Divine Dinner Party

Thanksgiving Traditions:
Creating Your Own Turkey Day Traditions

Because it's such a simple celebration, Thanksgiving traditions are one of the most important part of this holiday.

It's a day that just wouldn't be the same without, say, your favorite food or your family's favorite Thanksgiving party game. So come November, people throughout the United States start dusting off the good china and breaking out all their Thanksgiving traditions for the family. But if you're hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, or just trying to think of something special to add to your feast-filled day, you may be short on ideas. Well, this is where you'll find 'em. Here, you'll find some great ideas for customary Thanksgiving traditions, as well as ideas for creating your own.

Or check out this page, all about traditional Thanksgiving customs.

Creating Thanksgiving Traditions for Your Family

Just one piece of advice before we look at some Thanksgiving traditions: you don't need to follow any of these ideas or customs word for word. Remember that your traditions should be personal-- meaningful to you and the people at your gathering. So be creative and thoughtful in the way you integrate various traditions into your celebration, and you'll create a day that nobody will forget.

Using Your Family's Original Thanksgiving Traditions

Think back to your childhood. What kinds of things did your parents or grandparents do on Thanksgiving? Were there any special craft projects for children, or games, decorations, or foods? Thanksgiving traditions center around family for the most part, so dig out those home-grown customs and celebrate them today.

Renovating Old Traditions

As families age, some traditions have a tendency to fall to the wayside. People move on, or decide they'd rather do something else. Maybe it's time to renovate some of those old traditions!

Here's an example. Maybe there was a cornucopia your grandmother always pulled out every year to use as a centerpiece. It was cracked and old and filled with dusty silk flowers, but… you saw it every year, and it was a part of family's Thanksgiving lore. This year, create one of your own that you'll be able to use for years to come. Maybe you'll want to update it with new materials, fresh flowers, etc. But the little nod to Grandma and your family's past will fill this gesture with meaning-- even if you don't use Grandma's ugly old cornucopia.

Creating Brand New Traditions for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Game TraditionsIf yours is a young family without many past traditions to bring to the table (excuse the pun) for Thanksgiving, that doesn't mean you can't make any of your own. Coming up with Thanksgiving traditions yourself will create memories for you kids that they will always hold dear. And perhaps pass one.

What's the secret to starting from scratch and making your own Thanksgiving traditions? Exclusivity and continuity. Whether it be a food (you can find some great Thanksgiving recipe ideas here), a decoration, a game, etc.; be sure you only do it once a year (or at least very rarely), and every year. Here are some ideas of traditions to start yourself.

10 Great Thanksgiving Traditions to Start This Year

1. Dinnerware. Buy special Thanksgiving china to use once a year. Or if you don't have the space or the money for a whole set of dinnerware, buy some special salt & pepper shakers, a turkey platter, or a gravy boat, etc., and use that item only on Thanksgiving.

2. Crafts. Plan a special craft project with the kids each year which will evolve with them as they get older: construction paper turkeys for young ones, dream catchers or jewelry for older ones, etc.

3. Snapshots. Every year right before you sit down to eat, gather everybody together to take a family photo. Imagine getting to watch your family evolve and change through the years. You'll love looking at these 10, 20, or 30 years from now. One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions!

4. Giving. Donate time or food to a homeless shelter every year, either on Thanksgiving itself. or the weekend after.

5. Party Games. Play a special holiday party game after dinner. You can play a card game, a board game (Monopoly tournaments are fun!), have a poker tournament, or keep it simple with a family game of charades or pictionary. There are even games you can play during dinner!

6. Create A Food Event. Every year, make a special breakfast (like a French toast casserole or fancy eggs). Or make Thanksgiving dessert into an event in an of itself. Do an Annual Thanksgiving Crepe Feast after dinner, or set up an annual sundae bar.

7. Make a Memory Book. Buy a blank book with nice paper and set aside a few pages every year to record your Thanksgiving. Have people write messages. Add the footprint of your sister's new baby. Paste in leaves the kids collected while they wait for dinner, etc. This a family keepsake you'll treasure forever.

8. Be Lazy After Dinner. Arrange for something special you do every Thanksgiving after dinner. Have a special cup of coffee spiked with rum, and a special apple cider for the kids. Make a batch of pumpkin pie popcorn and watch a special movie. Play karaoke, you name it.

9. Get Active. While the turkey's in the oven, play an annual game of family touch football. Or take a short walk as a family to wake up after all that turkey. If you get everybody involved, you can even make washing the dishes into a Thanksgiving tradition!

10. Give Thanks. Being thankful is what this holiday is all about! Go around the table and have everybody say something specific that they're thankful for. Or make this Thanksgiving tradition into a party game and have people write their "thanks" on a piece of paper, put it into a hat, and have everybody guess who it belongs do. Or get really specific: have each member of the family do a small show and tell of what they're thankful for this year, with physical examples (a letter, a baby shoe, etc.)

Drawing Traditions from Your Culture

If your family is like most American families, you have a variety of cultures way back (or not so way back) in your family tree. Even if your family's culture doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving (most don't, after all), your culture can provide you with some great Thanksgiving traditions.

Using Cultural History. For example, if your family has Greek connections you can look into the ways in which Thesmosphoria was celebrated in ancient times. This event was a festival of gratitude like Thanksgiving dedicated to Demeter (the goddess of grain). Some traditional foods for this feast were special bread and cakes… which sort of sounds like a winner for Thanksgiving, too, right?

Mixing Cultures. If your family's culture has any special games, foods, or traditions in its history, use them to create a special tradition all your own. And it's even better if you mix! Come from a family with Dutch and Mexican heritage? Have a pile of Dutch pancakes for breakfast and let the kids break open a big turkey-shaped piñata after dinner. Why not? Making a Thanksgiving tradition uniquely your own is part of the fun.

Find more traditional Thanksgiving customs here!

Classic American Thanksgiving

Over the decades since Thanksgiving first became a national holiday certain Thanksgiving traditions have developed that seem nearly universal.

Shopping. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Many stores have a special sale over the long Thanksgiving weekend, and some families make this a huge, adventurous outing to grab as many bargains as possible. By the time they shop, all the signs of Thanksgiving seem to have miraculously vanished, replaced by Christmas decorations, bells, and bows.

Parades. Another Thanksgiving tradition is attending or watching parades. Most large cities have their own localized parade in which people from the region can show off their talents. For those who prefer to stay indoors on Thanksgiving day, the two best known parades are Macy's and America's Thanksgiving Parade. Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade takes place in New York City while America's Thanksgiving Parade occurs in Detroit Michigan. Both parades have been around for over 80 years.

Football. One of the men's favorite Thanksgiving traditions is watching the annual Thanksgiving football game (usually after dinner when everyone is too full to move!). This particular tradition goes back to 1935 in Detroit. The owner of the Lions (Richards) took a risk and scheduled a football game on Thanksgiving Day thinking it was a good way to attract fans that might not otherwise come.

The Thanksgiving Turkey

Of course, the main thing on everyone's mind for Thanksgiving traditions is… the feast! While some people opt for roast beef or ham, by far the most popular main dish for this holiday is a roast turkey. Heck, the holiday nickname of "turkey day" proves it! On Thanksgiving Day alone Americans will eat nearly 700 million pounds of turkey. Talk about gobble gobble!

And at the end of the feast? Well don't forget to make a wish on the wishbone!

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