5 Great Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas

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Thanksgiving comes relatively late this year, leaving very little time between its celebration and the Yuletide holidays, so it’s quite likely some frantic days lie right around the corner. That makes it even more imperative to make this year’s celebration a memorable and gratitude-filled event.

America’s Thanksgiving holiday is a time for everyone to count their blessings and express their appreciation for all the good things in their life, especially their family and friends. Research has been confirming what many long suspected: finding room in your heart for gratitude is really good for your emotional health. (I have written about this before in “Gratitude is Good for You — Really!”.) Many families use various traditions to help send home the holiday’s important message. While doing some online research, I came across literally hundreds of ideas and traditions various families employ to make the holiday memorable. I’ve condensed them into five general categories that might assist your family in planning your holiday and enhancing the Thanksgiving experience:

1. Remembrance Items

Many families like to do or make things that can serve as mementos for the occasion. Of course, there’s always the family photo, which these days is easier than ever to take and to share. There are other ways to remind yourselves of the time spent together though. For example, have everyone contribute a line or two to a journal, sharing their thoughts and sentiments. Some families keep a scrapbook or album and add to it yearly, reserving a particular place in the album for each holiday. Other families even like to use the same table settings (china, tablecloth, etc.) and to bring out particular arrangements every year as reminders of celebrations past.

2. Holiday-Specific Activities

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It’s always a good idea to do some fun things together during a holiday gathering. Folks can not only look forward to doing those things again next year but they can also reflect upon the memories of those same activities from years past. In my family, one such activity was the all-sibling and cousin touch football game. Not only was it a lot of fun, but it was a darned good way to work off some of the extra calories consumed with the typical Thanksgiving dinner. There are all sorts of activities a family can engage in, such as board games, card games, special outings, etc. and any one of these can easily become a holiday tradition. Some family members might prefer activities that are less physically taxing, such as craft-making, others might prefer activities that are not only low-key but also allow for more intimate time and communication between family members. Whatever your preference, doing something special together each year is a great way to enjoy the holiday, feel a sense of gratitude, and cultivate some good memories.

3. Time Reserved for Sharing

Thanksgiving time is, above all, typically family time. Perhaps there’s no better way to renew a sense of family unity than finding time to share. From relating stories from distant relatives, to reminiscing about old times, to giving folks important “updates” about what’s been happening in your own life, sharing is a great way to bring a family closer.

4. Ritual Expressions of Gratitude

Many families find formal ways of expressing gratitude a true holiday blessing. I read one article in which a family traditionally constructs a gratitude tree. Each person decorates it with a memento of an important event in their life for which they’re grateful or even a piece of paper with something written on it that they’re grateful for. Another family I read about uses a “blessings jar.” During the year, members put slips of paper into the jar that recount a blessing that’s entered into their lives, and during Thanksgiving dinner, the slips are pulled out of the jar and read at random, giving the whole family a chance to reflect on their many blessings.

5. Special Foods

Almost everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving dinner. Aside from the fellowship, perhaps nothing is as comforting at the dinner table as that special indulgence you’ve had your mind on all year. Not only do most family members have certain things they love to eat, but often they also have certain things they like to make. It doesn’t always have to be turkey and dressing either. It’s more about the favorites you like, the joy of sharing, and the preserving of family tradition. Sometimes a member of the family might “specialize” in a particular food or its preparation. Some families like to engage in a “friendly competition,” maybe even taking a vote on who made this year’s best pecan pie!

Thanksgiving comes relatively late this year, leaving very little time between its celebration and the Yuletide holidays, so it’s quite likely some frantic days lie right around the corner. That makes it even more imperative to make this year’s celebration a memorable and gratitude-filled event. Throughout the ages, traditions have served to help bring meaning into our lives. In fact the word “tradition” comes from the Latin tradere or traderer and means to hand over or transmit for safekeeping. Through our traditions we preserve our cultural and family identities. Thanksgiving traditions are a way for us to remember where we came from, find space in our hearts to appreciate all we have, and find inspiration for the days to come. Even if you live in a place that doesn’t celebrate this holiday, here’s wishing you fond remembrances as another year comes to a close.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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