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From Parades to Pie, 40 Timeless Thanksgiving Traditions To Cherish With Loved Ones

Try a new tradition this year to cherish your time with friends and family.

Several holidays center on tradition, and Thanksgiving is no exception. For many Americans, the day is focused on family and food, with the turkey (hopefully) being the star of the show. Many people spend the day cooking a variety of dishes, such as green bean casserole and cranberry sauce, while others prefer to dine out and not deal with the mess or stress. For some people, the day isn't complete without a game of flag football, while others may gather around the table and share what they are grateful for.

What makes traditions so special is that everyone's tradition is unique. Thanksgiving Day in America has some built-in traditions, such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, NFL games and, of course, eating turkey and pumpkin pie. Whether you've grown up with your own traditions or are creating your own for the first time, it's never too late to start. It only takes two consecutive times to establish a tradition, so if you start this year, everyone will expect it next year. You can start simply with a movie marathon or a walk around the block. If you're feeling extra creative, you could break out the craft supplies to make homemade centerpieces for the Thanksgiving table, play some fun Thanksgiving games or make some special Thanksgiving cocktails (or mocktails).

If you're still a bit stuck on what tradition to partake in this year, we've got you covered with our top picks. 

  1. Reminisce with loved ones - For many people, Thanksgiving may be the one day of the year when all of the immediate and extended family are friends. It doesn't cost anything to sit down and share stories from years past and heed advice from older loved ones.
  2. Make "Thank You" cards - This is an activity the whole family can enjoy. Lay out some construction paper and crayons, and let people write or decorate their own cards. Either share them with someone or keep them and display the cards every year as part of your holiday decor.
  3. Nap time - No matter if you are cooking the bird or simply showing up to eat, everyone needs a nap on Thanksgiving Day. If you have young kids who nap, you could time it so everyone gets to rest and recharge at the same time.
  4. Outsource breakfast - If you are hosting Thanksgiving or cooking a majority of the meal, delegate breakfast to someone else. This could include sending someone to bring your favorite breakfast in, going out to breakfast, or simply having someone else cook (and clean). Bonus points if you eat it in bed.
  5. Cook a family recipe - It's that time of year to dust off the old cookbooks and handwritten recipe cards. If there's a family favorite that you make every year, gather some new family around and teach everyone how to make the recipe. If you don't have a family recipe, now's a great time to gather friends and family around and craft a new holiday recipe.
  6. Create a craft cocktail or mocktail - While most people focus on the food, drinks really round out the full meal. Get together and brainstorm some unique, seasonal drink ideas, such as a delicious fall cocktail.
  7. Give a toast - Whether you have a designated toast giver or you trade off responsibilities each year, it's important to gather around for a toast. It doesn't have to be fancy or long, but it is a chance to share your gratitude with everyone you love. You could even have everyone share what they are grateful for as part of the toast.
  8. Take a fall foliage drive - If you live in an area with actual seasons, a gorgeous foliage drive is the perfect Thanksgiving tradition. You can pack up several family members in the car and kill quite a bit of time while also looking at beautiful scenery. Even if you don't live in a four-season climate, you can still pile into the car and take a drive through your town or neighborhood.
  9. Prep for Christmas - There's only one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so what better time to get prepared for the winter holiday? You can have your guests help you untangle lights, unpack ornaments, or even get a head start on the tree.
  10. Play games - In between meals and snacks, gather your group together for some games. You can break out classic board games such as Monopoly or checkers. If you want to test your acting chops, try out different types of charades.
  11. Get outside - It can be a full-blown hike or a short walk around the block, but getting some fresh air will do the body and mind some good. This can be especially helpful after you eat the main meal and are waiting for dessert.
  12. Play Thanksgiving trivia - You can test your knowledge of the holiday with some fun trivia questions. The best part about trivia is you can sit down and play or simply quiz each other while everyone is cooking and running around.
  13. Give back - Make it a yearly family tradition to find some way to give back to those who are in need. Many families choose to serve Thanksgiving meals to those less fortunate. You don't even have to leave your home to gather the family and give back. Everyone in the family could pool money to donate to a favorite charity or create thank-you cards to be mailed to a local veterans facility.
  14. Gather round for the parade - The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade dates back to 1924, where bigger-than-life balloons are flown down the streets of Manhattan. If you've got kids, they'll love seeing the characters and Santa.
  15. Host a "Friendsgiving" - Even if you are hosting the real-deal day of feasting, consider taking a day in November for a "friendsgiving." Friendsgiving involves inviting your friends over for a low-stress get-together. Instead of cooking everything yourself, host a potluck gathering in which everyone brings their favorite dish to share.
  16. Take a vacation - Many people get at least a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, so why not take advantage and take a relaxing vacation? You could even make it a family affair and have someone else do the cooking and cleaning while you relax and unwind. If you're looking for a tropical destination, Riviera Maya, Mexico, could be a great beachside vacation. If you're looking to embrace winter weather, head to Wyoming for a cozy getaway.
