30 Unique Thanksgiving Traditions to Start With Your Family This Year

These will make giving thanks even more special.

Every Thanksgiving celebration all but requires a few essential elements: a gleaming roast turkey with stuffing (or dressing, depending on your background and geographic location), easy mashed potatoes with gravy, pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert, and plenty of supporting Thanksgiving side dishes to make the table groan under the bounty. And if your family is anything like mine, you probably have at least a few holiday traditions that really make the occasion feel uniquely yours.

For many people, Thanksgiving is one of the few chances we have all year to gather with our families or chosen families to share a fabulous meal, give thanks for our blessings and revel in the pleasure of each other’s company. Over the years, families and groups of friends often develop their own special Thanksgiving traditions they bring out every turkey day. Those can range from goofy to touching, culinary to crafty, athletic to relaxing — and most require few to no additional materials other than everyone’s enthusiasm. We asked the Good Housekeeping staff and a handful of friends to share the events, dishes and experiences that make their holiday memorable. Adapt one or a few of them into your own celebration.

1. Get Your TV Marathon On

While everyone’s digesting their second helpings (and maybe thinking of going back for thirds!), cozy up in front of the TV for some screen-based bonding. Bonus points if you choose a seasonal show. “The group I spend Thanksgiving with always end up watching every single Thanksgiving episode of Friends after we eat,” says Good Housekeeping content strategy editor Heather Finn.

2. Have Pie for Breakfast

It’s a holiday: treat yourself. Start the day off on a sweet note by serving your traditional Thanksgiving pies for breakfast with coffee instead of after the big meal. That way, you won’t be too full to indulge in dessert.

3. Ask the Kids to Set the Table

Get the littlest guests involved in the preparations by having them set the table for dinner while the adults put the finishing touches on the food. Giving them a task is a triple whammy: They’ll be proud that they could contribute to the festivities, learn the importance of pitching in, and stay out of trouble (and away from the hot stove).

4. Celebrate Everyone’s Birthdays

Families and friend groups that only see each other once a year, this one’s for you. Emma Seymour of the Good Housekeeping textiles lab says her family sings Happy Birthday when they gather for Thanksgiving — cake with candles included! That way, everyone gets to celebrate their special day with those they love, even if they can’t travel all gather together on the actual date.

5. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

On Thanksgiving, pay your blessings forward, suggests Rhythms of Play. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, food pantry or at any organization serving a hot meal or gathering supplies for those who may otherwise go without. Charity organizations generally appreciate a few extra hands, especially on a holiday. Call ahead to make sure they can accommodate your group, and get any special instructions.

6. Collect Non-Perishable Foods to Donate

Often, food banks and soup kitchens get inundated with volunteers at the holidays and then experience a steep drop-off afterward. Help them out after the Thanksgiving rush by asking your guests to bring a non-perishable food item to donate later. Keep in mind that people experiencing food insecurity want to eat the same delicious things anyone else does, so only donate unexpired, usable food.

7. Make a Craft

Creating a Thanksgiving craft is just as much fun for the kids as the kids-at-heart. Making a seasonal activity will keep the little ones busy while the cooks finish the meal or during clean-up. It’s also a great unplugged bonding activity.

8. Take a Turkey Trot

Sign up for a turkey trot to get some exercise before digging into the big meal. The first known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, NY in 1896, and it’s still one of the largest in the country. My dad and I do it every year I’m in town, and it always starts the day off on a good foot (pun very much intended). For an even more festive run, dress up in silly costumes and laugh all the way to the finish line.

9. Host a Potluck Dinner

Especially if you invite friends from far and wide or your family comes from a variety of backgrounds, asking everyone to bring a dish to pass can create a more diverse, exciting spread. It also lessens the load on the host. Just make sure to coordinate who’s bringing what ahead of time, so you’ve got all the bases covered.

10. Make a Special Dish

Good Housekeeping senior editor Allie Early’s family serves up fond memories alongside their turkey. “We make a coleslaw recipe that my grandmother always made for my mom and her siblings, and we serve it in a special bowl that she passed down to my mom,” Early says. “It’s a special way to remember my grandma when we’re all together.”

Read the rest of the unique Thanksgiving Traditions here: 30 Unique Thanksgiving Traditions to Start With Your Family This Year

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