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If you’re not among the masses traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, you're likely spending the day dining with family and friends nearby.
Everyone has their own traditions for the holiday weekend. Some tables are elaborately decorated while others opt for practical paper plates to diminish the dishes. Some families might choose a cabin getaway while others prefer to cater the meal and save the stress.
That's what I love about Thanksgiving. In fact, it's my favorite holiday! There's no right or wrong way to celebrate.
But with the pandemic comes a different perspective, and in turn, new ways to make the holidays festive but adjusted. Besides, while we all look forward to conventional merriments, sometimes it feels really good to change things up a bit!
Whether you're hosting or only attending the Great Feast this week, here are some unique Thanksgiving traditions you can implement which just might make Thanksgiving 2021 the best yet!
Thanksgiving Day Traditions
While the dog show, Macy's Parade, and football (my choice from the three) are all great Thanksgiving pastimes, not everyone can agree on what to watch.
Also, if the holiday is all about spending quality time together, TV probably isn't going to leave us feeling connected.
These unique Thanksgiving day traditions strive to bring everyone together in fun, engaging ways.
Plan a Family Picture
Every year, most chefs find ourselves bustling around the kitchen right up until meal time. Then, if we even bother, we tear off our apron and race to the bedroom to straighten our outfit up.
But wouldn’t it be nice to actually document all your hard work? Wouldn’t you love to remember who attended each year’s Thanksgiving celebration?
You don’t have to be fancy. The dog doesn’t have to be looking at the camera. Don’t worry if the baby is about to cry.
Whatever is candid and normal for your family, just snap a photo of everyone present. Grab a picture of the amazing grub they’re about to partake in before it’s demolished, too!
Make it even more memorable by asking everyone write down their favorite memory, food dish, or inside joke on butcher paper. You can fold this up and tuck it away with your family photo as a keepsake.
Better yet, if someone has a Polaroid camera, snap polaroid selfies and document your memories on each one. Store them in an envelope titled Thanksgiving 2021, or similar.
Get Breakfast Catered or Contributed Potluck Style
Most families like to save their appetite for the big feast. However, it’s still beneficial to have a little something in your stomach beforehand. Multiple studies show you’re less likely to overstuff yourself with turkey, et cetera, if you’ve eaten a simple breakfast earlier that day.
Save the hostess time (and dishes) by bringing over bagels or a breakfast casserole to share.
Crockpots work great for the latter. Or, you can bake your casserole or French toast in the oven and bring it over in an insulated carrying case like this one to keep it hot.
Try a New Recipe Each Year
Make it a tradition to try something new!
Thanksgiving is all about the staple favorites, of course. Have your turkey and eat it, too. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to tried and true, but why not throw in a new appetizer or side each year? You might just discover your next signature dish.
Maybe you always do yams with marshmallows but you’re trying to cut the sugars. Maybe it’s time you mix up your normal veggie side to something more colorful and packed with flavor.
Years ago, my mom came across a recipe for a stuffing baked in a Bundt mold and filled with a layer of cranberry horseradish sauce. Knowing my dad loves horseradish, she decided to give it a try, and it easily became our favorite side. Thanksgiving isn’t the same without it!
In my opinion, stuffing looks more appealing when it’s molded in a fancy cake pan like this:
Choose Who Gets to Say Grace
A holiday is a good time to allow others the opportunity to pray over the meal and those present.
If you usually say grace in your own home over all other family meals, why not bestow the honor to a friend, elder family member, or child to bless the occasion?
Praying aloud is such a powerful practice. If you have young members at the table, it can be a great way to strengthen their public speaking, too!
Share Your Gratitude
Although we should be grateful every day of the year, I love that Thanksgiving causes us to reflect at a deeper level.
Some might call it cliché or even a bit awkward, but if it’s done with a genuine spirit, everyone around the table sharing what they’re grateful for can be a cherished moment.
If your crowd is unfamiliar with one another, a good way to ease into this exercise is to provide some conversation starter cards to get communication flowing naturally.
Or take some gratitude prompts from your journal and pass them out when guests arrive so they can ponder their response before sitting at the dinner table.
Play Some Games
Whether it's the typical Pictionary showdown or something a little less loud, group games are the best way to keep everyone engaged before the tryptophan sets in.
For something unique, and keeping with the thankful theme, have everyone write what they are thankful for on a slip of paper and toss it into a jar. One by one, everyone grabs a different piece from the jar, reads it aloud, and tries to guess who submitted it.
Not only does this activity cause guests to be creative in their responses, it broadens understanding to hear what others are truly grateful for.
Have Guests Bring To-Go Containers or Supply Disposable Carry-Out Boxes
Leftovers have to be everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition; it’s definitely mine! I love carrying home my food treasures and not having to cook for the next few days.
To make your job as a host easier, tell your guests to bring their own Tupperware, or just have some disposable ones on hand for them to load up on their way out. That way you don’t have to make that awkward phone call to retrieve your own Tupperware months later.
I found some cute fall themed, foldable food boxes at a dollar store back in October, and Target had foldable boxes that held just one pie slice. Amazon also has some holiday aluminum containers (see below).
But don’t just send guests home with leftovers. Send along a recipe or two to inspire them to be creative with all that extra food!
Maybe your recipe is as simple as a turkey and cranberry sandwich or maybe you turn your leftover mashed potatoes into waffle patties like I do (trust me, it’s so good). Either way, your guests will look forward to the tradition each year and may start contributing their own!
Remember, sharing is caring.
Plan a Friendsgiving Anytime in the Month
Most people are busy with family on the actual holiday.
