Try any of the Thanksgiving traditions on this list of Turkey Day celebration ideas with your family and friends.
This list of thanksgiving traditions and celebration ideas contains everything that you need to make Thanksgiving meaningful. Below you can find a list of traditional Thanksgiving menu items (with recipes), Thanksgiving games, fall harvest decorations, gratitude crafts, and more!
Please keep in mind that this is a can-do list of Thanksgiving traditions for families, not a must-do list. Pick a new Thanksgiving tradition or two to try with your family and friends this year. If it’s not fun, don’t do it!
This fun article about traditional thanksgiving celebration ideas also includes a brief history of all things Thanksgiving. Wondering when Thanksgiving is this year, or looking for fun things to do on Thanksgiving day? Scroll down to have all of your questions answered! You may also enjoy this list of Christmas Traditions.
Thanksgiving Tradition FAQ’s
Before we share our list of unique and classic family Thanksgiving traditions and celebration ideas, we thought we would answer a few frequently asked questions about Thanksgiving (also known as Turkey Day), Thanksgiving traditions, and when Thanksgiving is celebrated.
What is Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is celebrated in both the United States and in Canada in order to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. It is also referred to as “Turkey Day” because the traditional Thanksgiving menu features turkey as the main dish.
It has become common in modern days to give thanks not only for the bounty that we have been given at harvest and the food on our table but to be grateful for all of the gifts that we have been given throughout the entire year.
Why is Thanksgiving a Tradition?
Several mistruths surround the story of Thanksgiving and why it is celebrated. Most of us have been told that the first American Thanksgiving meal was a three-day feast celebrated by the Pilgrims and the American Indians after their first harvest in the new world in October of 1621. This is not true. It is a “story,” told to the American people to whitewash the history of the brutalities committed against the indigenous peoples that inhabited these lands long before us.
It is true that the Pilgrims had trouble growing their own food and suffered from terrible famines and numerous diseases, and that many of the first American settlers died as a result. And the Wampanoag Indians indeed showed the pilgrims how to grow crops such as corn so that the early settlers could harvest their own food.
The lies begin when “the story” shares that the Pilgrims had a Thanksgiving feast to thank the Native Americans for their help. As it turns out, this “story” is NOT true. Author James Barker dispels many of the myths surrounding the holiday known as Thanksgiving and outlines its true history in “Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday.”
In this, the first in-depth study of the most American of holidays, James Baker sweeps away lingering myths and misconceptions to show how this celebration day was born and grew to be an essential part of our national spirit.(source)
A few of the “stories” that we have been told about “Thanksgiving” may be lies, but that does not mean we should not honor it as a time to “give thanks.”
Instead, we can choose to leave the harmful “stories” behind to create new ones. Stories of connection, celebration, and thankfulness, so that we can celebrate Thanksgiving as a time to be grateful. Make a new start with any of the Thanksgiving tradition ideas listed below the remaining FAQ’s.
What are Thanksgiving Traditions?
Thanksgiving Traditions consist of how Thanksgiving is celebrated from household to household. Thus, Thanksgiving traditions are the rituals, routines, and holiday rhythms shared with family and friends on or around Thanksgiving.
The most classic Thanksgiving tradition is cooking a turkey dinner with all the fixings (or vegetarian alternative) to share with family, friends, and neighbors. This is the reason that Thanksgiving is often referred to as “Turkey Day.”
Below, we have curated a list of classic Thanksgiving celebration ideas and unique traditions you can try with your family this year. Meaningful Thanksgiving family traditions, like the ideas listed below, can help make the holidays a special time of year for all family members.
When is Thanksgiving Celebrated?
Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada and the United States after the fall harvest. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October, while American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
My family has had the good fortune of living in both the United States and Canada and has been gifted with enjoying the “blessings of an abundant harvest,” and Thanksgiving traditions with family and friends in both countries. As a result, we have been given a greater appreciation of how much we have to be grateful for.
How is Thanksgiving Celebrated?
Thanksgiving is celebrated in both the United States and Canada to remind ourselves to give thanks for the bounty that we are given at harvest and throughout the year.
In other words, Thanksgiving is celebrated as a day to give thanks for what we have. It is common to give thanks not only for the food on our table at Thanksgiving but, more importantly, it is celebrated as a time to be grateful for all of the blessings in our lives and gifts that we have been given.
Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated with a big meal shared between family and friends. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner most often includes the type of foods that were said to be served at the first Thanksgiving; turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, and seasonal vegetable side dishes such as corn or green beans.
If you are wondering about the differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving, pop over to read THIS fun article.
