Start a Thanksgiving Tradition Your Kids Will Cherish

Brynne Conroy

Pie with a slice taken out of it.

You might not be going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house this Thanksgiving. But there are ways to engage in traditions that will help this holiday feel special despite the extraordinary circumstances.

Here are some great Thanksgiving traditions. They’re relevant in non-social-distancing years, too, so you can carry your new traditions with you into the future.

Make Breakfast

Whoever isn’t cooking dinner can kick the day off by prepping breakfast for everyone. Because you probably won’t eat three meals on Thanksgiving, eating a large breakfast early can help your family get through to an early dinner without hanger kicking in.

Watching the Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a holiday staple. While you’re eating breakfast, you can cuddle around the TV to invite some holiday spirit into your house. The parade is a prelude to the December holidays, and often includes balloons that have been making an appearance since grandma was a kid. 

Watching the Dog Show

Yes, the National Dog Show will still be happening this year. It’s on immediately after the parade. Even if the parents in your house are running around trying to prepare everything for the late-afternoon feast, the kids are likely to get a kick out of watching all the different breeds of dogs compete.

Watching Football

Football is another holiday staple. This year you’ll be able to catch three different games -- the Texans play the Lions at 12:30p Eastern, the Cowboys play the Washington team at 4:30p Eastern and the Steelers take on their rivals the Ravens at 8:00p Eastern.

You can also get outdoors and play football with your family. The event might be a little smaller this year; if you don’t have enough people to play on two separate teams, you can turn target practice into a competitive game, or create a relay race while running the football. 

Pass Down a Family Recipe

Someday, your kids are going to be the ones preparing the holiday meal. A good way to engage them in the process is by teaching each one a family recipe. They will have a sense of pride when their dish is on the table, and as they get older, they’ll be able to lighten your load as you work over the stove. 

This is a tradition that can easily be fulfilled over Zoom this year. Set up your computer or phone to have older members of your family guide your children (or you!) through the process. This will also help older family members who cannot attend a large gathering this year feel remembered, included and valued.

Express Gratitude

Of course, Thanksgiving is a time to express gratitude. This tradition can be as simple as taking turns going around the table, each person listing what they’re grateful for in their lives.

Another spin on this tradition is creating a gratitude jar. Everyone writes something they’re thankful for on a piece of paper. Then, at the dinner table, you draw a piece of paper from the jar, guessing who was thankful for what. 

Tablecloth Art

You can also incorporate your gratitude exercise into the table setting itself. You can make your table cloth as fancy or as simple as you choose, using anything from butcher paper to a woven linen.

Lay out markers -- either fabric or permanent depending on your tablecloth -- and let everyone decorate their section of the table. Encourage each family member to write down some of the things they’re grateful for, saving the table cloth to pull out at family dinners in future years.

Give Back to Others

As you’re enjoying your meal, you’ve laid out all the things you’re grateful for, and are in a place where you can recognize your family’s abundance. It might not be financial abundance -- each family’s abundance will lie in a different sector of their lives.

Once you’ve identified where that abundance is, you can brainstorm ways you can use that abundance to give back. 

If you have financial abundance...

This holiday was always framed to us as an expression of gratitude for what Native populations did to help their uninvited white guests through their first winter. In subsequent years, the opposite of gratitude has been expressed. In all reality, colonization, genocide, and land theft have been the thanks given. 

This should bother us every year. This year in particular, systemic oppression has put Native populations in a position where they’re more vulnerable to COVID-19. If money is one area where you have abundance, you may consider donating as a family to help through this pandemic.

Breaking the Wishbone

The wishbone is a staple tradition. As you’re carving the turkey, look for this bone in the breast. Then, set it aside to dry out  while everyone’s eating. 

To take things to the next level, you can prepare a wishbone scavenger hunt. Leave clues around the house or in the yard, directing the little ones to where they’ll find the wishbone. Once it’s found, the person who breaks off the  bigger piece gets a wish. 

The other person? They don’t traditionally get the wish, but they do get first dibs on desert after pulling the short-end of the bone.

Take a Hike

If the weather allows, taking a family walk or hike after your big meal can help you combat all the tryptophan in your turkey that makes you sleepy. 

Movie Marathon

If you prefer to curl up on the couch and give in to the drowsiness, there’s nothing wrong with setting up a movie marathon for your family after your Thanksgiving meal. You might pop on a holiday classic to kick things off, or let each family member take a turn picking the film as you snuggle up on the couch.

Play Board Games

If you’ve been binge-watching TV a lot lately, a movie marathon may not feel as special as it does other years. Another alternative post-turkey is to take out the board games. Those with older children may find their game nights competitive, while those families with younger children engage in an opportunity to teach the turn-taking, sportsmanship and listening skills so often incorporated into board games.