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 to start in 2021!
Please remember 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. Are you 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 FAQs
Before sharing our list of unique and classic family Thanksgiving traditions and celebration ideas, we thought we would answer a few FAQs (frequently asked questions) about Thanksgiving (also known as Turkey Day) and when Thanksgiving occurs in the United States and Canada.
What is Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a holiday in the United States and Canada to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and is also called “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 received 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 we celebrate it. Most of us have heard 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.
Unfortunately, this story is not entirely 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 Pilgrims had trouble growing food and suffered from terrible famines and numerous diseases–and 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 to make it possible for the early settlers to harvest 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 myths surrounding the holiday known as Thanksgiving and outlines its actual 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 are 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 and create new ones. Today we can create stories of connection, diversity, and thankfulness and keep celebrating Thanksgiving for what it should be–a time to be grateful. Make a fresh start with any of the Thanksgiving tradition ideas listed below the remaining FAQs.
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 also called “Turkey Day.”
Below, we have curated a list of classic Thanksgiving celebration ideas and unique traditions you can try with your family this year. Like the ideas listed below, meaningful Thanksgiving family traditions can help make the holidays a special time of year for all family members.
When is Thanksgiving Celebrated?
Thanksgiving falls after the fall harvest in both Canada and the US. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October, while Thanksgiving happens on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States.
My family has enjoyed the “blessings of an abundant harvest,” and Thanksgiving traditions with family and friends in both places–and quite a few of us are dual citizens. As a result, we have an even 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 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. We give thanks for the food on our table–and we give thanks for all of the blessings in our lives.
Traditionally, we celebrate Thanksgiving with a big meal shared between family and friends. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner most often includes the type of foods 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 usually celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada.
What day is Thanksgiving this year?
This year, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on Monday, October 11, 2021, while Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 25, 2021, 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 continue to 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 hosting or attending a Thanksgiving meal with family, friends, and neighbors. Traditionally, families choose to serve a Thanksgiving turkey 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. Going to the Farmers’ market before Thanksgiving to pick local fresh foods for our Thanksgiving meal is 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 Thanksgiving dinner is over, make it a tradition to put the leftover turkey carcass in a stockpot to make homemade poultry stock for 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? It’s a Thanksgiving experience gift the whole family can enjoy year after year!
My brother and I will never forget 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 choose the same vacation spot every year, while others prefer a new Thanksgiving destination vacation each year.
3. Make a Thankful Tree for Thanksgiving
A thankful tree is a Thanksgiving decoration that the whole family can make and decorate together. There are many ways to design and use a thankful tree. They can be as simple as a printable craft that you make and hang on a bulletin board, in a frame, or on the fridge. Or, as elaborate as a Thanksgiving table centerpiece or a gorgeous piece of DIY Thanksgiving home decor.
The one thing that they all have in common is cultivating an attitude of gratitude in the home. And, 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. Write things you are most grateful 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 three DIY tutorials that share how to make different types of thankful trees for Thanksgiving. One of our Thankful trees is an easy printable craft that children can easily make on their own, while another has bare branches and real preserved fall leaves, and the other has clay gratitude leaves.
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 DIY and ready-made Thanksgiving decoration ideas listed to add a festive touch to your home and Thanksgiving celebrations.
DIY and Readymade Thanksgiving Decorations:
- Decorate with gourds and pumpkins from your local pumpkin patch
- Thankful Turkey Printable Thanksgiving Placemats to Color
- 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 has become 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 impressive 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 fly 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! So 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 fares 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. Or, download and print these cute Thanksgiving Coloring Placemats, and invite children and other guests to make and color them while they wait for dinner to be served.
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 this Thankful Turkey Printable Coloring Page for an easy Thanksgiving gratitude activity the whole family can enjoy. Or, download and print Thanksgiving Coloring Placemats, and invite children and other guests to make and color them while they wait for dinner to be served.
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 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
- DIY Thanksgiving 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!