As a Canadian living in the United States, I score the benefit of two Thanksgivings: I celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving the second weekend in October, and then again when American Thanksgiving rolls around in November. And to be honest, while Canadian and American Thanksgivings both have different heritage, they ultimately have the same traditions: turkey, football, apple pie, and family.
While in Canada for the first Thanksgiving of the year, I make sure to do all of the traditional things with extended family. We go apple picking, bake pies, and eat a ton of food, which usually culminates in a communal nap.
So, when American Thanksgiving pops up on the calendar, I’m usually feeling pretty fulfilled as far as family traditions go. I celebrate with my in-laws and they have their own traditions – they usually center around the women going over the Black Friday ads while the men watch football – but I still wanted to add some traditions for just my little family.
Traditions for This Year
Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, being with family, and slowing down. Unfortunately, that message can get lost among the shopping ads, the TV commercials blaring during a ball game, and the stress of making a huge meal for a large family.
By taking the time to institute a new tradition, you can help your family take the time to think about gratitude and become closer by shifting their focus onto what really matters. Starting a new tradition is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the holidays filled with family, food, and friends.
1. Go on a Tech Fast
Conversation and bonding at the dinner table can easily give way to scrolling through your Facebook feed while your kids text their friends. Instead, try taking a tech fast for the entire day. Ask that guests plop their phones into a basket when they walk into your home, and keep their hands off while you eat dinner and spend time together.
Of course, it’s imperative that you do the same to set a good example. You’ll be amazed at how much quality time you enjoy with your family when your attention isn’t being constantly disrupted by your social networking, text messages, and email.
2. Do Some Charity Work
Sure, you could spend the afternoon leading to Thanksgiving dinner on the couch watching football, but taking some time to give back will have way more of an impact on your family – particularly your children. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or organization on Thanksgiving morning can be particularly impactful, but there are other ways to volunteer:
- Organize a Food Drive. Children can arrange to pick up canned and nonperishable food items from the neighborhood, which you can then deliver to a local food bank.
- Donate Toys. Have your children find 5 to 10 toys to donate to a shelter or charity for other children. This is especially important as Thanksgiving segues into the holiday season, which can be focused on material goods.
- Visit an Assisted Living Home. If you’re free on Thanksgiving morning, call ahead to an assisted living home and find out what the center needs. Sometimes, something as simple as reading a book to a resident can brighten their day.
- Take Dinner to a Friend in Need. Whether it’s been a tight year for a cash-strapped neighbor, or a friend has recently had a baby, boxing up some of your meal to take to someone in need can help teach kids about sharing and selflessness. Just call ahead to make sure that friend isn’t spending the holiday elsewhere.
Volunteering as a family gives you a chance to focus on others. When you sit down for dinner that evening, you’ll have a renewed sense of gratitude for the things that really matter, like a warm home, food on the table, and your family.
3. Make a Thankful Jar
If you have a few weeks to prep for Thanksgiving, try instituting a “thankful jar” in a prominent place in your home. Leave a stack of sticky notes and a pen beside the jar, and ask your family to contribute notes to the jar whenever they feel grateful.
Whether it’s being thankful for soccer practice or gratitude toward a family member for helping with chores, it just takes a couple of minutes to scribble a note and drop it in the jar. Then, at Thanksgiving dinner, you can take each note out and read it aloud.
4. Register for a Turkey Trot
Usually, after Thanksgiving dinner, I want two things: pie and a nap. But if your family is more active and looking to spend more time together, consider registering for a “turkey trot” or other 5K race.
You can find a list of Thanksgiving Day and Thanksgiving-themed races on the Running in the USA site. Choose one that works with your family’s holiday schedule and spend the time after dinner working off the extra calories from the sweet potatoes, instead of being a couch potato yourself.
5. Write a Hero Letter
Family physician and adolescent expert Deborah Gilboa suggests that you have your kids focus on their heroes for Thanksgiving: “Ask your child who her heroes are,” she suggests. “Then, ask her to pick one and write a letter. [It] could be grandma, a pastor, a teacher, a sibling, or a rock star. Talk about what someone does (not just is) that makes him or her a hero.” Make sure that you send the letter when you’re finished.
This is an exercise that lets you communicate with your child and talk about admirable personality traits and life goals, helping to spur conversation and connect over the holiday. It also gives the subject of the letter a lift, especially if it’s a friend or family member.
6. Watch a Movie
My family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition has been going since my seven-year-old was a toddler. After we eat, we hit the latest family movie in theaters. There’s usually a movie targeted toward families released on or around the holiday, and my little family loves to kick back and eat some popcorn before the hectic holidays kick in.
A word to the wise, though: I find that family movies can be especially crowded around the holidays. Instead of heading to the theater early to snag good seats, I buy movie tickets for theaters that offer online purchasing and reserved seating. I choose which seats I want during the checkout process, and then I don’t have to worry about leaving dinner early to stand in line. Currently, some AMC and Cinemark theaters offer reserved seating, so call ahead to your local theater to see if it’s possible to pick your seats ahead of time. That way, your tradition will be a lot less stressful.
7. Be Thankful for Family
Going around the table to talk about what each person is thankful for is a common tradition – and a good one. But you can put a twist on the tradition by asking your family to instead take turns going around the table and saying something kind to each member of the family. Start with Uncle Bill, and then ask each person at the table what they like best about him. Then, move to the next person. That way, each member of the family gets to nab the spotlight and has the chance to return the favor.
Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays of the year – but it can also be fraught with things that take the focus away from gratitude, such as sales, sibling rivalries, and stress. Make this year a little more special by adding a new tradition to the mix. Any activity that brings your family closer together will ultimately enhance your celebration and set the tone for the holiday season.
What’s your family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition?