When I think of Thanksgiving traditions my family had when I was a kid, a few come to mind, and they always put a smile on my face. We always started the day watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV in our pajamas. Later in the day, my mom would urge us to get out of the house to go do something active (and stop asking, “Is dinner ready yet?”). My brother and I would wander outside to find something to do while the minutes dragged by until dinnertime. Though these experiences felt small at the moment, I can look back and call them big memories. These are the traditions I grew up with, and they are still meaningful.
All these years later, it’s fun to be a parent and have the opportunity to not only pass old traditions down, but also create new ones for my family and friends. If you’re looking for some new Thanksgiving traditions to try out with your family and friends this year, check out this list:
- Share your thanks in writing or out loud. Using index cards, a tablecloth on which guests can write, or a more crafty project like this Handy Thanksgiving Wreath will all accomplish the goal of writing down what you’re thankful for. Invite everyone at the Thanksgiving table to participate, and take some time to share with each other. Start the discussion by asking everyone what they’re grateful for, and then have everyone at the table share their thoughts one at a time. It is sure to bring a positive perspective to your day!
- Taking a walk to the park after eating.
This idea just makes sense after eating a heavy meal! One of my colleagues shared that they go to the park, and every single generation plays like they’re all six-year-old kids. They have the best time climbing, sliding, jumping, and chasing. What better way to burn off the calories and get out of the house than to visit the park and have some fun?
- Karaoke. Another way to burn off some calories and get the group laughing is to pull out the karaoke machine. And if you don’t have a machine, turn on the radio or put on your favorite music app. But be prepared—karaoke sometimes leads to dancing, so you’ll want to be wearing your best dancing shoes!
- Turkey Trot. Many cities across the country host a Turkey Trot event on Thanksgiving morning. This fun run is perfect for families and all levels of athleticism. So if you’re a beginning runner—or more of a walker, like I am—don’t shy away from it. It’s a great way to gather with friends and family and get some exercise.
- Create a family toast. Traditional toasts are fun and often hold special meaning, but it could be fun to try coming up with a family toast together. Engage your littlest family members, along with the adults, and write the toast down so everyone can read it prior to the meal. Be sure to put the written copy of the toast somewhere safe so you can use it again next Thanksgiving!
- Start the day with a big breakfast. A great way to kick off the day is a big, healthy breakfast that everyone can enjoy together. The kitchen is usually the busiest place on Thanksgiving, starting from the moment the main chefs get up in the morning. If everyone is fed well at the beginning of the day, they’ll be more likely to hold off on too many snacks until the main course.
- Attend or watch a Thanksgiving Day parade. While the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is probably the most famous, it’s not the only one that draws a crowd. Check to see if there are any Thanksgiving Day Parades in your local area you can attend, and if not, check out the parades that are aired on television. The sights and sounds can be magical for children and grown-ups of all ages.
- Have a special dessert. After eating a large Thanksgiving meal, it may seem crazy to even think about dessert, but maybe that’s because the menu didn’t include an exciting treat. Make a plan to have a special dessert, and remind all the guests to save room for it. Depending on the weather in your area, you might be able to go outside and make s’mores around a fire pit, but no problem if you’re indoors—check out these Indoor s’mores for some fun that engages all your guests, especially your kiddos!
- Read picture books to share the history of Thanksgiving. Most books and shows for young kids include stereotypes that are not actually accurate about the origins of Thanksgiving. The book 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace is filled with beautiful photographs, providing a more historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration back in 1621. Encounter by Jane Yolen and The People Shall Continue by Simon J Ortiz are both stories that teach about the history of indigenous groups, though they are not specifically focused on Thanksgiving.
- Volunteer in the community. Take an active approach to your Thanksgiving Day and go to a local soup kitchen or shelter to serve food to people in need. Bringing your kids with you will give them the opportunity to serve the people in their community, and teach a valuable lesson about humanity and service. If your Thanksgiving Day agenda does not lend well to volunteering, you can still give back in the days leading up to the holiday. Create “bags of love” with items like baby wipes, lip balm, bottled water, warm socks, and non-perishable food items. Pass them out to the homeless population in your town or city to provide them with a little support during the holidays.
Whether you continue with your tried-and-true traditions, or you start some new ones with your family and friends, take some time to think about some big and small ways you can make your Thanksgiving a positive, memorable holiday for yourself and others.
By Caitlin Hardeman, former third through sixth grade teacher specializing in English Language Arts.