Unique Thanksgiving Traditions

Felt Turkey

We’ve all done the traditional turkey and cranberry sauce meal. If you like a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the standard menu of bird, stuffing, rolls, and sweet potato pie is ideal for your household. But if you’re less inclined to follow the pack, you might be looking for some unique Thanksgiving traditions to spice up your holiday season. And why not? You can still give thanks and show appreciation for your family, even if you’re not all gathered around the television, watching the Thanksgiving football game (blasphemy!).

Especially if you are a new family, just starting to build your holiday traditions, it might fun to throw in a few unique or new ideas. It can be a secret game that just your family plays, or something different to share with guests when they drop by for the big meal. Maybe it’s just time to shake up your own traditions with something new. Either way, here are some of our favorite unique Thanksgiving traditions.

Take a Holiday

Thanksgiving is usually all about gathering at home with your entire family. For some people, however, that’s more stressful than it is fun, especially if you have to try to make a meal large enough for the ten or so people that make the pilgrimage. You love your family, but do you really want to slave away in the kitchen all day while they bum around the house?

Instead of gathering everyone at one home, why not try an escapist Thanksgiving? Pick a warm, sunny spot and book your tickets early so you can be sure to get there with plenty of time to enjoy the sun and/or the surf. Most locals will abandon the beach at the beginning of November because eighty-degree weather is “too cold” for swimming in the water. You’ll be right at home in the warm weather and cool water.

But what about the meal? You have two options. First, if you are staying in a hotel with a kitchenette, you can make a makeshift Thanksgiving meal. It’s a little rustic but sometimes it’s fun to rough it a little bit. The second option is to eat out. It might be a little like that last scene from A Christmas Story, where the Parkers eat Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant—but that’s part of the fun. There really isn’t anything better than eating out when you know everywhere across the country, people are desperately trying to get dinner on the table.

Hideaway

If you don’t want to take off on a vacation for the few days off you might have for Thanksgiving, consider instead turning your house into a hideaway from the hubbub and business that almost naturally comes along with the holidays. Make your home a refuge, where the tired and beleaguered can come, enjoy a good meal, and not worry about Black Friday or Cyber Monday or any of the other big shopping days that roll around just after Thanksgiving.

Make your home a no-work zone. Ban laptops and cellphones if you have to. Thanksgiving should be about spending time with your family, and you can’t spend time together if everyone is too busy, working away on their electronic devices. Instead, have a marathon of Thanksgiving movies. Watch the funny and poignant ones. Even stray in to the cheesy made-for-TV movies for a straight shot of sentimentality. Nothing’s more fun than just taking the day, huddling in your television room with friends and family, and watching some movies while the Turkey cooks away.

You can also make and put up Thanksgiving decorations. If you want to get out of the house in the midday, take a walk and try to find some colorful leaves for the walls. Tape them to a string and you have a colorful garland to hand on your wall. There’s nothing better than adding some fall color to your home! You can make old-fashioned turkeys by tracing your hand and then coloring them and sticking them to the wall, or you can make a fancy sign and hang it over your table. Pick up pinecones and turn them into place cards, even if only a few people are coming for the actual meal itself.

Prepare for Christmas

Bah Humbug black Santa hat

If your family isn’t mad about Thanksgiving, you might consider using this time to get a jump on the winter holidays. Black Friday has begun to bleed over into Thanksgiving Day anyway, and there is something communally fun about braving the cold weather and standing in line with hundreds of other people. It doesn’t have to be a trial, it really can be an exciting and fun experience if you want it to be.

Some families just don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and you can use this time off of work to gear up for Christmas, by getting a lot of your shopping out of the way and even getting a jump on decorating. You don’t have to wait for December 1st in order to put up Christmas lights and trees. You might not want to be that house, that has Christmas decorations up as soon as the leftovers are packed away in the fridge, but it can be a great time to actually get your house decorated if the rest of your life is dominated by work.

Don’t Be a Host

Most people planning their Thanksgiving holiday start out assuming that they will have to make a turkey and host people at their home. If you still want to have the traditional meal, but roasting a whole turkey is out of your wheelhouse, you might consider trying to get yourself invited to someone else’s holiday. It doesn’t have to be rude, but if you start sending out inquiries, to see if anyone has extra seats at their table, you might find someone willing to let you elbow in, just on the promise of bringing along a pumpkin pie.

