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Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Day Ideas

Thanksgiving is upon us.

No… we can’t all travel to New York City to enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (though one day I intend to!), but we CAN all try out some unique Thanksgiving Day traditions this year.

To make Thanksgiving even more memorable this year, consider starting a new tradition or two — on your own, or with the family.


Because you know… traditions help create lifelong memories!

Here are some ideas.


Our Personal Favorites


Since many businesses are closed on Thanksgiving Day (and most people are indoors enjoying fine food and lots of TV time with their families), Jim and I like to be different and do something outdoors if possible every Thanksgiving.

Of course, we have no kids and all of our relatives live far away.

If you try it, you’ll notice that the atmosphere outside is quite different — with fewer cars on the roads, and less hustle & bustle. It’s like you have the town to yourself!

Some of the “outdoorsy” things we’ve done in the past:

  • bike riding
  • fishing (…while dining on a turkey sub from Subway!)
  • driving in the country
  • walking the dog
  • photographing novel sights around town
  • hiking
  • taking family photos in the colorful fall leaves

It feels so much more fulfilling being outdoors, rather than just sitting around eating and watching football all day! (Right, Jim?)


We also make it a point to go to a movie on the actual day of major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. You’d be surprised how many other people do this, too. (Also tradition: Ordering an extra-large buttered popcorn — layered — and 2 large diet cokes!)

Now onto some non-traditional Thanksgiving Day ideas that I’ve heard other families do…


Help Somebody If You Can

Make this the year you go the extra mile, by extending your generosity & blessings beyond your own family


During Thanksgiving time, plan an annual “Giving Day” that involves every member of your family. Collect clothes, toys, and food and donate them to local shelters (battered women, homeless). You could also collect pet toys and pet food and take them to the local animal shelter.

Donate blood — as a family. There is no greater form of “giving” than to give the gift of life. (Here’s a funny little video clip reminding you to give blood.)

Participate in a Habitat for Humanity project in your area.

Make a point to volunteer at your church during this week.

Sign up to help serve food at a local homeless shelter, battered women’s shelter, etc.

Offer to help a neighbor during Thanksgiving week… maybe they could use a few hours of free childcare so they can run errands during this busy time of year, or rake up a neighbor’s yard that’s filled with leaves at the same time you do your own, or take a pre-cooked meal to an elderly or single neighbor who doesn’t have family in the area.

How to volunteer to help over Thanksgiving.


It’s All In The Family

Here are some ways to “switch it up a bit” in your home this Thanksgiving…


Plan a special “themed” dinner (rather than the traditional Thanksgiving feast) for your entire family to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. Discuss and vote on a theme ahead of time, then plan your entire menu and decorations around it. Some ideas: 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, Hawaiian, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Boy Scout, Baseball, etc. Each family member is responsible for creating their own costume and sharing information about traditions and menu items based on this theme.

Have all family & friends in attendance sign their names on a plain tablecloth, using a thin Sharpie marker. Be sure to date & sign each message. (Afterwards, you could embroider each name in a different color floss.) Bring this tablecloth out for every family gathering, adding new signatures each year. Eventually, you could pass this down as a family heirloom.

Take a family walk. As soon as your Thanksgiving meal is finished, get up from the table and head out the door. Regardless of the size of your group, make sure that no one is left behind unless they are ill or caring for a baby. Heads will turn when they see your group walking down the road!

Go around the room and ask everyone to fill in the blank: “The best thing that happened to me this year was…”

You and your kids will come to cherish this one… Write each of your children a letter (or a list) each Thanksgiving noting their personal growth and changes during the year. The best part: mention all the reasons you’ve felt blessed to have them in your life this past year. After reading them aloud on Thanksgiving Day, save them year after year. You may want to do this with your spouse as well… maybe a Top 10 List of why you love him/her more than ever and how you’ve felt blessed to have him/her in your life this past year.

Make Thanksgiving Day be the first day that you bring out the Christmas pictures taken each year with Santa Claus. After Thanksgiving, display them and continue to be amazed by how the little ones have changed from year to year.

