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13 New Thanksgiving Family Traditions to Start This Year – Unique Ideas

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Thanksgiving will probably look and feel a little different this year. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made new recommendations for the holiday season, listing traditions like travel, Black Friday shopping, parades, and large indoor gatherings high-risk activities.

It’s hard to give up some of your favorite traditions because of the pandemic. After all, it’s another way COVID-19 has drastically altered life. You might be hesitant to change your plans and long-standing family customs. But before you plan your Thanksgiving, remember the intent of the CDC guidelines is to keep you and your loved ones safe. What better way to celebrate than to make it easier for your family to stay healthy?

Perhaps 2020 is the best year to come up with some new traditions. Just because you have to adapt Thanksgiving to our new (hopefully temporary) normal doesn’t mean you can’t give thanks and stay close — even when you’re staying 6 feet apart. Put a positive spin on this year by starting new traditions that strengthen your family.

New Family Thanksgiving Traditions to Start This Year

Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, being with family, and slowing down. Unfortunately, that message can get lost among the anxiety, shopping, blaring TV commercials, and stress of making a huge Thanksgiving meal on a budget.

New family traditions allow your family to think about gratitude and become closer by shifting their focus onto what matters. Starting a new tradition can set the tone for a holiday season filled with family, food, and friends.

1. Go on a Thanksgiving Dinner Tech Fast

We’ve all been there: Conversation and bonding at the dinner table soon give way to scrolling through your Facebook feed while your kids text their friends. Instead, consider taking a technology fast for the entire day.

Ask everyone to put their phones into a basket and keep their hands off their devices while you eat dinner and spend time together. But you have to do the same to set a good example. If you want to take pictures with your phone, set it to airplane mode so you aren’t tempted to check notifications.

It’s incredible how much quality time you can enjoy with your family when social networks, text messages, and email aren’t continually disrupting you.

2. Have Your Kids Cook Breakfast

Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work. From turkey to mashed potatoes, sides, and rolls — not to mention pumpkin pie for dessert — parents are probably exhausted from planning and cooking. Give kids a chance to pitch in while parents take a load off by starting a new Thanksgiving tradition of kid-cooked breakfast. Whether you have young kids, older children, or a mix, everyone can help out and execute a simple breakfast while parents rest.

Just make sure they have some age-appropriate kid-friendly recipes. Easy breakfast options like fruit smoothies, bagels and toppings, muffins, or frozen pancakes or waffles give kids a new sense of gratitude as they prepare a meal together. It’s a fun tradition that reverses roles and helps kids show their appreciation for all the work that goes into the holiday season.

3. Create Together

Getting creative gives you a chance to reconnect and work together as a family. Crafting doesn’t need to be expensive or even particularly artful. Stick to simple Thanksgiving-themed crafts for younger children, such as cork turkey place cards, autumn leaf candleholders, and paper “thankful” pumpkins. Give tweens and teenagers a little more creative leeway with ombre pinecones or a stitched felt garland. Then use the crafts as a centerpiece or decoration for your dinner table.

If crafts aren’t your thing, there are other ways to create and connect that can easily become fun Thanksgiving traditions. Older kids can write and film a play for the younger children to act out. Or invest in a few age-appropriate paint-by-number canvases and get artistic while you have an uninterrupted chance to talk and laugh.

4. Do Some Charity Work

You could spend the afternoon before Thanksgiving dinner on the couch watching football. But taking some time to volunteer and give back can have a more significant impact on your family — particularly your children. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or organization on Thanksgiving Day can be particularly impactful, but there are other ways to volunteer:

  • Organize a Food Drive. Children can arrange to pick up nonperishable foods from the neighborhood, which you can then deliver to a local food bank.
  • Donate Toys. Have your children find five to 10 toys to donate to a shelter or charity for other children. That’s especially urgent as Thanksgiving segues into the gift-giving season.
  • Volunteer With Seniors. If you plan to be free on Thanksgiving morning, call an assisted living home to find out what the center needs. Sometimes, something as simple as bringing a card, blanket, or 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 an (exhausted) friend has recently had a baby, boxing up some of your meal to help someone else can teach kids about sharing and selflessness. Just call ahead to make sure that friend isn’t spending the holiday elsewhere.

For more ideas, see our list of good places to volunteer.

Volunteering as a family gives you a chance to focus on others. When you sit down at the Thanksgiving table 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.

5. Make a Thankful Jar

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, place 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 whole family to contribute notes to the jar whenever they feel grateful.

Whether it’s being thankful for soccer practice or gratitude toward family members 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. It’ll set the tone for the rest of the holiday season and help family members focus on gratitude.