Family Activities for the Best Thanksgiving Day Ever

You’ve already got your Thanksgiving decorations on the wall. You’re ready to get that turkey in the oven and start spending some time with your family. But what do you actually do once the turkey is in? Unless you’ve chosen a high maintenance recipe or menu, you probably have a few hours to kill before it’s really time to start digging into the dinner preparation. We’ve got some of the most fun and classic Thanksgiving Day family activities to make sure you have the best possible day with your family.

Watch the Parade

If it’s been a while since you really sat down and watched Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, this is the year to do it. It’s the 90th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving Day Parade and the floats and balloon just get better and better every year. The parade is well-stocked with performances by your favorite musicians and it’s a great way to start the morning.

The best part? You don’t even have to venture out into the cold. You can snuggle up with a blanket and your family and smell the turkey roasting away in the kitchen. Make it even more fun by making a parade bingo game and awarding a special price to whoever gets a bingo first.

Turkey Trot

Thanksgiving Day is all about the food, right? It can also be about exercise. Lots of communities hold a Turkey Trot to help you get an appetite for the big meal. Many of these run/walks are also charity events, encouraging you to bring a can of food or some other small donation as an entrance to the race.

Get a Football Game Going

Even if your entire family doesn’t like watching football, it might be fun to all get outside together and throw around the pigskin while you wait for dinner to be ready. Make it a friendly touch game if there are little kids playing, or a more competitive tackle game if just the adults want to be involved.

You can then venture back inside and watch the tail end of the televised games, just before it’s turkey time!

Pumpkin Hunts

This is a great activity is you have a lot of young relatives descending on your home that you might want to keep out from underfoot while you’re working on dinner or watching the parade or game. You can hide miniature pumpkins around the house, yard, or neighborhood and send the kids on a Thanksgiving-themed, Easter-egg-hunt-inspired adventure. You can make the game as easy or as difficult as you want, depending on the ages of the hunters.

Spend Some Time Getting in Touch with Your Roots

Thanksgiving is a great time to start digging into your family history, especially if you have relatives over who can help you get a better picture of your family tree. There are plenty of online resources that help you find your ancestors for free, and you can print out and fill in family tree with the kids.

Volunteer

Once your meal is in the works, why not donate some time to those who are less fortunate? Almost every town or city has a soup kitchen that could use some extra hands on Thanksgiving Day, which is one of their biggest days of the year. If you’re not sure where to look to donate your time (or even part of the meal, if you’re so inclined), ask around at your local church or community center.

If you don’t feel like you can devote a large chunk of your day to volunteering, you can still help out by bringing some mashed potatoes, rolls, or even a pre-cooked turkey to the food bank or soup kitchen. It will make their lives easier and ensure that those less fortunate have a great meal.

Break Out the Board Games

Fun for all ages! No, really. Whether you set the kids up with their own slate of board games or pick games that everyone can enjoy, Thanksgiving is a great time to revisit some of your favorite board games. Just make sure that it’s a low pressure situation. You don’t want your celebrations to become a stereotypical Thanksgiving where everyone gets angry and storms out of the house.

Make sure you have a variety of games, so those who aren’t into Monopoly can still play Ticket to Ride or Clue.

Get in Touch with Relatives

If you have branches of the family that were just too far away to come for Thanksgiving, you can still include them in the festivities by setting up a video chat. As long as you have a great internet connection, all you have to do is give them all call. Show them your Thanksgiving decorations, your meal, and your activities. Best of all? It’s completely free.

Make Decorations

If your decorations are looking a little sparse, gather up the kids and start making some new Thanksgiving decorations. Get some handprint turkeys in the works for the little ones or even make some felt turkeys with the older ones. For a low-pressure, easy craft that will keep the kids busy and quiet, set them up at their own table with Thanksgiving coloring pages and a box of crayons.

Set the Table and Help with the Cooking

Thanksgiving is more fun (and goes much more smoothly) when everyone lends a hand. From setting the table to rolling out the rolls to making the stuffing, there’s something that everyone can help with. Before the big day, make a list of tasks and the assign them to your family members. Even little kids can help with tasks like mashing the potatoes (or even something sillier like putting on a Thanksgiving play for their grandparents).

