10 New Traditions to Try Out This Thanksgiving

published Nov 20, 2016
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

We’re all familiar with Say What You’re Thankful For, Break The Wishbone, and Eat Way Too Much Pie, but these 10 new traditions might lively up your annual family feast—for many years to come.

Canned Good Raffle

Encourage your guests to bring canned/boxed goods to donate to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. For every item they bring, they get one ticket for a raffle. The raffle prizes can be silly things you already own and don’t need, goofy dollar store items, or gift certificates for privileges such as First Choice of Turkey, Piece of Pie To Take Home, Wishbone Rights, or Escape From Dishwashing Duty.

Guess The Gratitude

Instead of going around the table and having everyone say what they’re thankful for, have your guests write down what they’re thankful for on pieces of paper that they anonymously place in a bowl. The more submissions per person, the better, and let your guests know that their expressions of gratitude can be silly, heartfelt, ultra-personal, and/or cute. When it’s time to eat, you’ll read each entry aloud, and anyone who can correctly guess the writer of one will get a prize. Again, the prizes can be cheap and ridiculous.

Cooks Don’t Clean

This is more of a principle than a tradition, but it’s still a good policy to enact so that it’s taken for granted at all future gatherings. If someone didn’t do any of the cooking, they should be doing the dishwashing, and those who did cook should be relaxing after dinner. This one is especially important if your family has long-held, never-questioned toxically patriarchal habits in which the women do all the cooking and the cleaning. It stops with you!

After-Dinner Pre-Dessert Walk

This one is absurdly simple, but it’s really great. Taking a walk—whether down country roads, through a park, or around the neighborhood to admire holiday decorations—will reinvigorate everyone and keep them from slumping into Tryptophan zombies after the meal. This could also be a way to enforce the Cooks Don’t Clean policy: the cooks, along with the kids too young to help clean, go for a lovely walk, guaranteeing that they won’t get sucked into working or get pestered by endless questions from full-grown adults who should know how to wash dishes.

(Image credit: NBC/Warner Bros. Television)

Friends Not Football

Rather than watching six hours of football, watch a bunch of different Thanksgiving television episodes so there’s sure to be something that pleases everyone. In 2014 I put together 12 Thanksgiving Episodes to Stream, which includes holiday episodes from Gilmore Girls, How I Met Your Mother, Gossip Girl, and New Girl, all of which are available on Netflix, while last year’s 12 Thanksgiving Lessons from My Favorite Shows featured Mad About You, Will & Grace, and Friends. I’d like to append those lists with a few new favorites: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 1 Episode 6 (which features one of my favorite songs, “I Give Good Parent”—NSFW!), The Grinder Season 1 Episode 8, and Supergirl Season 1 episode 4, a delightfully super take on the classic holiday episode. I haven’t yet seen “A Very Black-Ish Thanksgiving”—Season 1 Episode 8—but I’m sure it’s excellent.

Hand-Me-Down Bonanza

With the seasons changing, there’s a good chance that some of the kids—and adults, perhaps—in your family or friend group are in need of boots, sweaters, coats, and other cold weather clothes. Have everyone bring the clothes that they’ve outgrown or no longer wear, and hold a clothing swap before or after dinner, whenever there’s downtime. This will help anyone in the family who might not have money for new clothes, and any unclaimed items can be donated to a homeless or domestic violence shelter.

Book Club

Not so much a proper book club as a book swap, but encouraging everyone to bring books they no longer need will certainly encourage lots of bookish conversation. This tradition could be especially helpful for quiet, bookworm kids who only see each other once a year for Thanksgiving. Trading books will give them something to talk about, and reading books together is the perfect cozy, companionable, low-key after-dinner activity.

Ornaments Workshop

If your family celebrates a winter holiday that involves ornaments, set the kids—and adults!—up after dinner with ornament fixins. This could be Shrinky Dinks and colored pencils, air-dry clay, fillable ornaments and wintery dollar store ephemera, or even just paper and markers. The kids will take all the ornaments they made home at the end of the night, and parents will be saved from having to come up with something their kids can give as holiday gifts.

Everyone Bring A Game

It’s easy to get sick of your own board games (or the games at the host’s house—my family played my grandparents’ 1980 edition of Trivial Pursuit every holiday for decades!), so mix things up by encouraging your guests to all bring a game to play. This will help to keep the kids entertained and will provide fun for those uninterested in football (if your Friends Not Football initiative fails). In this scenario, everyone will take their games home at the end of the night, but you could also consider bringing your favorite board game as a host/hostess gift.

Recipe Swap

If you’re hosting a potluck, ask your guests to bring copies of the recipe(s) for the dish(es) they’re sharing; let them know approximately how many guests you’re expecting so they know how many copies to bring. After dessert, swap recipes—everyone goes home with basically a sweet little cookbook!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? Is there one you’d like to start?