6. Learn a New Hobby

If you have some downtime this Thanksgiving, focusing on a new hobby gives your family members something to work on together. The experience of learning and mastering something makes for an impactful bonding experience. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to bake a great sourdough or master simple woodworking. Whatever hobby you’d like to take up, find a video tutorial or look for a how-to book at the library. If you need it, you may even be able to find a tool-lending library.

Or give your kids a chance to play teacher. If they have a hobby they’re passionate about, ask them to help the rest of their family members learn too. A masterclass in indoor gardening, DIY beauty treatments, crocheting, or even a video game like Minecraft gives your family a new way to connect while boosting your kids’ self-esteem.

7. Decorate for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa

It sometimes feels like the winter holiday season starts earlier and earlier every year. But if you already have all of your family members in one place, post-Thanksgiving dinner can be the perfect time to dig out your holiday decorations and get a jump on the season.

However you celebrate the end of the year, lighten your decor load by persuading your family members to help get your home ready for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa with plenty of festive seasonal or holiday-related decor. You don’t need to get it all done in one fell swoop, but choose some of the bigger jobs or jobs you often need help with, like hanging outdoor holiday lights. It’s also the perfect time to break out the craft kit and do some seasonal or holiday crafts, such as DIY holiday gifts.

8. Register for a Turkey Trot or Play Thanksgiving Games

Most people want two things at the end of their Thanksgiving dinner: 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 setting up some friendly sports competitions.

You can find a list of Thanksgiving Day and Thanksgiving-themed races on Active.com. Play a backyard football game, and have the losing team wash the Thanksgiving dishes to inspire a spirit of competition (and motivate some of those tired family members). 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.

9. Write a Note of Gratitude

This Thanksgiving tradition lets you focus on appreciating the people in your life. Take the time to write a note to someone you’re grateful to, and encourage your family to do the same. Doing so gives you a chance to stop and reflect on what and who are the most important to you.

Whether it’s a family member (a parent, grandparent, or even your kids), someone who has taught or mentored you, or even a health care provider who has gone the extra mile, writing a letter of gratitude allows you to focus on meaningful relationships. The note also gives the subject a little lift, and you can feel good about giving someone the recognition they deserve.

10. Plan a Special Movie Night

If you’d rather kick back and relax after your Thanksgiving dinner, you have plenty of stay-at-home entertainment options. But don’t just plop on the couch and surf Netflix like you do on regular family movie nights. Incorporate some ideas to make Thanksgiving movie night more memorable than the movie itself.

Making the experience special is what turns home-based activities into annual Turkey Day traditions.

11. Start a Thanksgiving Book Tradition

Not all Thanksgiving activities need to be noisy or active. Thanksgiving Day is typically a lot of work and effort, and many people get burned out after a big dinner. Reading a Thanksgiving book is ideal for restless kids who need to quiet down or decompress after family time. Choose a few Thanksgiving-themed books and snuggle up on the couch to read them aloud. If you have older kids, assign them a book to read to their younger siblings and discuss the story afterward.

If your Thanksgiving crew includes older kids, teens, or adults, use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to give a new book as a gift so everyone can appreciate some after-dinner quiet time. If anyone already has plenty in their to-read pile, you can get them a book-related gift to make cozying up with their tome of the week more relaxing.

12. Work on Your Wish Lists

Whether you prefer to shop online or in person, Thanksgiving often means the kickoff to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday shopping season. Encourage your family to start thinking about their holiday wish lists. Peruse retailer catalogs while you watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or check out Amazon for Black Friday deals or Cyber Monday specials. Use Amazon Lists to compile your family’s most-wanted gift ideas so you can track prices throughout the season.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by long lists or a lot of shopping, help your family members organize their wish lists by choosing something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Even if you decide to give presents outside these categories, this framework helps give you ideas and make a gift-giving game plan as you enter the holiday season.

You can also send public list links to anyone who asks what your partner or kids want this year. So long as they buy the gift on Amazon, the site tracks gifts people have already bought, ensuring they don’t duplicate a gift someone else has already purchased.

13. Be Thankful for Family

Going around the table to talk about what each person is thankful for is a common Thanksgiving tradition — and a good one. But you can put a twist on it by asking your family to take turns going around the table and saying something kind to each member of the family.

Start with the youngest, and then ask each person at the table what they like best about them. Then, move to the next person. That way, each family member gets to nab the spotlight and has the chance to return the favor.


Final Word

Thanksgiving is a time to foster a spirit of gratitude and togetherness, but it can also be fraught with things that take the focus away from what’s important, such as sales, sibling rivalries, and stress. Make this year a little more special by adding a fun Thanksgiving tradition to the mix. Any activity that brings your family closer together ultimately enhances your Thanksgiving celebration and sets the tone for the holiday season, making this year one to remember.

What’s your family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.

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