longer with us. They are just as much a part of your past and history as are the ones still able to celebrate with you. Honor their memory by sharing it on this specific holiday that’s filled with gratefulness.
35. Play Festive Music All Day
This would be a perfect way to fill the silence that ensues once dinner is served! Not to mention that it will have everyone in a festive mood. Some good options include “Cooking Up Something Good” by Mac DeMarco, “Sweet Potato Pie” by Ray Charles and James Taylor and “Autumn In New York” by Billie Holiday.
36. Serve a Signature Cocktail
Whether pumpkin spice is more your speed or you prefer apple flavors, there are plenty of fall drink options to serve your guests. Who doesn’t love a good cocktail during the holidays?
Related: Thanksgiving Cocktails
37. Have Everyone Make a Toast
Allowing each guest to make a toast will be a great way to include everyone in the festivities. Whether you toast to the upcoming year, an accomplishment from the almost finished year, or just to the health and well-being of your loved ones, this is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!
38. Watch the Big Game
Football and Thanksgiving go hand-in-hand. Have your own tailgate party right in your living room (or outside, if the weather allows)!
39. Gear Up for Black Friday Shopping
Get a jump start on that Christmas shopping with Black Friday deals! Have fun making a game plan for the next day’s shopping excursions.
Related: Best Black Friday Deals 2022
40. Donate to a Food Bank or Shelter
Thanksgiving represents giving back and helping others. What better way to do that than gathering canned goods and cozy gifts (such as blankets or mittens) to donate to your local shelter? Doing so as a family will definitely be a bonding experience.
41. Go for a Walk or Hike
After eating all that food, it would be good to get out and enjoy the fresh air! Go outdoors and cherish the crisp fall weather and beautiful changing scenery together. Maybe you could even pick up a leaf or two to include in those arts and crafts!
42. Have a Wishbone Scavenger Hunt
This is a fun way to include more people in the tradition of breaking the wishbone. Print a bunch of images of wishbones (or if you’re super crafty, make your own out of yarn or clay!) and scatter them throughout the house. Whoever finds the most throughout the night gets a special treat!
43. Play Football
If that tailgating left you wanting more, get outside and throw the ball around! A friendly game of football is sure to bring your family together, or at least give you something to talk about for years!
44. Share What You’re Thankful For About Each Person
Go around the table and have everyone share something they love about each person!
Related: 58 Mini Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes
45. Set Out a Scrapbook
Or rather, a guest book. Have each guest sign and write why they are thankful this year. It will serve as a great reminder of who you spent your holidays with and what they’ve appreciated about life over the years. Looking back at this in the years to come will be a treasured event for sure.
46. Make It a Game Night
Board games are a classic way to enjoy time together. Competition ensues and hopefully, a good time is had by all! Choose a new game that no one has played before to switch it up, or play a game that everyone is familiar with to ramp up the stakes.
47. Change Who Hosts
This can either be agreed upon each year, or you can hold an election and see who has the most votes to host the next year. It’s a fun way to take the pressure off of any one person who usually takes on the responsibility.
48. Play Secret Turkey
Like Secret Santa, but for Thanksgiving! Draw names and bring or cook a specific dish that you know your secret turkey enjoys. Tag the dish with that person’s name and have them guess who cooked it!
49. Have Dinner Catered, or Dine Out
If you’re pressed for time this holiday (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) and can’t cook the full meal, have it catered! Or if your family enjoys dining out, gather everyone up and go to a favorite restaurant to enjoy this time together—without all the cleanup!
50. Travel Together
You’d be surprised by how easy it can be to take a Thanksgiving vacation together as a family. It doesn’t have to be super fancy. Getting everyone together at a rental cabin can be exciting for everyone! Or if you’d rather go somewhere with a warmer climate, head to the beach! The possibilities are endless. As long as you’re together, it will be a happy holiday.