Inside: Looking for unique Thanksgiving traditions to start with your family this year? Here are some ideas to get you started!

Thanksgiving is one of the most celebrated times of the year in the US. Most families have traditions surrounding the holiday that they look forward to every year.

However, some may still be looking to start traditions as their family grows and changes, or perhaps they simply want to mix things up. With different circumstances the past couple of years, some traditions haven’t been possible so creativity has been key!

A common thread through most people’s Thanksgiving celebrations is spending it with some family members (or friends who feel like family) while celebrating what you’re grateful for that year. 

Whether you are hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner or have been doing it for years, there may be an idea that sparks a new tradition you want to start in your home.

In this blog post, we will explore some unique Thanksgiving traditions to help make your Thanksgiving dinner extra special this year. 

unique Thanksgiving traditions

What Is the Most Treasured American Thanksgiving Tradition?

Ask anyone this question, even on google, and you’ll get anything from cooking a turkey, watching the Macy’s Day Parade, to shopping on Black Friday… 

Arguably the “most” common traditions over the past several decades are:

  1. Larger than usual family get together with lots of food
  2. Overeating and sneaking a snooze
  3. Watching a parade and/or football on television
  4. Volunteering at food kitchens and providing meals for families
  5. Planning (or even starting) Black Friday shopping

Ok, so what makes something a tradition? You’ll be surprised at how varied and completely contradictory the answer is to that question.

What Makes Something an American Thanksgiving “Tradition?”

The definition of the word ‘traditional’ according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary is “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.” The widely accepted idea is that the “pattern” must be transmitted over two to three generations.

Does that mean you have to do something over and over for 75-90 years (the “traditional” time span of three generations) to be a tradition? Nope.

If you try something new this year and decide you want to continue it in future years, it then becomes your new tradition (granted, of course, that you actually repeat it). It’s interesting to observe how quickly kids will label an activity as a tradition.

When it’s something they enjoyed and want to do it again, my kids will quickly call it a tradition in hopes of setting up the expectation that it will happen again. For us, this has ended up being how some wonderful family memories have been made.

unique Thanksgiving traditions

Unique Thanksgiving Traditions to Honor Family

There are various ways to keep your family memories alive for years to come. Here are some ways to honor family members and document special moments to look back on later.

The Thanksgiving Journal

Create a Thanksgiving journal or a guest book to include greetings, favorite recipes, and other tidbits. Encourage guests to record a moment or anecdote throughout the day.

Younger children will often have great quotes that you’ll want to get on paper because you are unlikely to remember them later. It offers a snapshot of such a brief moment in their lives.

A journal creates a family history and something you can look back on to reminisce about later.

Picture the Past/Show and Tell

Have guests bring a photo of a family member or friend who has passed on. At dinner, share about that person. It’s a great opportunity to remember past family members’ impact and pass on and strengthen oral family histories.

Children can bring their favorite possession or a share about a best friend who may have moved. Don’t forget to video the laughs and tears during the conversations. 

A Time of Appreciation

Take this opportunity of being together to affirm and show appreciation for your loved ones. Give each of the guest’s notecards to write something good they’ve seen in another persons’ life in the last year.

Sometimes it is challenging for people to see the good themselves. Having someone else speak that into your life can be such an encouraging experience. Take some time at the table to share what you’ve written.

Give the recipient the card that you’ve written about them. They can then look back and treasure those moments and your words.

If You Can’t Get Together

If you aren’t able to physically be together with family members for Thanksgiving, you can still use these same ideas and adapt them virtually.

Set up a time to meet online and do a show and tell and share affirmations for each other that way. You can also check out some of the game ideas further down in the post and adapt some of them to be played online.

Unique Food Traditions for Thanksgiving

Between the planning, shopping, and food preparation for the traditional Thanksgiving feast, things get so hectic that some family members may be exhausted by the time the food is ready. 

Who has time to make breakfast when there is a turkey to stuff and get in the oven? And is having lunch AND dinner really necessary?

It’s all about simplifying where you can. Here are a few unique food ideas to make things easier and maybe become one of your own family Thanksgiving traditions!

unique Thanksgiving traditions

Breakfast Casserole

Try a make-ahead (healthy) casserole recipe. They are easy and delicious. Besides keeping the tummy rumblings to a minimum, it frees up more of your time and energy on Thanksgiving.

Simplify the Sides

A few years ago the women in our family had a talk about how Thanksgiving had gotten a bit too stressful for those of us who were preparing the food.

While we still wanted to go with a traditional Thanksgiving meal, we opted to minimize the number of sides that were prepared. Each family selected their favorite one and we made sure those were included but didn’t make others that we normally would have.

