Thanksgiving Traditions to Adopt this Year – 35 Memorable Ideas

Are you hosting or being hosted for Thanksgiving this year? DJ and I are lucky enough to be welcoming both of our families this Thanksgiving. Ever since I learned to cook, I always dreamed of hosting Thanksgiving. This will be our third year hosting! I’ve already begun planning the menu and other details. One area we are a little slim – our own traditions. Traditions are what makes a holiday special and memorable. Whether you’re hosting guests or traveling this Thanksgiving, here are some thoughtful ideas to bring more meaning to your holiday :

Traditions whether you’re hosting or not


  • Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade Parade photo from Pinterest
  • Gather around a campfire – Who needs pumpkin pie when you can roast smores?
  • Enjoy nature – Take a walk or enjoy the sunset.
  • Donate to local charities – Donating your time and money to those less fortunate is the ultimate way to appreciate what you have. No Kid Hungry has an awesome Friendsgiving fundraising campaign that I just found out about. You invite friends to come celebrate at your home, and they’re able to make a donation towards ending child hunger in America. I’m thinking about hosting a Friendsgiving next year.  You can also donate or volunteer at your local food bank – two food banks local to NJ are The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties and Food Bank of South Jersey. Friendsgiving photo from Notes From a Messy Kitchen
  • Start a gratitude journal – Make thanksgiving part of your everyday life to help reduce stress and appreciate your gifts in life. Journal pictured available on Etsy
  • Put up your Christmas decorations on Black Friday – Instead of supporting big-box stores that invade their employees’ holidays, we like to switch out our fall decorations for winter, and light up our Christmas tree.
  • Enjoy a seasonal fall drink – Splurge on a PSL, apple cider, or a hot toddy. Photo courtesy of
  • Exchange thank you cards on Thanksgiving – Sometimes it is easier to express your gratitude in writing than out loud. Exchanging thank you cards is a sweet tradition to inact with your spouse or family.
  • PSA for locals: Free turkey at Shoprite – If you shop at Shoprite, a local supermarket, don’t forget to pick up your free turkey before Thanksgiving : ) Turkeys photo from Pinterest

Traditions for hosts


  • Use family or cultural recipes – Using meaningful recipes is a great way to honor your family members or culture. I make several dishes each year from my mother and mother in law. Photo courtesy of
  • Invite extra guests – If you know anyone who may not have plans this Thanksgiving, consider offering them a heartfelt invitation to your house. The more people you have, the more diverse and fun your Thanksgiving will be!
  • Design and send out invitations – All I usually get in the mail is junk and bills, so an actual invitation would be a welcome surprise! Invitation pictured available on Etsy
  • Ask for and accept help – Others’ contributions make holidays extra special! Though you may not need it, accepting is about far more than just bringing a bottle of wine or a dessert.
  • Say grace or give a toast before the meal begins – Giving a brief and sincere expression of gratitude for the year past and food on the table sets a great tone for the meal. I’m going spring this one on my man of the house : )
  • Keep the menu simple – Thanksgiving is a simple holiday about gratitude and appreciation, not complicated and fancy recipes. Rather than keeping yourself cooped up in the kitchen, focus on simple dishes that can be prepared ahead of time.
  • Choose arranged seating – Or not! I can’t decide which to do, as we are going to have two separate tables this Thanksgiving. According to etiquette experts, established couples should be seated apart. I’m not sure if I like that idea very much. Place setting from Pinterest
  • Serve fall cocktails – Festive cider, sangria, or punch is a great way to celebrate! Sangria from Pinterest
  • Feature local ingredients and products – Support local farms and businesses this Thanksgiving! Your guests will love the freshness of local products and maybe discover some new favorites to pickup next time they visit you.
  • Send guests home with leftovers – Depending on how many people live at your house, there may be only so many leftovers you can eat before they go bad. To avoid waste, send your guests home with leftovers in spare tupperware or to-go containers. Leftover packaging from Pinterest
  • Take family photos – Might as well take some photos while everyone is together! DJ and I are hoping to take some photos of both our families together in the backyard : )
  • Make a cornucopia – A sign of our blessed abundance and Latin for horn of plenty, cornucopias can be made of baskets, bread, rope or other materials. They are typically filled with produce. Cornucopia photo and recipe from LilyShop Pinterest

  • Save the wishbone – My mother always saved the wishbones from her Thanksgiving turkey. Story goes, you wait for it to dry, then two people pull it apart until it breaks. The person with the longest half has their wish come true.
  • Save turkey bones for soup – We put the entire turkey in the freezer once we’re done cutting meat off of it. When the winter turns cold and we want some soup, I pull the turkey out of the oven and into my biggest pot. I boil the bones for a few hours before straining the broth out and adding vegetables for a delicious soup.
  • Discuss the “5 kernels of corn” – I have seen this one floating around the internet recently and wanted to find out what the deal was. Everyone gets 5 kernels of corn on their dinner plate. During the Pilgrims’ first winter in America there was awful famine. Food was so scarce that their daily ration was only five kernels of corn. Instead of despairing, the Pilgrims saw these corn kernels as a blessing. So, in our culture of abundance and excess, everyone takes the time to reflect and share five things they’re thankful for around the table. Photo from Pinterest
  • Enact a rule that first person finished eating has to wash all the dishes – This is a great tradition to motivate everyone to linger over dinner ; )
  • Play games after the meal – So far, we have made a tradition out of playing Cards Against Humanity after Thanksgiving dinner. It has been super fun!
  • Select a playlist to set the mood – I’ve seen a few playlists on Pinterest, and tagged my husband to pick one out on Spotify this year. If you have some family favorites, throw those on your list. Overall our playlists are typically diverse and cover multiple generations. We tend to favor more relaxed acoustic or easy listening music, and even some jazz! Playlist idea from Pinterest
  • Decorate the house – From festive table setting to wall decorations and candles, atmosphere really helps guests relax and remember the holiday. DIY ideas from Pinterest
  • Put up a ‘thankful tree’ or jar – I have wanted to put this up for years and haven’t gotten around to it yet! Maybe this year : )Photo from Pinterest
  • Place phones in a bin away from the table – This helps keep guests engaged in dinner time conversation and makes for a much more intimate dinner. The whole point of thanksgiving is to be with and stay engaged with your guests both family and friends. Social media can wait. Photo from Pinterest
  • Ask for suggestions from guests – You obviously want your guests to have the best experience possible, so the best way to ensure they do is to ask if they have any suggestions or ideas for this year’s holiday!

Traditions if you’re traveling this Thanksgiving


  • Celebrate Thanksgiving Eve – DJ and I travel to our hometown for many holidays, so we have made it a point to celebrate the holiday in our own way when we are able to, whether on the actual day or not. We celebrate Christmas Eve-Eve on the 23rd by watching a Christmas movie, wrapping last minute gifts and ordering Chinese food. For Thanksgiving Eve, maybe hit your favorite restaurant or bar, jump start your Christmas shopping, or snuggle up with a favorite movie.
  • Make a nice weekend trip – Enjoy the nearby area before or after Thanksgiving. Make some pit stops on your way there or back. Treat yourself to a nice hotel or airbnb for all or some of your stay, rather than just sleeping on the air mattress. Make your own plans rather than just warming the couch your whole stay. Meet up with a friend or two if anyone is in the area. Photo from Airbnb listing in South Philly
  • Have your own mini-Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving – Being away on Thanksgiving is no reason to miss out on cooking it. Make your own mini-feast for your spouse or roommates! As I mentioned above, No Kid Hungry has an awesome Friendsgiving fundraising campaign to consider if you are interested in hosting your own fundraising event. You invite friends to come celebrate at your home, and they’re able to make a donation towards ending child hunger in America. Friends photo from Pinterest; Friendsgiving photo from Notes From a Messy Kitchen
  • Bring local food, drink, or gifts for your host – Stop by your favorite local shops and pick up some treats with them in mind. A great way to support local businesses and thank your host for their hospitality. Gift basket photo from Pinterest

How do you celebrate your Thanksgiving? Any memorable or cherished traditions in your family? DJ and I would love to hear about your experience! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts with us!

Warm wishes,

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    Thanksgiving 2016 - Thrive or Survive
    November 30, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    […] brainstorming Thanksgiving traditions, we decided to try out a few of our favorites. My sister and I made a thankful tree and cornucopia […]

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