Some families have lots of Thanksgiving traditions, and others have very few. Some are families of blood relatives, and others are families of the heart–friends who gather together to celebrate the day. But no matter the type of family of which you are a part, you may find that you can enhance the holiday for everyone by instituting a few new traditions for your clan. Here are some Thanksgiving traditions to try on for size and see if your family enjoys them:
- Start a “Welcome Policy”Implement an “Welcome Policy,” so family members can bring guests, within reason, to the family gathering. By establishing such a policy, you can enrich your Thanksgiving celebration richer and provide hospitality to many who would have otherwise been alone. You might contact your local college or seminary to see if they have foreign students who might enjoy sharing the day with your family.
- Serve Others First―If your family or friends do not have your Thanksgiving meal at the same time as your community’s Thanksgiving meal for the homeless, consider going to volunteer. You can serve others, enjoy working with your loved ones and still enjoy your meal together at home. You might also consider preparing Thanksgiving take-out from your family’s feast to take to shut-ins or neighbors who are alone.
- Bring Gifts for the Local Food Bank―If you have a large family gathering each year, ask each person to bring a donation for the local food bank. You can choose to bring a can or an entire grocery-bag donation. While it’s a simple tradition, you bring family attention to those that may not have the same opportunity to eat such a delicious and filling dinner.
- Make a Thanksgiving Tablecloth/Runner―Buy or make a plain light-colored tablecloth or runner. After dinner, each family member uses a permanent marker to write one thing for which he/she is thankful during the year on the cloth. Make sure everyone dates their comment. Use the cloth every year, and continue to add comments. Going back through the years and seeing what family members wrote makes this a visual memory.
- Put Family Photos on Parade―Ask each family unit coming to dinner to bring photos of their immediate family in labeled envelopes, to prevent confusion, to share with the other family units. These photos of aunts, uncles, cousins and more will go home with each family and can become everyday reminders of family connections when displayed on refrigerators or mantels.
Use family photos in your decorating—in frames, inserted in glass vases, on picks in your centerpieces or scattered on the table. People love to look at photos which are always appealing decorative items. Photos are also great conversation starters at the dinner table.
Thanksgiving Day is also a perfect time to display old photos of relatives no longer with you and of ancestors to keep their memories alive. Mount a line across your mantel or around the room, and clip on the family photos at eye level so everyone can see them. Attach a sticky note label of who is in each picture so everyone can learn their identities, and share stories to bond your family “presents” to your pasts.
Another option is to ask computer-savvy family members to create a slide presentation showing family relationships and photos. This is a good way to involve younger family members in the day. This presentation will be great entertainment for everyone after your meal together.
- Draw Names for Chores―If you have a large family gathering, it’s only equitable to share the work load. If certain family members spend all day cooking, it’s only appropriate that others help with setting the table, clearing the table, and doing dishes. The names of everyone in attendance are put in a hat and are randomly drawn for each assigned task. With family members of both genders lined up to set the tables, to clear, to load the dishwasher, to wash dishes, to dry dishes, to wipe up the counters and to sweep, everyone shares in the experience of putting on the annual event and has fun working together.
- Say a Thanksgiving Blessing―Family members of all ages can take turns saying the annual Thanksgiving meal blessing. Select the person who will say the prayer at the dinner the year before. Try to encourage everyone to take this responsibility very seriously and to prepare a special prayer in advance. The designated person can memorize the prayer, use note cards or just do an impromptu prayer. Shy family members might be paired with someone else to share the duty—one could write the blessing and the other could deliver it, or they could both do the honors. The prayer can also be copied on your computer printer to be read together in unison.
- Hold Family History Lessons―Thanksgiving gatherings are in essence family reunions, so there is no better time for the older family members to share family history with the younger ones. You can find blank family trees to print out on the Internet and help the children fill them in with the names of their ancestors. It is important for families—adults and children—to know more about where they came from and about the interesting ancestors and stories of their lives. Family tree templates can be found here.
- Take an Annual Family Photo―When the whole family is together and dressed for the holiday, this might be the perfect time to take an annual family photo. The portraits, in addition to being usable in upcoming Christmas cards, can be framed or displayed in an album for enjoyment in the coming years. Formal poses are great, but try some fun photos, too–have the Thanksgiving turkey in the picture, a few cheerleader-like poses (pyramids and the like with the younger family members) and one with holiday costumes. Discussing the possible poses during dinner will encourage lively conversations.
- Give Turkey Day Awards―For fun and fellowship, ask each family member for his/her nominations, and be sure everyone gets an award. Create a nominations sheet on your computer with some standard categories and blank lines for creative additions–for example, “best haircut of the year” or “toughest survivor of a home renovation.” Have several family members gather all the nominations and prepare the award certificates which have been created on your computer. Gather everyone to have the annual awards ceremony—you might even want to add musical fanfares to emphasize each presentation!