21 Thanksgiving Traditions to Include in Your Yearly Celebration

The leaves have started changing color, which means it’s time to swap those short sleeves for chunky sweaters, grab a PSL and start planning your Turkey Day celebration. And sure, you know what’s on the menu already but there’s so much more to this American holiday than stuffing. Here, a list of time-honored and totally fresh Thanksgiving traditions to ensure this year’s celebration is your best one yet.

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1. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Turn on the tube and tune into one of the most famous traditions of all. Yep, we’re talking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade—a yearly spectacle of seriously impressive floats and enormous balloons that draws massive crowds to the streets of New York City.

2. Host a Potluck

A lavish feast is a must on Thanksgiving, but many agree it’s a tad too much for just one cook to accomplish. Instead of slaving away in the kitchen for hours before (and after) the big meal, do yourself a favor and have a potluck-style dinner where every guest contributes a dish and even the host gets to enjoy someone else’s home cooking.

3. Do a Recipe Exchange

Sure, there are dishes that you just don’t want to mess with (there would be tears shed if Grandma’s famous stuffing was traded in for an imposter), but when it comes to side dishes that aren’t so sacred, a recipe exchange with friends and family is a surefire way to breathe new life into a stale Thanksgiving spread.

4. Serve a Signature Cocktail

Remember that virtual mixology class you took just for kicks? Well, the holiday season is a perfect opportunity to put what you learned to good use. Get creative and craft a festive signature cocktail (because nothing gets a party started quite like a pumpkin martini).

5. …And Then Share a Toast

Those sweet-but-stiff drinks you whipped up will work their magic when it comes time to deliver an effusive Thanksgiving toast for everyone to raise their glass to. After all, someone’s gotta say a word before you carve the bird.

6. Cook Up Some International Cuisine

If you’re deeply attached to a traditional Thanksgiving spread, keep scrolling…but if you want to show some love and appreciation for different cultures, we strongly suggest you consider spicing things up with a menu that includes a few unexpected international dishes (think: saag paneer instead of green bean casserole or duck confit instead of turkey), along with the irreplaceable classics.

7. Make a Thankfulness Tree

It’s common practice at Thanksgiving gatherings to go around the table so each guest can share something they’re grateful for. A Thankfulness tree is a creative twist on the popular tradition in which the guests jot down statements of gratitude on colorful cardstock leaves and pin them to a hand-crafted paper tree. It’s a beginner-friendly project with Pinterest-worthy results.

8. Reminisce Over Old Photos

You’ll find “friends and family” at the top of most everyone’s list of things to be thankful for, so what better way to celebrate the holiday than looking back at all the joyful moments you’ve shared with your loved ones. (Psst: You can achieve this one by flipping through the family album or scrolling through your phone—whatever works!)

9. Make Breakfast in Bed (for the Host)

Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t for the faint of heart. Throw the gracious and hard-working host a bone with breakfast in bed so they get the fuel they need to power through all the cooking and cleaning that lies ahead. Besides, it’s a show of appreciation that’s oh-so fitting for the occasion. (Right?)

10. Play Football

Fans of the NFL know that Thanksgiving Day football is most definitely a thing, but we suggest you turn off the TV and rally the troops for a family-friendly game of flag football in the backyard to help everyone work up an appetite (and justify a second slice of pie).

11. Participate in a Turkey Trot

Particularly active folks can really work up a sweat by participating in a local turkey trot—a longstanding tradition that involves a 5k run with friends and family in the fresh autumn air. This one is a more ambitious undertaking, to be sure, but the exercise is guaranteed to give you a pre-feast endorphin rush and proceeds from most events are directed to charitable organizations, so it’ll make you feel good in more ways than one.

12. Break the Wishbone

After carving the turkey, don’t forget to set aside the wishbone—a forked bone located between the neck and breast of the bird, and the stuff of Thanksgiving lore. According to tradition, two people should break the bone whilst making a wish once the meal is done; according to superstition, the person with the bigger half of the bone wins a year of good luck.

13. Make It a Friendsgiving

It can be nice to be surrounded by family on Thanksgiving, but there are plenty of circumstances in which that’s not feasible (or maybe just not desirable). The solution? Make it a tradition to gather your closest pals (i.e., your chosen family) for a Friendsgiving feast instead. We promise there will be just as much merrymaking, if not more.

14. Take a Nap

Is this post-meal ritual a tradition or simply a necessity? Not sure. We can, however, say with certainty that once you’ve stuffed yourself to the gills, the flag football ship will have sailed and the appeal of a tryptophan-induced snooze on an autumn afternoon will be nearly impossible to resist.

15. Have a Movie Night

Again, there’s a strong chance the whole group will vote in favor of a sedentary activity after the feast has been finished off. Movie night, a more social alternative to naptime, is an obvious choice—just be sure to pick the right film for the occasion ahead of time.

16. Set up an Arts and Crafts Station

It can be hard to keep the under-ten set from getting underfoot when you’re trying to get the feast to the table. The solution? Make it a yearly tradition to have a kid-friendly craft table with all the materials needed (and perhaps some printed instructions), so the young and restless can independently entertain themselves with an easy art project or two. If you’re in need of inspiration, you can find a round-up of festive craft ideas here.

Thanksgiving Traditions - A woman sits on a bed near a window with a computer in her lap and a phone and credit card in her hands.
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17. Shop Black Friday Deals

Black Friday is a great opportunity to score some mega discounts on big-tickets items, and just so happens to fall the day after Thanksgiving. Rest up and ready your credit cards, friends.

18. Eat Pie for Breakfast

Hey, those leftovers aren’t going to eat themselves. Everyone knows how to make a mean sandwich out of the unfinished roast, but we’re particularly fond of the next-day breakfast tradition known as morning pie.

19. Have a Game Night

So the main event is over and no one wants to see another plate of food for quite a while (i.e., pie for breakfast), but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to enjoy the company of your nearest and dearest. Bust out some board games or a deck of cards for some family-friendly fun that will keep the party going while everyone digests.

20. Volunteer

While you count your blessings this holiday season, consider those less fortunate. There are multiple ways to give back at Thanksgiving, including volunteering at soup kitchens or donating to food banks. You could also participate in a toy collection or spend some time at your local senior community center. We can’t think of a better way to get off the couch and out of our food coma!

21. Read Up on the History of Thanksgiving

Although we hate to be the holiday buzzkill, we’d be remiss not to mention that the history behind Thanksgiving isn’t nearly as hunky-dory as the modern day celebration would suggest. Take some time to read up on the invisible victims from this regrettable moment in our country’s past before you raise a glass this year. (Psst: If you’re looking for a way to have a conversation with kids about the true Thanksgiving story, you can find some helpful advice here.)

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Emma Singer

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...
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