23 Thanksgiving Traditions for Making Holiday Memories

We've got a ton of new ways for you to celebrate with gratitude and just have a good time together.

Updated November 1, 2023
mother and daughter preparing turkey

Thanksgiving is all about family, food, gratitude, and traditions — and some of those Thanksgiving family traditions can make your turkey day even more meaningful. This year, bring in a new tradition with your family that everyone can be grateful for. Whether it's an inspired family breakfast or a thoughtful way to give back, make your gathering extra special with one of these ideas.

1. Begin the Day With a Thanksgiving Breakfast

We get it. Dinner is the star of the show on Thanksgiving, but why not put the turkey in the oven and begin the day with a special Thanksgiving breakfast? Choose fall-inspired pumpkin pancakes with pecans and maple syrup or pumpkin spice oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar. Consider setting up a stellar Bloody Mary bar for the adults.

Follow breakfast with a brisk family walk to connect with nature before guests and family start to arrive. This cluster of Thanksgiving morning traditions will set a leisurely pace for a day that is full and busy.

2. Have a Thanksgiving Picnic

Friends having a thanksgiving picnic

If you live in a part of the world where November is still warm and toasty, we're jealous. But we also have an idea for you: take Thanksgiving dinner outside and have a picnic with turkey and all the trimmings. For a midday meal, decorate picnic tables with rustic fall decor.

Incorporate a few outdoor family games into the day to work off all of those mashed potatoes. If you're dining in the evening, set a table up under the trees and string fairy lights to get your glow on.

3. Make a Plate, Take a Plate

If your Thanksgiving meal planning is anything like ours, you know you always have too much food. Why not make it a new tradition to send everyone home with Thanksgiving leftovers? Your guests can make a plate to enjoy and then take a plate home.

Have everyone bring a to-go container, or you can provide one per guest so they can take home another helping of dinner. Everyone, including the host who no longer has to store all that leftover food, will have something to be thankful for later.

4. Have a Leftovers Party

Thanksgiving Day is pretty filled up (just ask anyone who opts for an elastic waistband), but it's not just full of food. It's action-packed and can actually seem quite busy. Buck traditions and host a leftover party the day after Thanksgiving, where everyone gathers again to finish up odds and ends left from the holiday feast.

If you like the idea of Friendsgiving, host a family gathering on the actual day of Thanksgiving, but then on Friday, combine leftovers from all your friends to throw a delicious post-holiday dinner party that includes no extra cooking!

5. Make a Grateful Tree

There is likely a lot your family has to be grateful for, and Thanksgiving is prime time to reflect on all that you're blessed with. Each year, create a grateful tree in the dining room. Using brown cardboard, make the trunk and branches of a tree. Cut out leaves in various fall colors and have everyone fill the leaves with words of thankfulness. As you eat your holiday meal, gaze upon an artistic reminder of how fortunate you are.

6. Take a Thanksgiving Trip

Take a Thanksgiving Trip

If your family loves to travel and go on adventures, try to make a Thanksgiving vacation an ongoing tradition. You can book Thanksgiving dinner at many resorts and destinations and make memories that will last a lifetime. Imagine how cool it would be to have Thanksgiving all over the country or even the world!

7. Watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A great way to kick-start Thanksgiving dinner is for everyone, especially the kids, to turn the television on and watch a classic holiday show. Make a tradition out of Charlie Brown! The bonus here is if you plan this tradition right before mealtime, a few adults will be able to slip into the kitchen and finish prepping the feast (or have a sip of your favorite Thanksgiving cocktail) while everyone else watches the show.

8. Have an Ornament Exchange

Sure, it's Thanksgiving, and the attention should fall squarely on mashed potatoes and the bird, but you all know what holiday is lurking right around the corner... Christmas! Use your Thanksgiving time as a family to host an ornament exchange. Everyone can head home with something special to kick off their Christmas decorating the following day.

9. Zoom With Faraway Family

Zoom With Faraway Family

Thanks to 21st century technology, even the farthest-flung friends and family can join together on Thanksgiving festivities. Plan a convenient time for everyone to get together on Zoom and record the gathering to commemorate the occasion. This could be your number one new 21st century Thanksgiving family tradition.

10. Make a Special Centerpiece

Each Thanksgiving, set aside some time for making Thanksgiving crafts. Turn crafting into tradition by making new, festive fall centerpieces for the dining areas every year.

Quick Tip

We love getting kids involved in the Thanksgiving centerpieces! Ask them to gather up the prettiest things they can find outside and make them into a centerpiece of gorgeous leaves, pinecones, pretty rocks, acorns, fall flowers, you name it.

11. Remember Lost Loved Ones

Thanksgiving can be bittersweet when a beloved family member or friend is missing from the gathering. Make it a tradition to honor them at your meal. Set a place out just for them. Create a placemat that contains images and mementos specific to them. Be sure to have everyone share a favorite memory or story about the person everyone is missing.