What Day is Thanksgiving or Turkey Day?
In the United States, Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, while Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada.
What day is Thanksgiving this year?
Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving 2020 on October 12, 2020, while Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on November 26, 2020, in the United States.
20 Thanksgiving Traditions to Start with Your Family
Use this collection of Thanksgiving Tradition ideas to help you and your family create meaning in your lives and memories that will last a lifetime. As mentioned above, Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, to give thanks for the bounty that we are given at harvest and the bounty that we receive throughout the year.
Many of these traditional ideas are fun things to do on Thanksgiving. Other Thanksgiving traditions are activities to do before your Thanksgiving celebration or the day after Thanksgiving. You may have already heard of some of these Thanksgiving traditions for families, but we are hoping that you can find something new and exciting to add to your Thanksgiving celebrations!
Related: The Best Fall Art Projects for Kids
1. Host or Attend a Thanksgiving Meal
The most classic Thanksgiving tradition is to host or attend a Thanksgiving meal with family, friends, and/or neighbors. Traditionally, families choose to serve a Thanksgiving turkey on Thanksgiving. However, some chefs have come up with some amazingly creative meal substitutes over the years, including deep-fried turkeys and vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving dinner menu options.
Suppose no one feels like cooking or doing the dishes this year; reserve a table at your favorite local restaurant instead. Some families eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant every year as a family tradition–and you can too! Another idea is to plan a Thanksgiving vacation complete with a new and unique or traditional Thanksgiving meal.
What are the foods served at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?
Thanksgiving dinners traditionally include a roasted turkey with foods similar to the foods said to be served at the first Thanksgiving. With that said, the pilgrims did not eat the same foods that we put on our Thanksgiving table today. Instead, the pilgrims more than likely had a feast filled with local fowl, venison, maybe a wild turkey or two, and seasonal foods that they were able to grow, harvest, and prepare with the limited resources that they had available.
Today, a traditional Thanksgiving menu often includes traditional Thanksgiving side dishes such as potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie, corn, green beans, and other seasonal vegetables associated with the fall harvest.
Of course, the traditional Thanksgiving food items served for Thanksgiving dinner can vary from family to family and table to table. As an example, in my family, the potatoes must be served mashed with homemade gravy. In contrast, my husband’s family always made sure to include candied yams as a part of their traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Today our family likes to include local organically grown foods, from our local farmers market, in our traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We have made going to the Farmers market before Thanksgiving to pick local fresh foods for our Thanksgiving meal, a family tradition that we enjoy.
Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Menu with Recipes
Click on the blue hyperlinked text for the recipe and cooking directions for each traditional Thanksgiving menu item listed below.
- Oven-roasted turkey or vegetarian option.
- Stuffing cooked inside the turkey. Stuffing is traditionally made with cornbread; however, many other delicious variations exist today.
- Potatoes and/or yams; mashed, scalloped, baked, roasted, candied, etc.
- Turkey gravy – made with freshly roasted turkey drippings.
- Cranberry sauce; whole berries, jellied or another cranberry alternative. Try our pumpkin cranberry bread!
- A seasonal vegetable side dish made with corn, green beans, etc.
- Pumpkin pie! Make your family’s favorite pumpkin pie recipe with homemade pumpkin puree for a fresh from the garden taste you can’t get out of a can!
When you are finished with your Thanksgiving dinner, make it a tradition to put the leftover turkey carcass in a stockpot to make homemade poultry stock to use to make leftover turkey soup! And, don’t forget the tradition of making homemade turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving… Yum!
2. Plan a Destination Vacation and Make it a Thanksgiving Tradition
Wouldn’t it be fun to start a destination vacation Thanksgiving tradition with your family? A Thanksgiving experience gift the whole family can enjoy year after year!
My brother and I will always remember the year our father took us to Disneyland for Thanksgiving vacation. We stayed in the Disneyland Hotel and had a table reserved for Thanksgiving Dinner in the grand ballroom.
If you like to cook your own traditional Thanksgiving meal as a part of your Thanksgiving traditions, rent a house, condo, or cabin with a full kitchen and prepare to purchase food and a few cooking supplies.
I know a few families that make a destination vacation a family tradition instead of hosting a family meal and doing all the dishes, and they love it! Some families chose the same vacation spot every year, while others choose a new family Thanksgiving destination vacation each year.
3. Make a Thankful Tree for Thanksgiving
A thankful tree is a Thanksgiving decoration that can be a Thanksgiving table centerpiece or Thanksgiving home decor. There are many ways to design and use a thankful tree. The one thing that they all have in common is cultivating an attitude of gratitude in the home. Making and decorating one is a Thanksgiving tradition the whole family can enjoy.
