18 Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas for a Stress-Free, Gratitude-Packed Holiday

From TownAndCountry.com

From Thanksgiving morning “me time” to the post-feast nap, try these traditions for an extra special holiday.

From quirky family favorites to time-honored classics, traditions are one of the things that we crave most around the holidays; not just because they’re familiar, but because they serve as reminders of friends and family, of times long past, and moments that might have slipped away from us if not for this annual gathering.

But how does a tradition become a tradition? Well, someone starts it, of course. So whether you’re a true traditionalist or you’re starting your own holiday history, these new Thanksgiving traditions are certain to change your holiday for the better.

Designate “Me Time”

Thanksgiving is all about the people you love, which can be as wonderful as it is exhausting. Before the house (or your laptop screen) is flooded with the sights and sounds of the holiday, deliberately set aside an hour for everyone to do their own thing with no obligations to cook, clean, or make conversation. Trust us, everyone will be in a better mood for it by the time the celebration really kicks into gear.

Have Someone Else Cook Breakfast

While the host is preheating ovens and mixing up stuffing, take the weight off of their shoulders by having someone else handle the morning meal. Maybe another relative who lives close by can be in charge of whipping up some AM fuel, or simply send out quick coffee run that gets everyone out of the house for a little while—no matter what, everyone will appreciate the decreased stress levels of not having to clean up the kitchen one more time.

Create a Momento

Lay out a sheet of butcher paper on an unused cabinet or table (if you have one of those amidst all the feasting going on) or hang one on the wall for all of your guests to sign. At the end of the day, ask everyone to write on it what their favorite part of the Thanksgiving festivities were, then fold the paper up and tuck it away somewhere special. Next year, lay the old sheets out along with the new one for everyone to look back on and remember Thanksgivings past, like a time capsule in ink and paper.

Pass Down a Family Recipe — Or Make a New One

Sure, everyone loves Granny’s pecan pie recipe and Aunt Marge’s cranberry sauce, but your Thanksgiving food traditions don’t need to end there. If you’ve inherited old recipe cards or cookbooks from family members, there’s no better time to dig into these archives than on the biggest noshing holiday of all. Pick out something in the holiday theme, something that sounds delicious, or just something unusual from a time gone by—even if the recipe doesn’t become an immediate hit with your crew, the adventure of trying it out is half the fun.

Don’t come from a family of cooks? Not to worry. Take the chance to try something new, like a gluten-free dessert you’ve been dying to try or an ultra-luxe black truffle stuffing—you never know what’s going to become the next family favorite.

Teach Each Other

Everybody has a special skillset; from your uncle’s cocktail mixing skills, to your etiquette queen sister, to your third cousin who memorized a slew of Thanksgiving trivia. Whether it’s around the table or after clean up, go around and give everyone five minutes to teach the group something from their own repertoire. It doesn’t need to be Earth-shattering or even useful, the point is to learn something fun and new from (and about!) each other.

Remember Lost Loved Ones

On a day made for spending time with the people you care about most, set aside a little of it to think of loved one who have passed on. Get everyone to gather together and share a story or a special moment they remember; through those memories, you keep your loved ones alive in your hearts and can pass on important family legacies to the next generation.

Give the Gift of Tupperware

We’re all for Thanksgiving hostess gifts, and it’s great to bring a potluck item or bottle of wine to contribute, but the number one thing that your average Thanksgiving host runs out of? Food containers. This year, instead of contending with the awkward “what can I bring” quandaries (not to mention the ecological concerns of all those disposable plastic dishes), start the tradition of giving the host what they actually need most—a way to send everyone home with all of those holiday leftovers. Have everyone bring at least one container (preferably labeled to prevent squabbles) to carry their helping of turkey and dressing home in at the end of the night and we promise that your host will really have something to be thankful for.

Catch Up with Far-Off Family

The bigger your family gets, the harder it is to get everyone together for the holidays, and with the ongoing global pandemic, travel promises to be trickier than ever this year. But even if some of your nearest and dearest can’t make it to the celebration in person, there’s no reason not to see them on turkey day. Embrace the wonders of technology and set up a time to video chat with everyone you’re missing during the holiday—after all, there’s no reason your traditions can’t get a 21st century boost.

Watch the Parade (and the Dog Show)

For many, it simply wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a viewing of the Macy’s Day Parade or the National Dog show, so we’re giving you permission to keep them on in the background while you load pies into the oven.

Play a Little Football

Yes, there are games on TV as well, but it’s more fun to divide the family into teams and head out into the yard to throw around the pigskin and work up an appetite.

Do a Wishbone Scavenger Hunt

This is a great way to keep kids of all ages entertained during the post-meal lull. Early in the day, have teens or unoccupied adults think up scavenger hunt clues (bonus points for Thanksgiving puns) and hide them around the house and yard. Once dinner is over, send the little ones out to search for all of the hidden hints, leading them back to a secret spot where you’ve stashed the turkey’s wishbone. The first two to arrive get to split the wishbone—the winner gets a wish, second place gets first pick of the desserts!

Take a Hike

The siren song of the dessert table is strong, but the truth is that no one can really appreciate that perfect slice of pumpkin pie fully when they’re stuffed to the gills with, well, stuffing. Why not give yourselves a break from the food fest and head outside for a walk instead? The fresh air will help ward off the post-dinner urge to snooze, you’ll burn off at least a couple of calories, and it’s the perfect time to enjoy the beauty of autumn before winter slips up on you.

Have a Movie Marathon

Prefer your after dinner activities more subdued? Stick to the indoors by picking out a few family-favorite Thanksgiving films and really settle in. It may not be the most over-the-top holiday tradition, but it’s sure to be one that everybody will look forward to.

Play a Thankful Guessing Game

At the start of the festivities, have everyone write a few things they’re thankful for on slips of paper and place them into a jar. After dinner is over, let everyone take turns drawing a slip out and try to guess who put which “thanks” into the jar. Not only is it a fun way to see how much you all know about each other, it also encourages everyone to get creative about what they’re thankful for this holiday.

Do Good in the World

Counterintuitive as it may seem, Thanksgiving isn’t actually the most helpful day of the year to volunteer at your local soup kitchen; many charities find themselves flooded with one-time volunteers without the space or time to teach them how to help. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the world a better place on Thanksgiving.

Instead of the usual wine or flowers, ask each of your guests to bring canned goods or clothing that you can donate to a local shelter after the holiday. Or sit down together and plan out a day in the future for the whole family to volunteer for a charity.

Kick Off the Holiday Season

For many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter holiday season. If you won’t see every member of your family at the rest of the seasons celebrations this year, consider recreating some of those traditions in November by exchanging early Hanukkah gifts, popping Christmas crackers, or simply serving your Aunt’s iconic misletoe martinis after your feast.

Plan a “Friendsgiving”

Even if your friends all have plans on Thanksgiving Day, consider gathering for a meal of gratitude and good food during the month of November. In 2020 this might have to take place via Zoom or outside and socially distanced, but a feast with chosen family (even a virtual one) is always a good idea.

Reflect on the Year

2020 has been one for the books. Spend a little time this Thanksgiving thinking about the year thus far. Go month by month if you need to, and consider having everyone write down their feelings. We are living through history, after all.

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