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7 Ways to Start Your Own Thanksgiving Traditions

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I’m a big sap when it comes to birthdays and holidays and special occasions, especially now that I have kids. It’s why I make my twins the same banana cupcakes every year for their birthday, why I insist on photo-documenting their first everything, and why we must go to the same pumpkin patch every October and share a slice of pumpkin pie for lunch. Growing up, every holiday seemed to have its own traditions — familiar, comforting rituals that became warm, fuzzy memories. Now that my boys are 3, I think they’re going to start remembering our celebrations even more. So I want to resurrect some old traditions of ours, and create a few new ones as well. This year, we’re hosting Thanksgiving at our house, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to make it really special for everyone. These are some ideas I have (feel free to steal them):

1. Force your kids to wear funny accessories. Two years ago, my sister-in-law gave the toddlers these hilarious turkey hats made out of felt. Back then, our kids weren’t too psyched about having these weird things on their heads, but last year, they wore them with pride. I’m hoping to continue in the tradition this year, maybe with a turkey leg headband for my niece or Pilgrim collar bib for my baby nephew. We only have a couple more years until they catch on to the humiliation, so we might as well enjoy it while we can.

2. Serve a signature Thanksgiving dish. My husband is incredibly helpful around the house, but he does not cook. Like ever. Still, every year, he whips up these heavenly sweet potatoes, loaded with sugar, covered in marshmallows. It’s more like dessert than a side dish, but it’s so good that even yam haters go back for seconds. There’s a pride he takes in his now-famous dish, and it’s something the whole family can look forward to year after year. I always get excited about my Dad’s chocolate pecan pie, my aunt’s deep-fried turkey, and the sausage stuffing I only make for Thanksgiving.

3. Create your own “thankful for” tradition. I know many families go around the table and say what they’re thankful for. Although everyone knows it’s coming, you still always feel a little put on the spot. So mix it up a bit by emailing your family in advance with a more out-of-the-box question, like “What’s your favorite thing about Thanksgiving?” or “Name one family member you admire and why?” They’ll have at least a week or two to think about it, which could yield some really fun responses.

4. Have a charitable tradition. Thanksgiving is a time that we all give thanks for what we have. So it’s important to also remember those who are not as fortunate. When I was single and living in NYC, it was hard for me to get home to LA for Thanksgiving. Since I couldn’t spend the day with my family, I instead volunteered at a soup kitchen, serving food, bussing tables, and making conversation with the homeless families who came in for a hot Thanksgiving meal. I can’t tell you how rewarding it was, and certainly helped me get over any woe-is-me blues I had over being far from home. If you have the time, you can volunteer as a family, or teach your kids about giving back by bringing food to a local shelter or donating old toys and clothes.

5. Play games. If you have one of those families that spends the entire day together, you might be looking for ways to mix things up. I know with my family, some people will be helping in the kitchen, while others are just sitting around watching football. Instead, bring everyone together with an old-fashioned board game or party game, whether it’s Scrabble, Monopoly, or charades. It’s a way to build memories, rather than let everyone retreat into their TV-watching or their iPads. 
 
6. Ask the kids to put on a show. When I was growing up, my brother and I would always disappear after dinner to create a little skit or write a Thanksgiving rap song or choreograph some dance routine. (To be fair, I’m not sure my brother was a willing participant). It was all totally cheesy, but we loved having the opportunity to perform for our family, and the adults seemed to get a kick out of it. It also gives the kids something to do after dinner while the grownups relax…and maybe unbutton their pants. 

7. Start a next-day celebration. I know many people are just relieved when Thanksgiving is finally over, but I always feel a little bit of a buzz kill. I guess I’m lucky that I like my family so much. So for those who feel bummed out, it’s always nice to have something to look forward to the next day. When I was a kid, we used to spend Fridays just lounging around at my Dad’s house. My stepmom would make these turkey sandwiches which were just perfect in their white bread, salt-and-pepper simplicity. We would follow it up with that pecan pie I mentioned, which we kept in the freezer so it was more like a candy bar. You could stick to lazy Friday traditions, or create a whole new event, like a potato pancake breakfast or leftovers potluck with friends. That way, you get to stretch your delicious Thanksgiving festivities even further. 

*This post is sponsored by Mott’s.