How to Throw Your First Thanksgiving Dinner Party

Whether it’s your first year at college and you can’t get home for the holiday, or you’ve offered to give your mom a break and have everyone come down to your house for dinner instead, your first Thanksgiving dinner party can be nerve wracking. Getting the right Thanksgiving decorations and making sure you have enough seating is only the tip of the iceberg. But don’t worry, we have the ultimate guide to make sure hosting your first Thanksgiving party goes smoothly.

The Food

The food—the biggest part of the day, the reason everyone has gathered at your pad. There is perhaps nothing more daunting than trying to cook a turkey to perfection, especially if you’ve never done it before. For most of us, our mothers were in charge of the turkey, and if we were lucky, she would let us help stir the stuffing, right before it went into a bowl to be put on the table.

Now that the food is your responsibility, you might feel like you’re drowning. Don’t worry! Putting on a great Thanksgiving dinner is easy if your break the meal down in to separate parts and do as much prep work ahead of time as you can.

For example, pies can be put together days ahead of time and stashed in the fridge or even the freezer until Turkey day. The same goes for mashed potatoes and stuffing. You can make the mashed potatoes and stuffing the day or two before, seal them up in Tupperware, and break them out on the day of the meal. As long as you don’t let anyone see you reheat them (either on the stove or in the microwave), no one will even know that you’ve had the side dishes ready for days.

That leaves just the turkey for Turkey day. Some recipes will have you brining the bird for days beforehand. You don’t have to do anything so elaborate. There are plenty of recipes rolling around the internet that just require you to salt and pepper the old bird and shove her in the oven. Just watch the time. Turkey can get notoriously tough and chewy if it is overcooked.

If you are really scrambling to pull together a Thanksgiving dinner, farm out some of the least desirable tasks to your relatives. If the turkey is really giving you fits, you can always ask Mom and Dad or a friend who’s more familiar with cooking to make it their responsibility. You’ll provide all of the delicious side dishes and host the party, if someone else will be responsible for the bird. We think that’s fair.

If it isn’t the turkey, but all of the other dishes that are worrying you, dole out those tasks to your friends or family, so that they are in charge of showing up with mashed potatoes, rolls, salad, stuffing, pies, etc. There’s nothing wrong with going potluck for the biggest meal of the year.

The Decorations

You don’t want your home and table to be bare, just because you didn’t have time to come up with decorations. Thanksgiving decorations can be as simple as a few hand-traced turkeys adorning the walls, or as elegant as cornucopia and seasonal fruit arranged on the table. If you don’t have time to make your own decoration, check out a party supply store (we know a good one). They will almost certainly have decorations that are somewhere on the scale between kitschy and classic.

If you are really strapped for time, you can always turn decorating into a Turkey Day activity. Your Thanksgiving decorations can be hand tracings, turned into turkeys by your nieces and nephews, paper-link garlands made out of red, yellow, orange, and brown paper, or fall leaves cut from red, yellow, and orange paper and taped to the wall.

Thanksgiving decorations do not have to be complicated and they certainly shouldn’t be expensive. You can even use pretzel sticks and frosting to turn Oreos into little turkeys, which can double as a sweet snack and a decoration.

Again, you can assign a friend or family member to bring decorations, if you aren’t much of a decorator. This is a great assignment for someone who hates to cook, but still wants to be a part of your Thanksgiving Day potluck event. Just make sure they come a little bit early so that the place is already full of Turkey Day spirit when the other guests start arriving.

Seating

Having enough seating, especially in an apartment or small home, is one of the major challenges of hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner. If you can borrow a table and chairs from your local church, that might be a good place to look for a free or low-cost seating solution. Alternatively, you could always rent tables and chairs from a party rental store.

For a truly unique Thanksgiving dining experience, you could gather around a coffee table and sit on the floor. You are only limited by the floor space and how much of the food you can crowd on the table. While it might not sound like a fun adventure to some people, it will truly be a unique experience that you and your family will look back on for years to come.

Activities

Thanksgiving Day doesn’t necessarily require activities, but most families or friend groups like to do something together while the turkey is cooking. This could range from watching the football game on the tube, to getting outside and playing your own football game. Creating Thanksgiving decorations is another great way to pass the day.

You could also spend the entire day in the kitchen, working together to create all of the delicious dishes you will be eating later in the day.

Don’t let the stress of Thanksgivings past get to you! With a little pre-planning and coordination with your guests, you can have a fun day and a delicious meal, with no stress and no cooking catastrophes.

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