But if you have friends in the area who are either unable to travel to see their own families or just need another excuse to get together and eat more amazing food, throw a Friendsgiving on the calendar to get the celebrations going early!
What’s great about Friendsgiving is, unlike Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving anxiety, the food responsibility isn’t all on the hostess. Divvy up the food items among guests with a sign-up sheet on Google docs (because no one likes group texts!).
You can determine what the main course and sides should be, or you can keep it casual and tell everyone to bring something to share. You don’t have to have a theme. You don’t even have to eat “Thanksgiving food” if you’d rather not spoil the big day.
But if you want your home to look festive, Amazon has you covered on fun Friendsgiving décor.
Instead of Shopping
I’ve got nothing personal against shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I can’t deny that the deals really are hard to beat for certain items!
But I also can’t ignore the irony of being thankful for everything we have one day and then jumping into a frenzy of wanting more the following day.
If you are avoiding the in-store crowds and hoping to stretch quality time with your family over the whole weekend, here are a few unique traditions you can implement.
Make a Donation
Ask your Thanksgiving guests to bring nonperishable food items, toiletries, warm socks and hats, Kleenex packs, and other helpful goodies. Place a box in your entryway to collect these items so you can deliver it to the local shelter.
Or, as a fun group activity, use these items to create Blessing Bags!
At a Friendsgiving I hosted a few years back, my friends packed gallon-sized Ziploc bags with a variety of items, including the number and address to the local shelter. These Blessing Bags can be kept in your car and handed out anytime you see a homeless person in need.
If you want to get your kids involved, have them pick out clothes and toys they no longer use but are still in good condition.
Now, this will probably require some assistance on your part. Not every kid will give away their things as easily, even after being promised a new item for Christmas. But learning to give from our own abundance is such an important life lesson.
If you have the financial capability, you could create an even more memorable Thanksgiving tradition by “adopting” a family. You and your kids can then shop together for items the family needs and wants.
The deadline to adopt a family through St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix is next Wednesday, December 1st. Follow this link for more info!
Bake a Pie for the Neighbors (or Teachers, or Co-Workers…)
Admittedly, this one is hard during the pandemic. Not everyone is going to be comfortable receiving a home baked good right now, so you’ll need to be understanding and conscientious.
But if you already know someone’s comfort level, there’s no sweeter gift to give and receive than something baked with love. And no, it doesn’t have to be pie. Pumpkin breads, cinnamon rolls, rice krispy treats (for gluten intolerant folks), and cookies all count as well.
If you still want to give a gift to show how much you appreciate those around you but don’t want to bake, consider putting together a small gift basket. Trust me, a DIY gift basket will save you big time rather than buying one prepackaged, and it will mean so much more when it’s created by you.
Head to your local thrift store to score a few woven baskets (see: thrift store tips and tricks for more).
You will likely want to curate the basket in a theme, depending on the age and gender of the person you’re gifting it to.
For instance, a young woman might appreciate some travel sized hand lotions, bath bombs, facial packets, and some fuzzy socks. For a male coworker or neighbor, put together a mug and cocoa mix or your favorite coffee grounds with some mini syrups.
Be creative, but remember, it’s the thought not the cost that counts!
Go for a Hike
I think it was REI several years back who first boycotted the idea of Black Friday and began the hashtag #OptOutside.
While shopping the aisles can get your steps in, you’d definitely burn way more calories virtually stress-free while climbing a mountain.
Make it your standard post-Thanksgiving tradition to hit the trail with your family in tow. The fresh air does wonders for your body and mind!
Start a Turkey Bowl Tradition
If hiking isn’t really your thing, maybe you need something a little more competitive.
Whether you actually like football, are good at playing it, or not, is irrelevant. Getting friends and family together to play or cheer each other on in some sociable competition is always a good idea, especially outdoors!
Burn off some calories before or after the feast. An open yard or park and this 10-player set of flags and cones is all you need to get the tradition started this year.
Stay Cozy Inside
As I’ve mentioned before, this season is wedding season in Arizona, which means we have worked an event (or two) just about every weekend up until now. In short, we need some R&R! Because intentional rest is essential, am I right?
So, I told my husband that since we wisely decided not to spend a fortune on a cabin getaway this Thanksgiving, I expect a fully decked out blanket fort instead.
I have plans for our blanket fort days, let me tell you. Between my stack of library books, a writing project or two, board games, a paint by number canvas we started a year ago and never completed, and a guitar to sing along to by our electric fireplace, we are all set for hours of relaxing, creative fun.
Oh, and don’t forget the leftovers!
If you’d like to add “Blanket Fort” to your post-Thanksgiving traditions, check out this super neat Tote-a-Fort idea. Each pack contains three sheets with Velcro, ties, and weights, making it easy enough for most kids to build their own blanket fort in a number of ways.
Final Thoughts on Unique Thanksgiving Traditions
Of course, there are endless possibilities of activities and unique traditions.
You can craft, have a baking contest, swap a "giving plate" or just recipes, draw names early for Secret Santa gift giving next month, go for a "Turkey trot" or another sport, or even celebrate Thanksgiving outdoors, picnic style!
Above all, my hope is that you find and nurture joy this week. I pray you make lasting memories and grow closer to each other.
If you know anyone alone for the holiday, consider drawing your circle bigger and pulling up an extra chair. Or, if they're too far away, send a care package to let them know you're thinking about them.
Remember, there's only a few more days to go for this month's Prayer Prompt challenge. Habitual prayer will keep you in the right mental attitude despite any holiday stress!
What are YOU most thankful for this year? Send me a DM @missaniss._ to let me know. :)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!