The essential elements of a big Thanksgiving feast are as follows: a glistening roast turkey with stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you live), mashed potatoes with gravy, pumpkin pie for dessert, and more than likely, lots of supporting side dishes to really round out the feast — oh, and your family’s amazing and unique Thanksgiving traditions.
For many of us, Thanksgiving is the one time of year we can get together with our families or chosen families to share a meal, give thanks for our good fortune, and enjoy each other’s company without gifts or events stealing the focus from the loved ones around the table. Over the years, many families and groups of friends develop their own unique Thanksgiving traditions to make the holiday extra special for their own clan. They can range from silly to poignant, food-focused to getting away from the table, athletic to extra-relaxing — and most require no additional materials or effort other than everyone’s enthusiasm. We asked the Good Housekeeping staff and a few friends to share their favorite Thanksgiving moments so you can adopt them into your celebration. We hope you find a few to adopt into your own holiday, or that you feel inspired to create your own.
Get Your Binge-Watch On
While you’re all digesting your turkey and stuffing, cozy up in front of the TV for a marathon session. Bonus points for seasonal viewing. “The group I spend Thanksgiving with always end up watching every single Thanksgiving episode of Friends after we eat,” says Good Housekeeping content strategy editor Heather Finn.
Have the Kids Set the Table
Get the little ones involved in the preparations by having them set the table for dinner while the adults are busy finishing up the food. They’ll feel proud of their contribution to the holiday, and learn the importance of chipping in.
Celebrate Everyone’s Birthdays
Families that only see each other once a year, this one’s for you. Emma Seymour of the Good Housekeeping textiles lab says her family all sings Happy Birthday when they gather for Thanksgiving — cake included! It’s a great way to celebrate together, even when you can’t travel on your family members’ actual birthdays.
Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
On Thanksgiving, take the time to serve those in need, suggests Rhythms of Play. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or at any organization serving food to those less fortunate than you and yours. Those organizations always appreciate a few extra helping hands to make sure everyone gets fed, especially on Thanksgiving.
Try a Turkey Trot
Sign up for a turkey trot to get some exercise before digging into the bird. The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, NY in 1896, and that one’s still one of the largest in the country. For even more fun, dress up in silly costumes and laugh all the way to the finish line. (Click here for the 2019 Houston Turkey Trot information)
Make a Special Dish
GoodHousekeeping.com senior editor Allie Early’s family serves up some memories with their turkey. “We make a coleslaw recipe that my grandmother always made for my mom and her siblings, and we serve it in a special bowl that she passed down to my mom,” Early says. “It’s a special way to remember my grandma when we’re all together!”
Turn the Tablecloth Into a Keepsake
Draw your thanks on the tablecloth for a keepsake that’s also an activity, suggests Red Tricycle. Cover the table with a white tablecloth and place glasses filled with cloth markers around the table. Ask your guests to draw what they’re thankful for or just something fun — like their favorite Thanksgiving memory. By the time the dishes are cleared, you’ll have a memento that you can reuse every year.
Start With a Big Breakfast
Especially for families who eat their Thanksgiving dinner a little on the later side, starting the day with a big breakfast can help tide everyone over. Some families serve mimosas to get the party started early, others set out bagels and sweet breads so everyone can nosh while they prep. Whatever your breakfast style, there’s a reason it’s the most important meal of the day.
Share Your Thanks in Writing
After dinner, give everyone one thank you card and have them write to someone who made an difference in their lives over the last year, The Family Handyman suggests. Provide a stamped envelope for each one, and collect them on the way out the door to send on Black Friday. It gives everyone time to reflect on their year and their blessings, then pay it forward.
Serve Pickles (Yes, Pickles!)
For GoodHousekeeping.com editor Jessica Teich, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same without one unusual dish. “My signifiant other’s family always puts out a giant plate of pickles with dinner. They swear it helps with digestion,” she says. “I used the think it was the weirdest thing and now I think Thanksgiving dinner is incomplete without it!” Try it yourself this year, and see what your family thinks.
Turn on the Dog Show
Lots of people start their Thanksgiving by turning on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and often turn the channel to their favorite football game when it’s over. But if you don’t like football, there’s always the National Dog Show. It airs after the parade on NBC and is a lot less divisive than the big game. That is, unless your family members have strong feelings on various breeds.
Ask the Kids to Serve Dessert
For a new tradition this Thanksgiving, ask the younger guests to serve dessert. Kids sometimes feel left out of the big day, especially if your family seats the little ones at a kids’ table away from the rest of the group. To help them feel included, ask the older children to help cut slices of pie or cake to give to the younger ones to serve. Pus, this way the adults get to relax a little longer!
Craft a Cornucopia
You may be familiar with the traditional cornucopia, usually filled with the autumn harvest, seasonal plants and flowers, or other decorations. Put your own spin on it by asking your guests to bring objects that are meaningful to them, suggests Donelle Crigger of Gluesticks and Gumdrops. Place those objects in a cornucopia or a basket and use it as the centerpiece for your table as a visual reminder of what matters to their loved ones.
Go Ahead, Enjoy the Store-Bought Stuff
Many families wouldn’t dare pit grandma’s stuffing recipe against the store-bought kind but hey, you like what you like. GoodHousekeeping.com’s Parenting and Relationships Editor Marisa LaScala has found a great compromise. “A couple days before Thanksgiving, we go to the deli and get sliced turkey and make Stove-Top-and-turkey sandwiches to indulge our guilty pleasure,” she says. If you’ve got your own secret Thanksgiving favorite, feel free to enjoy it a few days before or after the big day, so you can get a taste of the good stuff without making waves at the table.
Break the Wishbone – With a Twist!
When you first carve the turkey, set aside the wishbone to dry while everyone eats. After the meal, draw names to decide who breaks the wishbone. Make a wish, because legend has it the winner will see their wish come true in the coming year. For a fun variation, let the winner go first for dessert!
Take a Thanksgiving Trip
Not all of us have a big clan to gather ’round on Thanksgiving. If you tend to fly solo on the holiday or celebrate with a smaller group, try taking a Thanksgiving family vacation for fewer crowds and a unique new tradition. You can book a big family dinner at many resorts and on cruises, and can make memories that last a lifetime.
Whatever you and your families do to celebrate Thanksgiving we hope each of you have a wonderful holiday. Be thankful for all that you have and spend time with those you love.