Thanksgiving Traditions

I know it’s December. And I know most people have forgotten about Thanksgiving by now and moved on to Christmas. But due to a super crazy life, we still have Thanksgiving decorations up and Thanksgiving is still on my mind. Plus, I love to debrief holidays after they are over.

I realized this year that I didn’t have any great Thanksgiving traditions of my own. We always spend Thanksgiving with extended family so we kind of do what they want to do. This year I wanted to own the holiday for myself, but I wasn’t sure where to start so I held a discussion with a group of ladies where we shared our Thanksgiving traditions.

I implemented a few ideas this year, and thought I would share the traditions with you, too, in case anyone was in the same boat. I broke the traditions down into categories for easier viewing. (Notice PIE got her own category and trumped GRATITUDE. Do I need to reevaluate my priorities?)


Have a pie night BEFORE Thanksgiving. This could be the night before or the weekend before, and it is a great event to do with friends. I love this one because I can never fully enjoy the pie on Thanksgiving because I am too full. So the idea here is to eat pie before Thursday and eat the leftovers on Thanksgiving.

Make 1 pie for each guest. A couple of ladies shared this tradition, so I guess it is doable. But they let each of their kids pick their favorite pie. This idea obviously works best for more intimate groups.

Eat pie for breakfast on Thanksgiving day. Who wants to make breakfast with all that other cooking to do? This is a fun solution and you can enjoy the pie more than after dinner.


Make a gratitude tree or a gratitude turkey. One friend makes a thanksgiving tree out of a small branch/twig and a vase. She decorates it with fall colored leaves made out of the kids’ handprints. She makes enough leaves for everyone at dinner to write down three things they are thankful for. After dinner, around pie time, they read what was written and try to guess who wrote it. Another friend makes gratitude turkeys with her children. Each feather represents something they are grateful for.

Place 3 kernels of corn of each plate. Before or after dinner, go around the table and say 3 things you are grateful for. The corn represents the pilgrims and what they ate, but more importantly, how little they had. My kids and I read somewhere that the colonists ate as little as 3 kernels a day during the rough times. The corn reminds us that we have so much more.



Add to a gratitude jar all year long. One family would write what they were grateful for on slips of paper all year long and stuff them in a jar. Then they read the slips of paper around the Thanksgiving table. It is a great way to show gratitude and recap the year.

Start a gratitude paper chain. Write what you are thankful for on strips of paper and make them into a paper chain. The chain can be added onto all month and also used for Christmas decor.

Write what you are grateful for on a pumpkin with sharpie. This is simple and easy and makes cute decor too.

Do a service project. Nothing helps you feel gratitude more than serving others.


Hold your own Thanksgiving dinner with your own kids. This can be done at the beginning of November to kick off the Thanksgiving season or after Thanksgiving to usher in Christmas.

Dress up for dinner. One friend has her kids dress up for Thanksgiving dinner. She believes if people are going to put that much time into making a meal, the least the guests can do is show up in nice clothes as a sign of respect.

Use name cards or place holders. These are fun for the kids to make and they help each guest to feel special and noticed.

name card

Try a new recipe each year. I was so happy the traditional bean green casserole got booted this year for a fresher take on green beans. Despite bacon being involved, the new recipe felt lighter and healthier.

Serve traditional favorites. Some things shouldn’t be messed with.

Write on the tablecloth. Cover the table with butcher paper so the kids can write and draw what they are thankful for. Or use a durable fabric and fabric markers that can be used year after year. My sister does this and they enjoy looking at tablecloth each year and reminiscing and seeing how the kids have grown. They get to see handwriting improve as well as gratitude.


Hold some kind of neighborhood or family Turkey Trot. It can be a walk or a run or a bike ride. This is a great way to get the body moving and burn some calories.

Play an unusual game reserved just for Thanksgiving. My husband’s family plays the Candy Bar game each Thanksgiving. It gets ugly, and I can’t say I even like the game, but the kids sure do. A few families play Bingo on Thanksgiving because it is a game that appeals to the old and the young.

Declare Thanksgiving a hands free day. This tradition may be met with some resistance, but I love the concept. Have everyone surrender their cell phones and tablets and other hand held devices for the day. This way the day is spent in real conversation with real people in the room. Play a board game or do a craft instead. Facebook and Instagram will be there tomorrow.