Get the cooks of the family to look through cookbooks and come up with some new ideas and recipes for side dishes. You could even put together a holiday cookbook containing all of the successful recipes after they pass the family test.

Ask everyone to write what they are thankful for on a leaf-shaped piece of paper at Thanksgiving. Put the leaves in a basket and read them after dinner. You could then arrange the leaves, along with a family photo taken on this day, into a Thanksgiving album each year. Here’s another take on that scenario… and yet another one.

Gather the family and come up with a “family motto” for the year. It could be one word that you stand for (honesty, integrity, loving, etc.) or a well-known phrase (“Anything worth doing is worth doing well” or “Never judge another person til you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”). Write the phrase on a colorful piece of paper, frame it, and hang it where everyone can see it for a daily reminder.

Allot an hour or so for everyone to share remembrances of your family. To give everyone some ideas, pass around a list of questions such as: “What are two words that remind you of Grandma Jane?” Or “Tell us a funny story about Uncle Joe.” You can have everyone complete the exact same questions, or ask them to just pick two from the list to talk about, or let everyone brainstorm their own stories. In the end, you go around the room sharing stories.

Take pictures of Grandma making her famous apple pie. Or photograph other relatives making their favorite dishes. Save the pictures and recipes in an album as a family keepsake.

Keep a “blessings box” all year long. Whenever something wonderful happens (Bobby got his first “A” on a grade card, the baby slept through the night, you learned how to cut hair, etc.) write it down and put it in this box. Read and count your blessings every Thanksgiving.

Write a specific assignment on back of each person’s place card this Thanksgiving. For examples: carve the turkey, clear the plates, organize the coffee, fold the napkins, take beverage orders, load the dishwasher, etc. This makes everyone feel a part of the celebration.

If your family is large, then you probably draw names for Christmas gifts. Thanksgiving is the ideal day to do this… while most of the family members are gathered in one place. (Plus, Christmas sales begin the next day!)

Make Thanksgiving be the time when you switch out your regular daily dishes with the placesettings that are normally reserved for “company”. Break from the norm and choose instead to enjoy all mealtimes between Thanksgiving and Christmas and use the “good china”… What are you saving it for?


Did You Know?

Take it from me, if you’re intending to help out at a local shelter…

Be sure to make arrangements way ahead of time with that location, speak to someone “in charge” directly, and be prepared for some last-minute changes.

  • I had volunteered to help at the Make-a-Wish Foundation one year (in Orlando), but they were booked solid with volunteers a month-and-a-half before Christmas and didn’t need anymore help! There, you had to go through a “volunteer orientation course” too — to learn about the children’s needs, what would be expected of you, etc. I toured the facility once. I only wish I could’ve been a volunteer there too.
  • Likewise, I called the local Salvation Army one year to help serve meals. Over the phone (about a week before Thanksgiving) they said just come on by on Thanksgiving Day, but when I arrived (early), I was sent away because they had too many volunteers. That was kind of frustrating.

Who knew?



Fun Activities For Your Turkey Day

If you’re looking for some non-traditional fun out & about this Thanksgiving, consider starting your own annual “Turkey Bowl party” (bowling, football, etc.) or similar activities like this:

Touch Football Party — organize a party (complete with invitations, props, and a fun menu) where everyone comes to play touch football.

Turkey Day Games The Kids Will Love — some low-key family activities to get everyone involved (pass the apple, picture stories, top turkey, turkey strut)

Turkey Trot — an organized walk/run event for charity.

Turkey Bowling — bowling for dollars, or for fun (of course, aprons and oven mitts are optional)


Online Thanksgiving Games

Stuck inside this year?… Try these interactive online games with a Thanksgiving twist:

Turkey Bowling — a silly game where you toss the turkey at the pilgrims in a “regular” game of bowling (and your score is tallied, frame-by-frame)

Turkey Slider Game — a very challenging version of those old sliding-cube puzzles.

Catch A Turkey Game — try to catch your very own Thanksgiving (or Christmas) turkey!

Black Dog’s Thanksgiving Celebration Games — this is the best collection of interactive Thanksgiving-themed games on the ‘Net.


And Now, The Thanksgiving Humor…