Some people put their thankful tree up on the first of November to use as a Thanksgiving advent of sorts. Simply write things that you are most thankful for throughout the month and add them to your Thankful tree to decorate it.
Other families choose to place their Thankful tree on the Thanksgiving dinner table as an interactive centerpiece and encourage their guests to decorate it while they wait for dinner to be served. Another option is a DIY gratitude mobile.
Have a look at the gratitude tree ideas listed below, or click the link to hop over to learn more about the thankful tree tradition and see even more ideas!
Our family loves decorating trees so much we have made two types of thankful trees for Thanksgiving. One of our thankful tree’s is made with bare branches and real preserved fall leaves, and the other is made with clay gratitude leaves.
Our daughter loves decorating trees so much that we also decorate an Easter Tree in the spring, a butterfly tree in the summer, thankful trees in the fall, and of course a Christmas tree filled with homemade Christmas ornaments in the winter. Click on the links for directions to each DIY tree trimming project.
Related: Best Fall Art Projects
4. Decorate your home for Thanksgiving or Harvest with Fall Decor
Use any of the DIY and ready-made Thanksgiving decoration ideas listed to add a festive touch to your home and Thanksgiving celebrations.
Thanksgiving Decorations: DIY and Readymade Thanksgiving Decoration Ideas
- Decorate with gourds and pumpkins from your local pumpkin patch
- Turkey leaf mason jar lanterns (pictured below)
- DIY Thankful trees
- Indian corn wreath DIY
- How to Make a Canning jar lid pumpkin
- Thanksgiving table runner
- Burlap give thanks garland
- Thanksgiving decorations
- Lighted fall garland
- Fall wreath
5. Make an Embroidered Thanksgiving Tablecloth
Make an embroidered Thanksgiving tablecloth that you reuse traditionally year after year like this hand-embroidered tablecloth filled with everyone’s names. Over the years, a hand-embroidered Thanksgiving tablecloth becomes a treasured keepsake to pass down from one generation to the next. All you need to do is find a white 100% cotton tablecloth and have everyone sign it. Click HERE for all the details!
6. Attend a Harvest Celebration or Fair
Another fun thing to do in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving is to attend a harvest celebration or fair. Check your local family resource guide or ask google about a harvest fair near you.
7. Read Children’s Thanksgiving Books and Books about the Fall with the Kids
We have compiled an amazing book list of children’s Thanksgiving gratitude books that inspire thankfulness and fall books for kids that you can read with your kids.
8. Attend or Watch a Thanksgiving Day Parade
Does your city or town put on a Thanksgiving day parade? Sign up to join the procession or bring the family down to watch it.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade in New Your City is the quintessential Thanksgiving day parade. If you can’t fy the whole family to New York City, watch it on TV, or attend a local Thanksgiving day parade!
9. Serve Others in Need
On Thanksgiving, a lovely tradition is to take the time to serve those in need. Volunteer in soup kitchens or at any organization serving food to those less fortunate. They always appreciate a few extra helping hands to make sure everyone gets fed on Thanksgiving.
10. Visit a Local Farm
The pilgrims served locally grown freshly harvested foods for their first Thanksgiving, and we can too! Give thanks for the bounty of the harvest just like the pilgrims, by providing locally harvested and raised food on your Thanksgiving table.
Make it a family tradition to gather fresh locally raised and grown foods for your Thanksgiving dinner. If traveling to a local farm to collect foods for your feast is not possible, take the family to your local farmers market to purchase organically grown and raised foods whenever possible.
11. Enter a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot or Thanksgiving Race
A turkey trot is a running race that usually occurs on Thanksgiving Day, the day after Thanksgiving, or during Thanksgiving weekend all over the United States. This tradition started to combat the over “stuffed” feeling many Americans feel after gorging on a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Enter a turkey trot near you to burn off any extra calories that you may have gained from eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Invite your family to join you if they are willing. A little friendly family competition keeps a family happy and healthy.
Find a turkey trot near you HERE!
12. Give Thanks Around the Table During Your Thanksgiving Meal
Many family members like to spend time sharing what they are grateful for as they sit around the Thanksgiving table enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal together.
Designate a talking stick, or another item that gets passed around the table to signify the sharer, and take turns sharing at least one thing that you are grateful for. Alternatively, you can take turns writing words of gratitude on leaves and hanging them on a thankful tree.
For more ideas, take a look at this fun list of gratitude activities and the Thanksgiving gratitude activities you can try below.
