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11 Family-Filled Thanksgiving Traditions

It’s easy to forget that Thanksgiving is about more than giant turkeys and pumpkin pie. After all, the day can go by in the blink of an eye after most of the preparation for the meal, greeting family members, and actually sitting down to eat. So what makes Thanksgiving so special, year after year? The family Thanksgiving traditions, whether that’s giving back with volunteer work or the recipe behind your turkey stuffing, make the day memorable. So if you’re looking for new Thanksgiving traditions to add to your special day with family, check out the ideas below.

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Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving traditions reflect a great American event which began in 1621 with the first harvest after pilgrims arrived in what we know today as The United States. With both pilgrims and Native Americans in attendance, the meal became a symbol of peace and unity.  However, it wasn’t the holiday we know today until 1789 when President George Washington declared November 26th a “thanksgiving” day of prayer, and 1863 when President Lincoln combined the events for an official Thanksgiving holiday, after a campaign from Sarah Hale. Now, Thanksgiving is generally regarded as a time for family and reflection.

A family celebrate thanksgiving traditions with food

What Day Does Thanksgiving Fall On?

Thanksgiving Day falls on the fourth Thursday of November every year. Originally, Thanksgiving fell on the last Thursday of November, but this was changed in order to provide a economic boost by encouraging holiday shopping to begin earlier.

Thanksgiving Things: Thanksgiving Family Tradition Ideas

The following Thanksgiving traditions are great ways to bring the family together for a day of love and reflection. From Thanksgiving getaways to local volunteering to a post feast walk, there’s plenty to do to keep the whole family entertained. Browse our favorite ideas below, and then make sure to check out our resource on Thanksgiving party ideas.

1. Traditional Thanksgiving Sides

Thanksgiving is famous for the amount of food that ends up on your dining table. For that reason, there’s usually a wide variety of sides spanning the length of your table runner. If you’re looking for some new sides to add to your thanksgiving food traditions, consider the following classics:

  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Roasted Squash
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Baked Brussel Sprouts
  • Cornbread
  • Grilled Broccoli
  • Sauteed Mushrooms
  • Roasted Cauliflower

Whatever you choose to include in your Thanksgiving meal, make sure you plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time for planning, cooking, and plating. Try turning it into a family activity by inviting loved ones to pitch in for different plates. For example, have each visiting family member bring their own favorite side dish, and let the kids mash the potato sides.

2. Traditional Thanksgiving Stuffing

Besides the turkey, stuffing may be the most traditional Thanksgiving food. And with such a major classic comes great expectations. In recent years, many have tried introducing new variations of turkey stuffings, such as sausage and cornbread, oyster, apple and onion, vegan, wild rice and mushroom, or even tamale stuffings. If you opt for a traditional Thanksgiving stuffing, however, plan on including the following ingredients:

  • Bread cubes
  • Chicken or vegetable stock
  • Butter
  • Celery
  • Sage, thyme, and salt or other seasonings
  • Egg
  • Onion

For a special touch, consider serving the stuffing on a personalized serving tray featuring the whole family.

A Grandfather and grandson cook together as a Thanksgiving tradition

3. Wishbone Tradition

One of most fun Thanksgiving traditions for kids may be the wishbone tradition. The tradition began hundreds of years ago as a symbol of luck in the Roman Empire, and has since become a game that grants a wish to the winner. In order to play, make sure that you have a completely dry wishbone. Wishbones which have been pulled from a raw or cooked turkey that day won’t be dry enough, and won’t crack correctly. Make sure your wishbone has been drying for three days before attempting to crack it. Once dry, have two kids each grab one end of the bone and pull. Whoever ends up with the larger half of the wishbone “wins” and whatever they wished for is said to be granted.

4. Thanksgiving Toasts

Thanksgiving toasts are one of the most important Thanksgiving traditions. These toasts can be given by one or a few representatives, or they can be done by going around in a circle with each family member saying a few words. If you’re looking for examples of messages to share at dinner, consider our resource on Happy Thanksgiving messages. Thanksgiving toasts are usually done at the table during dinner with glasses raised. If you’re toasting with wine or a traditional family drink, consider using personalized glassware to help your table setting stand out.

Family celebrates thanksgiving with a toast and Thanksgiving traditions

5. Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

Giving thanks is what Thanksgiving is all about. It provides the opportunity for family to share what they’re grateful for, reconnect, and to share a Thanksgiving prayer. Going around the table and having each person share little things that make them happy, or larger things such as being together as a family, is a timeless tradition shared by most American households. If you’re looking for specific quotes to share with friends and family during your own turn for saying thanks, consider our resource on Thanksgiving Quotes. And if your family also usually says Grace during this time, adding a few special bible verses about family can add a truly special message.

6. Going For A Post Feast Walk

When all is said and done and the Thanksgiving feast is over, adding a walk to your family tradition can make a huge difference. Walking provides another opportunity to bond with family, as well as gives you the chance to digest your food after such a large meal. Since most families eat Thanksgiving dinner earlier in the evening, there’s usually plenty of time for this post-feast walk. Bring the dogs and go to a local park if your neighborhood sidewalks can’t fit the whole family. Then by the time you make it home, you might have room for dessert.

7. Watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Families across the country have made watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade a part of their annual Thanksgiving traditions. Because it starts at 9am EST, it’s easy to fit it in during the morning cooking preparations, if only in the background. The parade is a great way to get the whole family in the holiday spirit early in the day.

8. Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering is one one of the best ways to celebrate the true spirit of the holidays. It also helps the whole family reflect on how much they have to be grateful for. If you’re looking for a new Thanksgiving tradition, consider taking the family to volunteer at a local food pantry, or lead a can drive, or do anything that gives back to your local community. This kind of a tradition helps teach kids important life lessons and and provides a great opportunity for family bonding.

9. Thanksgiving Vacations

If your family has struggled to find time to get away together lately, consider using Thanksgiving as the chance to go on vacation. Many families have turned the Thanksgiving weekend into an annual tradition of vacation. Whether your idea of vacation is a tropical paradise or a trip to the woods, this is a great way to spend dedicated time with family.

10. Turkey Trot

Similar to the idea of a post-Thanksgiving dinner walk, a Turkey Trot is a great turn on an otherwise food-filled holiday. There are plenty of local turkey trots in every state if your family is interested in an active, family-focused Thanksgiving tradition. Most Turkey Trots are philanthropy-focused 5k’s, which makes them something the whole family can accomplish with a little training.

11. Unique Thanksgiving Traditions: Friendsgiving

In recent years annual “Friendsgiving” parties started trending. This turn on the usual family-focused holiday enables close friends to celebrate together and give thanks for one another. Friendsgivings usually follow many of the same traditions as Thanksgiving, but often take on more of a dinner party schedule. If you’re looking for ideas for your own Friendsgiving, make sure to check out our dinner party ideas.

Two friends celebrate Friendsgiving by preparing dinner

Additional Thanksgiving Traditions Resources

If you liked this guide and you’re looking for additional Thanksgiving resources, make sure to check out the following: