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5 Simple Thanksgiving Traditions To Start With Your Family


The iconic Thanksgiving holiday brings us extended family visits, the smell of roasting turkey, and the awkward silence when someone breaks the unspoken vow of silence regarding politics, religion, or the latest social concern of the day.

Thanksgiving with my family didn’t quite fit this recipe. We didn’t have a home filled with distant relatives. We didn’t watch football or the Macy’s parade. My mom didn’t roast a turkey, and for many years we didn’t even eat at home. For more than a decade, we enjoyed our Thanksgiving at an Italian restaurant that served a delicious holiday meal, complete with the traditional turkey, potatoes, dressing, and pumpkin pie along with less traditional fare of lasagna, made-to-order pasta, and cannoli.

We would eat and eat some more, and laugh and have a handful of awkward silences, though tempered by a pricey and thoroughly tasty cocktail. Then we’d all trudge along the sidewalks of the shopping district braving the winter chill to get our annual “picture at the pig”—a family picture with a large statue of a bronze boar.

The picture at the pig saw many configurations of family members. Some years we had all us kids. Others included various significant others. Later, the pictures featured spouses and our firstborn. Occasionally one of us kids would be missing, unable to make the trip home. Then there was the year my mom stood alone by the pig, because none of us could make it. Then the restaurant closed its doors, marking the final nail in the coffin for our beloved family tradition.

Such is the way of things, I suppose. Kids get older, move away, get married, have kids, and have to create their own family traditions. This can be harder than one would expect. When kids are young, it’s easy for plans to go undone or just go awry. Our best efforts to establish routine don’t always go smoothly, especially if you have recently moved, and we may be left wondering what to do now. Here are five fresh ideas to help you and yours create new and lasting holiday traditions.

1. Serve the Hungry

Living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world is a blessing none of us should take for granted. While many of us may be gorging on turkey and nibbling—or freezing—the leftovers, many won’t have a warm home and meal for the holiday. Find a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or food pantry in your area that could use your hands, feet, or donations.

2. Visit the Lonely

We often moan and groan and write articles about how to suffer family who hold different views and opinions, but for the elderly loneliness and social isolation can negatively affect their health and well-being. Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, contact local assisted-living facilities, nursing facilities, or other senior living centers in your area, and see what their visitor policy is and if your family could help brighten the day of some of their residents in any way. Reach out to those in your neighborhood. Ask your pastor if any members of your congregation might benefit from a visit from a fellow parishioner, or an invite to another family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

3. Cheer Those Who Don’t Get the Day Off

Not everyone gets the day off to sleep in, lay around in pajamas all day, and fall asleep on the couch with a turkey coma. Some vocations must be done 24/7, regardless of the calendar date, and it can be hard to miss out on quality family time.

While they will no doubt be busy on the holiday, it can bring some cheer into such folks’ day to simply stop by to express thanks for all they do. Stop by the local hospital (especially the emergency room), the fire station, and the police department and bring them some cookies, pie, coffee, or anything else that might brighten their day.

4. Make It a Family Game Night

My family loves movies. We might watch a few too many, so we do like to watch a holiday-themed flick for part of the day, with “Free Birds” the standard Thanksgiving showing in our home. Perhaps watching football and screaming at the TV with the family is your go-to.

Regardless, I highly recommend limiting screen time on this day. Put the phones away. Turn off the TV. Bust out the cards and the board games. Go old-school with timeless favorites like Clue, Sorry, and Monopoly. Or create some laughs with newer games like Apples to Apples (their junior version is great for including the kids!), Pie Face, or Speak Out. The latter also lends itself to perfect pictures to show future sons- and daughters-in-law.

5. Go to Church

Thanksgiving Day as a national religious festival observed on the same day throughout the [United States] dates from 1863.” Churches often offer special midweek services of thanksgiving either on the day of or the day before the holiday. There is no better way to give thanks for the blessings God bestows than to take your family to hear his word and receive his supper. More than turkey, pie, or even time with family, feasting on Christ’s word, body, and blood, and spending time with your family in Christ is the greatest tradition you could adopt.

There are so many other ideas you could consider, but I hope these will help you contemplate ways your family can spend the day together in meaningful ways. The traditions of our youth may not be able to be resurrected from our past, but we can cherish those memories while building our own traditions for the future.