Boycott Black Friday and have a Green Friday instead. One family spends the Friday after Thanksgiving in nature. They go on a hike or a walk and gather pine cones and branches to use in their Christmas decor.

Make a turkey craft. There are zillions of options on Pinterest, but this year, per a friend’s tradition, we made a turkey using apples, toothpicks, mini marshmallows and gumdrops. Crafts are great way to keep the kids entertained as well.


Give a Christmas ornament. One friend gives a Christmas ornament to each of her children sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend. She puts great care to make sure that the ornament represents that child’s previous year. She has done everything from baseball to skiing to picture ornaments.

Add to your Christmas book collection each Thanksgiving. Buy a new Christmas book; wrap it up, and have the kids open the book on Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas season.

Give Christmas pajamas. My aunt gives all her grandchildren Christmas jammies on Thanksgving weekend so that the kids can enjoy the them all season long.

Make gingerbread houses. I remember my mom making gingerbread houses over Thanksgiving weekend. It is crafty and fun and the kids can enjoy them all of December. (We always got to eat it on January 1.)

Boys do the dishes while the ladies make a Christmas craft. Sexist? Yes. Great idea? Yes, too.


After hearing all of the wonderful ideas, one stuck out to me this year that I wanted to implement right away. I wanted to have our own Thanksgiving dinner with our own little family. This seemed like a wonderful solution to many of my frustrations with Thanksgiving, and everyone was on board.

Elle wanted to actually pass food around the table (instead of buffet style). Chad wanted leftovers. And I wanted to decorate a pretty table. Plus I wanted to learn how to cook every part of the meal instead of just the side dishes that I always get assigned.

Chad cooked the turkey and I mastered the gravy, and we had a sweet little dinner with just our kids. The table was beautiful and the food was yummy. We did the 3 kernels of corn thing, but I had everyone share their 3 favorite events of the last year. It was nice to all be at the same table and actually have time and room to share gratitude with each other.

Thanksgiving tablescape_Fotor

I’m keeping this tradition for sure and next year I am adding in Pie Night!

What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions?



4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Traditions”

  1. Such a beautiful table, I love it! I’ve thought about lack of Thanksgiving traditions the past few years as well so I really liked reading this post and hearing so many traditions others shared. Thanks for all the great inspiration, and I am glad you and your family had a great Thanksgiving 🙂

  2. I guess this is a variation on the pie-for-Thanksgiving-breakfast tradition, but in my family we actually eat pie (and ice cream and/or whipped cream) for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving. I love it! It’s a great way to extend the celebration, and who wouldn’t love eating pie for breakfast?

    This was the first year in nine years that I got to go home and have Thanksgiving at my parents’ house with (most of) my siblings. One thing I love about how our family does Thanksgiving is that everyone cooks together and everyone cleans up. We all get assignments so we’re not tripping over each other in the kitchen, but it brings everyone together and involves each member of the family. We make everything for Thanksgiving dinner from scratch (from the pies to the rolls to the stuffing to the turkey to the various sides), so there’s plenty to keep all ten members of my family busy.

    We also started a tradition of inviting international students from the local university to come have dinner with us. When I was younger we lived in the same town as both sets of grandparents, but when I was a teenager we moved almost 2000 miles away from there and didn’t live anywhere close to any family. My dad works at a university, so it was just a matter of getting in touch with the International Student Office and asking if anyone was interested. It’s so much fun to explain to students from Taiwan or Thailand why we celebrate, and they often bring some of their own dishes to contribute, so we never lack for interesting conversation and food at the dinner table!

  3. So this comment is really for the post back in 2011 called “Our Santa.” It must be such an old post that it wouldn’t let me comment. I don’t know. 🙂 But Anyway…

    I have been wondering what I wanted to do with Santa.. since this is the first year my little girl really understands that Santa brings gifts. I wasn’t sure If I should give all the presents from Santa and just one from mom and dad (like my parents did), or one big thing from Santa…. I also want to start some good traditions. So I thought “I wonder what Tiffany does.” Lol, is that a little strange? Oh well I searched and found your post…. and I love it. My sister has been trying to do just a “need, a read, and a greed.” for her kids but I like the idea of those coming from Santa. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Amee 🙂

  4. Tiff,

    Here’s a brief observation. As my children establish their own holiday traditions, your parent’s traditions diminish – or at a minimum change. I’m torn by this. It’s sad and exciting all at the same time. Traditions are the fabric of family and I’m pleased you are striving to secure them. Love you……

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