13. Express your Gratitude with Thanksgiving Gratitude Activities and Crafts
One of my family’s favorite Thanksgiving traditions is sharing all that we have to be thankful for with each other on Thanksgiving. Download and print the Thankful Turkey Printable to use as an easy Thanksgiving gratitude activity.
We have also put together a fun list of gratitude activities and crafts you can try for Thanksgiving. Just click on the link to see them all!
14. Go for a Walk after Thanksgiving Meal
Like turkey trot races, this Thanksgiving tradition happened to get people outside to move their bodies and burn off some of the excess calories that a traditional Thanksgiving menu provides.
Go for a stroll with the whole family after your Thanksgiving dinner to enjoy the seasonal sights that make the autumn a gorgeous time of the year. Enjoy a fall scavenger hunt with the kids while you are out there!
15. Play Thanksgiving Games
A common family Thanksgiving tradition is to play Thanksgiving games. Playing games is a fun thing to do on Thanksgiving, and a great way to pass the time with the family while waiting for a delicious Thanksgiving meal to cook.
Wanna play a Thanksgiving game the whole family can enjoy together? Try Thanksgiving gratitude games, or these Thanksgiving game ideas you can find HERE, or try a new board game the whole family will LOVE!
16. Make Thanksgiving Crafts with the Kids
Spend time connecting with your children over the break–make traditional Thanksgiving crafts with the kids this year! We hope you enjoy this simple collection of Thanksgiving craft ideas kids can make.
- Turkey Mason Jar Lantern
- Harvest Pumpkin Watercolor Art
- Burlap Handprint Turkey Placemats
- Gratitude Moble
- Turkey Leaf Crafts
- Handprint and Footprint Turkey Craft
- Thanksgiving Apple Turkey Craft
- Clay Gratitude Leaves
- Thanksgiving Thankful Turkey Craft Kit
17. Watch a Thanksgiving Movie
When I was a child, one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions was watching “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” with my brothers every year when it aired on Television. Check your local listings to find out when it’s airing on TV this year or purchase your own copy!
18. Make a Wish on the Turkey Wishbone
Allow two family members to pull apart the turkey wishbone as they make a wish. The person that breaks off the longest piece of the wishbone will have their wish granted. If the wishbone cracks evenly, both people may have their wish come true!
Related: The Best Fall Nature Crafts
19. Watch or Play Football
For some families, football games and Thanksgiving traditions go together like the mashed potatoes and gravy on their Thanksgiving dinner plate. Host a family football game, or turn on the TV to watch football games with the whole family while waiting for your Thanksgiving feast to cook.
20. Go to Thanksgiving Services
Many churches and other places of worship hold a special service on or around Thanksgiving. Find one near you to attend with the whole family.
Day After Thanksgiving Traditions in The United States
Here are a few modern-day after Thanksgiving traditions that some families choose to celebrate in the United States of America, that are not celebrated in Canada.
1. Black Friday – Day After Thanksgiving Tradition
The most well known day after Thanksgiving tradition in America is Black Friday. In 2019, Black Friday will be on Friday, 27th November 2020. On this day, most major retailers open extremely early, often at midnight or earlier, to offer sales, lowered prices, and deals that companies claim you won’t find any other day of the year.
The Philadelphia Police Department originally called it Black Friday because the number of shoppers created traffic accidents and sometimes even violence. Another reason that the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday is the fact that retailers finally move out of the red and into the black. In other words, most retailers begin to turn a profit after Thanksgiving.
2. #OptOutside – Get Outside on the Day after Thanksgiving
As nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, my immediate family loves the new #OptOutside Thanksgiving tradition. In 2015, an outdoor retailer known as REI decided to close its stores on Black Friday and challenged everyone to #OptOutside instead.
In other words, REI encouraged the world to get outside to do what they love out of doors and enjoy the holiday weekend with family outside instead of shopping on Black Friday.
Since 2015, REI continues to keep its store closed on the biggest shopping day of the year and pay all its employees to spend time outdoors with family and friends. (source)
Maybe you and your family will choose to go outside with us on Black Friday, too! #OptOutside with any of these fun outdoor activities!
Thanksgiving Traditions and Fun Things to do on Thanksgiving
We hope you enjoyed learning more about Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving traditions, fun things to do on Thanksgiving, and the day after Thanksgiving.
It’s the traditional things we do with our friends and family that hold the most meaning, and also create vivid memories to last a lifetime. Don’t forget to have a look at our fall bucket list seasonal activity guide for even more ideas.
Have a happy Thanksgiving! Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!