Thanksgiving is a time when most families get together to spend time with one another. We’ve all seen the commercials of aunts, uncles, and cousins sitting around a huge table eating copious amounts of Grandma’s turkey and dressing. Maybe your Thanksgiving looks something like that…or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Thanksgiving traditions are something that can be included in every family, and your children will carry them with them their whole lives. I’m now in my late 30s and can instantly be transported back to my childhood when I remember our holiday traditions. There is some overlap in these categories, but here are some ideas to help create some lifelong memories and family traditions for your children this Thanksgiving season.
Basic Thanksgiving Traditions
- Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Growing up, the parade was a Thanksgiving morning staple in our house. Our house would be smelling like turkey and homemade rolls because our mom had already been up and in the kitchen for hours, and my sister and I would always watch the parade together. This is a tradition in many households!
- Break the Wishbone: When carving the turkey, remove the wishbone to dry while everyone eats their meal. Before dessert, pull the names of two family members from a hat, let them each hold an end, and break the wishbone. The one with the bigger half gets a surprise! In some families, the winner gets to have the first dessert. In other homes, the winner could get an actual gift that had been purchased or made ahead of time. If you want to go the homemade route, you can let your kids make something for the wishbone winner in your homeschool one day for art!
- Have a Backyard Family Game: Many families will eat, rest, and then have a backyard football, soccer, or volleyball game. Since most families rarely have that many people together at once, what better way to have fun and work off some of those calories!
- Take a Post-Meal Stroll: If taking part in an exerting sport is not your preferred cup of tea after a big meal, why not take a walk as a family? This time of year is brisk and pleasant (depending on where you live, of course), and it’s so nice to get outside, enjoy some fresh air and happy conversation with loved ones…while making room for some pie.
- Run in a Half-Marathon or Turkey Trot: This is clearly for the more adventurous and/or athletic among us, and while to some of us (ahem, ME) this may sound torturous, it is a beloved tradition in many homes. Prepare for a huge meal by meeting with hundreds of strangers on Thanksgiving morning for some holiday exercise. Some go all out and wear a turkey hat, feathers, or sometimes even a whole turkey or Thanksgiving-themed costume!
- Watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving: Watching Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang celebrate Thanksgiving is a tried and true family tradition. It’s such a sweet way to spend time and snuggle up with your family. Hopefully, you can stay awake to enjoy watching this classic cartoon!
Unique Thanksgiving Traditions
- Have a Silly Hat Competition: Ditch the formal wear (Does anybody really wear formal wear on Thanksgiving anyway?) and add an element of silly to your holiday! Have a contest to see who has the craziest hat. Kids especially will love getting to search for and pick out a hat each year. Be sure to take a picture of all the participants!
- Have a Special Thanksgiving Breakfast: Whether it’s an easy overnight breakfast casserole, pumpkin pancakes, or even pie, make breakfast part of your yearly Thanksgiving traditions.
- Celebrate Everyone’s Birthday: For most families, Thanksgiving is a rare opportunity to have so many family members together. Take advantage of this by celebrating everyone’s birthdays at once! Give everyone a cupcake with a candle and sing “Happy birthday” before dessert.
- Have a Thanksgiving TV Marathon: Get together with your family on the couch and watch every Thanksgiving episode of your favorite show! Constant football games are great and all, but turn off the game and laugh along with the Thanksgiving shenanigans in Friends, The Office, I Love Lucy, or whatever you love!
- Have an Ornament Exchange: Though many now decorate and begin to celebrate early, Thanksgiving evening starts the Christmas season for many families. Mark this occasion by having each family member bring a Christmas ornament. You can draw names to let that person choose an ornament, or you can draw names beforehand and have each person bring an ornament for the specific person whose name they were assigned.
- Watch a Christmas Movie: Growing up, Christmas wasn’t celebrated in our home until Thanksgiving was over, so each year, we would watch the first Christmas movie of the season as a family. My dad and I would always watch Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas cartoon, then our family would watch Miracle on 34th Street since it began with the Thanksgiving Day parade. Speaking from experience, whichever movie you choose will always be special to your kids.
Ways to Include Your Children on Thanksgiving
- Choosing a Dish: Each year, let your children choose a dish to have with your Thanksgiving meal. Whether it is “Thanksgiving-ish” or just a random food they love, letting them have a part in the planning of the meal will make them feel so special! Even better, let them help make the dish! Here are a few Thanksgiving recipes that are kid-friendly.
- Setting the Table: Let your kids enjoy the responsibility of setting the Thanksgiving table. They’ll have a sense of pride in knowing (and probably telling everyone) that they set the table. It’s also a great time to work on those Home Ec skills and teach them what goes where at a formal table setting!
- Serving Dessert: When it’s time for dessert, have your children carefully deliver the pie, cake, or whatever to their family members. Again, giving them responsibility and letting them take pride in it is something everyone will look forward to each year!
- Have a Special Thanksgiving Craft: Having a fun activity to do either before the meal or afterward will give the children something to look forward to, keep them occupied, and provide a keepsake from that holiday. Not a super crafty person? No problem! It doesn’t have to be complicated. Find inspiration here!
- Pull Out the Board Games: After your meal, have an extended family game night! Games are always more fun with more people, and while you can certainly include games for adults as well, be sure not to overlook your little ones and play some games with them that they love. When you’re finished, everyone can get together for a fun game of charades!
- Decorate Thanksgiving Cookies: While the last-minute dishes are finishing up, set up a cookie bar with sugar cookies shaped in Thanksgiving themes (turkeys, Pilgrim hats, fall leaves, etc) with different icings and things to decorate them, and let the kids have fun!
Ways to Focus on the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving
- Decorate with Gratitude: Leading up to Thanksgiving, make a construction paper tree. Cut out many different color leaves, and have your children personalize them with things for which they are thankful. If you don’t want to do the tree, have your kids write on the leaves and string them up like a garland for Thanksgiving Day decoration.
- Make “Thankful Pumpkins”: Get some small, pie pumpkins to place at each table setting. Provide Sharpies, have your family members take a moment to focus on what they are thankful for, and write it on the pumpkin.
- Create a “Giving Thanks” Tablecloth: If pumpkins aren’t your thing, get some butcher paper to spread over your table, and have your loved ones write the things for which they are thankful on your special tablecloth.
- Write “Thank You” Notes: Provide a blank “thank you” card for each family member and have them reflect and fill it out for someone who has made a difference in their lives. The adults can help the little ones fill theirs out. Gather them up before everyone leaves and drop them in the mail the next day. When they arrive, it will make the recipient’s day!
- Volunteer: Many use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to give back. Whether it’s at a soup kitchen, donation center, shelter, or somewhere else, teaching your kids to be grateful for what they have and to help those in need is a great tradition to begin! Visit this website to find places you can volunteer in your area.
- Put Together a Care Package for a Service Member: Take time to remind your children that not everyone gets to spend Thanksgiving with their family. Those who are serving in the military are away from their family while keeping us safe so we can spend time with those we love. A great way to show appreciation on this holiday is to pack a care package or two to send to a service member. Find a legitimate, vetted organization to send a package to troops here.
Additional Homeschool Resources
Homeschool List of Thanksgiving Activities
Kids Activities that Encourage a Heart of Gratitude
Naomi White graduated with her B.S. in Christian Elementary Education and went on to earn her Early Childhood Education certification. She has taught preschool and elementary school in both Christian and public schools. She loves to read and write, is a pastor’s wife and stay-at-home mom, and is eagerly awaiting the day her son is old enough for them to start their own homeschool journey. Originally a Georgia girl, Naomi currently lives in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina with her family.
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