The end result was just as great of a meal without quite as much work and stress. Another great way to enjoy Thanksgiving day more is by prepping what you can ahead of time so that the holiday feels slightly less like a cooking marathon.

Opt for the Non-traditional Route

No one said you have to have turkey and all the things on Thanksgiving. If that is something that’s important to you go for it, but if not then consider alternative cuisine.

There are no rules when it comes to traditions. You get to decide what is most enjoyable for your family. Want to do soup, pasta, Chinese food, or something else? Go for it without guilt or a second thought.

Order It

While homemade food is always my preference, a few times for Thanksgiving we’ve opted to order out. It’s not the most frugal option, but when we haven’t been able to get together with family and I didn’t want to make the meal on my own, we either ordered from a local restaurant or grocery store.

This allowed us to have a more relaxing day at home enjoying each other’s company rather than being stressed with preparing and cooking various things (is it just me or is timing everything right more than half the battle?) with tons of dishes left to clean at the end.

It’s ok to not have your ideal sometimes. Everything is a trade-off and your sanity may be worth considering this option.

Sharing Family Recipes

Share your favorite Thanksgiving recipe with your extended family. You could put it together and DIY your own cookbook for everyone to have.

Then when you’re later thinking back to how great Aunt Kristin’s cranberry relish was or how much you loved Nana’s sweet potato casserole and Aunt Jen’s candied bacon Brussell sprouts, you’ll have it all there in one place to refer to.

Unique Games to Start as Thanksgiving Traditions This Year

If your family is anything like ours, games are a big part of our traditions and family culture. Even if you haven’t played many games prior, these are fun easy ones to play together.

Hide N Seek Serving Spoons

Keep the kiddos occupied on a “spoon search” the last hour before the meal. Hide* individual serving spoons and utensils in Ziploc bags outdoors (weather permitting) or in the house…if you’re inventive, make clues for each one and have a treasure hunt where one spoon leads to another. 

*Remember to make a list where you put them all. If you’re like TL Woods, who came up with this idea, you could be finding one of your spoons six months later! 

Catch Phrase

Catch Phrase is a crazy fun word game, similar to the classic game show Password. Every generation will enjoy this timed word guessing game. Warning: best played before dinner; you’ll laugh so hard your stomach will hurt!

Sightless Charades

Sightless charades is like classic charades except that the clue giver is blindfolded. It ends up being hysterical gameplay without the facial cues from teammates.

Want more game ideas? Here is a list of our family’s favorite board games.

Who Am I? Family Trivia Game

Create a list of 10+ family (or friend group*) based questions; each person writes answers (no sharing). After dinner, question/answers read aloud and see who knows who best.

Ex: Who married their high school sweetheart? What is Nana’s middle name? Who met a movie star in the airport? What is Bill’s favorite Star Wars character? Half the fun will be figuring out the questions! 

Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt

I love this idea because I tend to want to sit after a long day of cooking and cleaning up. Create family teams for a unique Thanksgiving-themed scavenger hunt.

The fresh air and movement will be a bracing challenge for everyone. You’ll wonder why this hasn’t been a family thanksgiving all along!

An alternate option is to have the adults who aren’t doing the cooking take out the kids to do this scavenger hunt while the food is being prepared. It helps make the house a bit less chaotic while the kids are out hunting for the items on their lists.

Unique Thanksgiving Traditions for Giving Back to Your Community

Festivity Food Drive

Have everyone bring food items that can be donated to your local food drive to share with a needy family. This is a great way to get items out of your pantry that you won’t eat anyway.

Ding Dong Dash Dessert

Have any neighbors, friends, or people in need that you can share your fabulous Thanksgiving desserts with? Get your children participating in the spirit of giving back by ringing the bell when leaving the boxed dessert on the doorstep with a note and dashing. 

Thanksgiving Friday

Opting to wait a day to celebrate can be a very inspiring and unique Thanksgiving Day tradition for people who have a heart for service. For teens, it’s a rewarding and life-changing experience (after the initial grumble) to serve at a family shelter or food center on Thanksgiving Day.

Many families who celebrate this unique Thanksgiving tradition will have their feast on Friday. 

unique Thanksgiving traditions

Why Not Start A New Thanksgiving Tradition This Year!?

The Thanksgiving Day holiday can evoke a myriad of emotions for different people, especially when we remember those that aren’t with us any longer. I hope you found some inspiration for trying some unique Thanksgiving traditions with your family this year.

Ready to start thinking about Christmas traditions? You can see a list of my favorite frugal and fun family holiday traditions here!

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