  17. Go out to dinner or bring it in - While some people love spending all day cooking and prepping the big feast, it requires a ton of work and planning. There are several restaurants, from fast casual to high-end, that offer special Thanksgiving meals with all of the traditional fixings. If you'd rather lounge at home, you can pre-order your meal and send one of your family members to pick it up.
  18. Watch football - For many families, Thanksgiving is the perfect excuse to gather around the TV together to enjoy some snacks and serious football while waiting for the turkey to get out of the oven. It's even fun to go outside and toss around a football after the game ends to spend some quality time with family and friends outdoors.
  19. Watch the Macy's Parade - You don't need to live in New York City to join in on their historic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every single year, the parade airs on TV, so you can enjoy watching the various floats, special entertaining guests and more cruise through the streets of Manhattan.
  20. Watch a seasonal movie - Whether you'd like a Hallmark movie marathon, something streaming on Netflix, or the always classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, following a big meal (and maybe a nap), getting cozy on the couch with a feel-good film is always a good idea.
  21. Break the wishbone — Breaking the wishbone is a longstanding holiday tradition going back at least 2,400 years. Whether you're introducing your kids to the tradition or you have a long-running competition with your siblings to see who can get the biggest piece, breaking the wishbone and making a wish is sure to create family memories each year.
  22. Run the Turkey Trot — Most of us will be engaging in a long tryptophan nap post-Thanksgiving dinner, so why not take part in a Turkey Trot marathon and get some exercise before the big meal?
  23. Host Thanksgiving Karaoke — Whether you enjoy belting Christmas songs or your favorite Taylor Swift jams, family karaoke is a fun (and often hilarious) activity during the holidays.
  24. Host a craft night — Instead of scrambling to the stores on Black Friday, get a jumpstart on your holiday gifting by making some handmade crafts. The best gifts are the ones from the heart and nothing is more heartwarming than cherishing a gift someone made just for you.
  25. Have the kids help set the table — Setting the table for Thanksgiving is a special moment to share with a parent or grandparent. Have the kids help set up for the dinner and share the stories behind the special dishes you use each year.
  26. Create a unique Thanksgiving centerpiece — While the turkey is the true star of the show, a gorgeous centerpiece make for a stunning display on Thanksgiving. Make the centerpiece even more special by crafting one yourself (or with the help of your family).
  27. Make a Thanksgiving wreath — Leading up to the big day, DIY a Thanksgiving wreath for your front door.
  28. Host a bonfire — There's no cozier after-dinner get-together than a backyard bonfire. Making smores for Thanksgiving dessert is sure to delight the youngsters.
  29. Look through family photo albums — Thanksgiving is often a time of reflection, so going through old family photo albums with family members of all ages is an activity you'll all cherish.
  30. Invite the neighbors (or bring them a plate of food) — Share your bounty with your neighborhood by inviting community members over for dinner. It's a great way to get to know your neighbors and make sure no one is alone on the holiday.
  31. Try a brand new recipe — We all have our go-to dishes — your famous stuffing, your aunt's treasured casserole recipe...but this year, why not try something new? Shake things up by trying a new recipe. Who knows? It might become a new tradition.
  32. Create "to-go" baskets for guests — Save the tupperware and leftover whipcream containers. Instead, this year, put together "to-go" baskets for your guests to take home their leftovers in. Have some extra Mason jars on hand for leftover sides or wrap up some dinner rolls in a cute tea towel.
  33. Go to an orchard — Visiting a local orchard is a great way to get the whole family outside and teach kids about where their food comes from.
  34. Create a memorial for lost loved ones — One of the hardest parts of the holiday season is spending them without the loved ones we've lost. Create a special memorial for those who can't be with you this year by setting up photographs of them, playing music they loved or doing something they enjoyed.
  35. Break out the special dishes — Many families have the "good dishes" they only use on special occasions. Whether it's a set of china passed down from your great-grandmother or a casserole dish your mom always used, utilizing your most cherished family heirlooms is one of the most special parts of Thanksgiving.
  36. Make DIY holiday ornaments — Whether you have your tree up already or you're firmly against decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving, getting the whole family together to make DIY holiday ornaments is a fun activity that will result in ornaments you can use for years to come.
  37. Make your porch Thanksgiving-ready — Who says pumpkins are just for Halloween? Bring out all the gourds and the mums for a seriously festive front porch that will have you fielding compliments from the neighbors for weeks.
  38. Make a dog-friendly dessert — Our poor pooches don't often get to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner (unless you have an uncle that insists on slipping Snoopy a bite of turkey each year), so make the holiday special for your pup by making a dog-friendly dessert.
  39. Have a family football game — Watching football is a Thanksgiving pastime. This year, get into the fun yourselves with a rousing family football game in the backyard.
  40. Go to a Christmas tree farm — There's just something special about picking out your own real Christmas tree. Make it a family tradition to go to your local Christmas tree farm and pick out your holiday tree.


READ MORE: The 30 Best Thanksgiving Movies Streaming on Netflix For Your Cozy Holiday Bingeing