This is a guest post from Lisa Yvonne, who blogs at Graceful Abandon, offering women encouragement and the resources they need to be equipped to live out a grace-filled faith, build up a grace-filled family, and create a grace-filled home. She and Duane parent eight amazing little people and three dogs. She loves snuggling her kids, enjoys reading, is passionate about writing, and dabbles in photography.

I can still remember waking up early on Thanksgiving morning to help my uncle stuff the turkey, and then eating sour cream coffee cake for breakfast while watching the start of the Macy’s Parade.


My grandmother would leave a tin of gingerbread boys for us and a note asking us to “dress” them, and my aunt would have richly colored cups of frosting out along with candies and sprinkles for us to spend the morning in decorating bliss.

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the entire year, because the traditions created by my aunt and uncle during my childhood captured my heart.

Why Are Traditions Important?

Traditions strengthen family ties, create emotional connections, and build anticipation.

We start planning Thanksgiving and anticipating our traditions about the same time we start back to school. Traditions generate excitement and security; they provide roots for our children.

As a mom of 8 kids whose husband works non-traditional hours, I’ve had to change up how we do things on the holidays to avoid overwhelm. It’s totally okay to start new traditions for a new season of life (like starting your own family, moving away from home, or a new schedule).

If you can’t do all the things your family did when you were a child, or your family doesn’t have traditions to carry-on you can still start your own! Pick things you enjoy, and do them over and over each year.

I’m sharing 5 fun thanksgiving tradition ideas with you that you can implement this year. Pick the one(s) you’ll enjoy the most and have fun with them. If they’re enjoyable this year, do them again next year. Sometimes it take a minute or two to find things that become traditions.

Related: 20 Memory Making Christmas Traditions to Start This Year

5 Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas to consider this year

1. The Thankful Jar

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. Truly, one of the reasons it’s such a beautiful day is that busy lives pause for a breath so that hearts can marvel with gratitude at the blessings they have received.

Not much makes my momma heart swell more than hearing my children express their joy in the blessings that flood their lives. One way to extend this beyond Thanksgiving is to have a Thankful Jar.

Grab a mason jar (we use a half gallon sized one because we’re a large family) and next to it have a basket with pencils and “thankful cards”. If you want to decorate around it with some branches and leaves to spruce it up, go right ahead!

You can use index card cut in half, scraps of paper, or the pretty thankful cards that Graceful Abandon has in their free resource library.

Leave this out and let people walk by and jot down anything they are thankful for.Then, gather together to read about all of the blessings your family has experienced.

There are two different ways we have implemented it before, but really the possibilities are limitless. The first is to put it out on the first day of fall and read them on Thanksgiving Day. The next is to start it on Thanksgiving and read it on New Year’s Eve or over breakfast New Year’s morning to start on a note of thanks.

2. Gratitude Note Place Cards

Another fun thanksgiving tradition idea is Gratitude Notes. When you set the table for dinner (or brunch), have a place card at each setting. In addition to each person’s name, include a reason you are thankful for that person.

If your children are older, you could even have them take part in adding to the lists for each person in advance. Try to keep the lists hidden so they are truly a surprise for each person on Thanksgiving.

This could be as simple as an index card, or you can use the PDF Printable in the resource library at Graceful Abandon. Just print them out on cardstock and you have decorated, ready made place cards; all you’ll have to do is personalize them.

This place card becomes a precious memento. I still have one my aunt did for me about twenty years ago! Children especially love to hear that we love them.

3. Decorate Gingerbread Cookies Together

This is my favorite memory from childhood and I try to do it annually with my kiddos. Gingerbread cookies last when refrigerated, so you can make them up ahead of time (you’ll need to, as they are time consuming) and pull them out to decorate. (Or to make it easier get a gingerbread house kit.)

In addition to being a fun activity while waiting for the turkey to cook, it’s also a time to laugh and chat and watch your kid’s creativity unfold right in front of you.

Take photos from year to year and watch the gloppy frosty messes of toddler-hood grow into talented works of art from your pre-teen.

4. Watch Holiday Movies

I know, I know, you’re probably laughing at me, but holiday movies are fabulous traditions! In our family, we watch Miracle on 34th Street every Thanksgiving afternoon and White Christmas is enjoyed that night with pumpkin pie, apple crisp, whipped cream, and hot cocoa.

We all sing along to “Sisters” and “White Christmas” and quote our favorite lines throughout. Again, we look forward to this all year long. This is more than just having family favorites that we watch during the holidays; these are annual traditions!

Other great movies are Charlie Brown’s Christmas, The Polar Express, The Santa Clause with Tim Allen, Frosty, Rudolph, A Christmas Carol, the Nutcracker, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Nativity Story, and Holiday Inn.

Pick one or two to enjoy on Thanksgiving Eve or Thanksgiving Night, or the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Make it an occasion with flavored cocoa and dessert or popcorn. They’ll look forward to it every year

5. Thanksgiving Tree

Consider bringing in a nice branch from outside and sticking it in a jar or anchoring it in a pot with some pinecones at its base. Cut out leaves and have everyone write a few things they are thankful for on the leaves and hang them up.

You could each do one leaf a day and watch your tree get more and more colorful, or  you could put them all on at once and take turns reading a few leaves each dinnertime throughout the month of November.

This is a great opportunity to talk about the beauty that gratitude adds wherever it is expressed. I’ve found my kids really like hands on activities like this, and that it makes the whole home that much more enjoyable!

Which Traditions Will You Start This Year?

Pause for a moment and think:

  • What is one thing everyone in our family enjoys doing together?
  • What is something we enjoyed last year and still talk about that we could repeat?
  • Which of these activities would enhance our holiday season?
  • What memories do we want to create with our children?
  • What can we fit in with joy, that doesn’t add stress to this busy time?

Once you answer these questions, you are well on your way to launching a new family tradition.

Don’t forget to head over to the free Resource Library at Graceful Abandon. Lisa Yvonne has Gratitude Place Cards, Thankful Jar templates, and Thanksgiving Tree leaves for you to print out and enjoy.

Remember, these Thanksgiving tradition ideas are a way for families to create deeper memories of joy and to build anticipation of time together heading into the holiday season. They can be as simple as a kiss under the mistletoe or as detailed as family vacation. These five ideas are easy ones you can start with this year!