12. Play Thanksgiving Mad Libs

Mad Libs is a hilarious game of words that will have every person at the dinner table chuckling. Before your meal, go around the table and offer words to complete a Thanksgiving Mad Libs puzzle. Read it aloud before everyone takes their first bite (because no one loves the look of spitting out your cranberry sauce because you had to laugh).

13. Make a Wish as a Family at Thanksgiving

It can be fun for everyone to make a wish for the coming year out loud and then write it down in a Thanksgiving wish book. Wishes spoken aloud can inspire everyone at the table, and writing it down is a powerful affirmation of intentions. Bring the wish book out at the following year's Thanksgiving gathering to see whose wishes came true and to add new ones.

Quick Tip

We also like coming up with a wish for the whole family as part of our dinner table conversation. It's a great way to set a family goal and make it happen.

14. Play a Game of Family Football

For many families, football on Thanksgiving is almost as important as the food itself. Each year, split into two teams, take to the backyard, and play a game of touch football. Build upon this tradition and have teams create hilarious uniforms or cheers at the start of each game.

15. Keep Someone Company

If you're alone, perhaps a local seniors' residence would like visitors for their guests who are also alone on Thanksgiving. Spending time with someone else who would otherwise be alone is an excellent way to be thankful for what you have, and you may both make a new friend as well.

keep someone company on thanksgiving

16. Celebrate Everyone's Birthdays

Often an extended family only sees each other once a year on Thanksgiving. This makes it an excellent time to celebrate everyone's birthday. A great new tradition would be to have everyone sing Happy Birthday just before dessert. You could even have a birthday cake with candles for everyone to blow out. This way, everyone gets to celebrate their birthday with those they love, even if they can't travel to be together on their actual birthday.

17. Do an Annual Thanksgiving Theme Photo

Every year, guests gather to take a picture of the gang. The twist here is that every year comes with a bit of a theme. Ask guests to dress in pajamas one year, coordinating colors next year, their favorite football team's gear another year, or even ugly holiday sweaters. Everyone will enjoy gathering together and looking back on the fun photos you were able to capture each year.

18. Volunteer to Help Those in Need

volunteer on thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to help those in need by volunteering the family to help prepare and serve a Thanksgiving meal for those who might otherwise go without. This could be one of the best new traditions you could incorporate into your family's holiday.

19. Create an Annual Canned Food Drive

In lieu of the usual Thanksgiving gifts of flowers or wine, ask everyone to bring canned food items that can be donated to a local shelter after the holiday. Many people donate goods to food banks prior to the holidays, but those stocks will have to be replenished after turkey day. That's where you come in!

20. Read Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1863 declared that the fourth Thursday of every November would be the official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Hearing these words read out loud would be a fantastic new Thanksgiving Day tradition. It's often helpful to look back at history and realize that even if a country or family is going through challenging times, there's always something to be thankful for.

21. Have a Grubby Turkey Gift Exchange

A grubby turkey gift exchange is always good for laughs, and it's a super fun Thanksgiving tradition to start with your family. A riff on dirty Santa, it's a party game where inexpensive, amusing, and impractical gifts are exchanged during the festivities.

The rules of grubby turkey are simple:

  1. Each person brings one wrapped gift. The first guest opens a wrapped gift, and their turn ends.
  2. After the first gift is unwrapped, each person after can choose to steal the unwrapped gifts of others or select a new wrapped present.
  3. The unwrapped gifts can only be stolen once per turn.
  4. The game is over when everyone has a present.

22. Participate in a Turkey Trot

Make room for that massive midday meal by getting the gang to do an annual turkey trot together. Walk or jog at the trot, dress in matching shirts or outfits, and have fun getting fresh air and exercise before a day of feasting.

Quick Tip

Don't have an official turkey trot you want to join? Make your own! It can be an annual thing where you jog through the neighborhood or even let the kids set the course.

23. Craft a Signature Cocktail

Every year, create a signature cocktail to serve to guests. Choose a Thanksgiving beverage that is fall-inspired and make sure it is something that can also be made into a nonalcoholic drink for those who don't enjoy libations. Ideas for Thanksgiving signature cocktails could be anything from apple-inspired drinks to pretty pumpkin cocktails. Try something with a pop of cranberry and rosemary if you're feeling adventurous.

Evolving Thanksgiving Family Traditions

Every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, and it's totally normal (and awesome, actually) when those traditions change. When children leave home, they often start traditions that are more personal and meaningful for them. While Thanksgiving traditions will probably always include family and turkey with all the trimmings, they can evolve over time to help you create even more joyful memories together.

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23 Thanksgiving Traditions for Making Holiday Memories