Traditions of Gratitude

[Update: This post was meant to include a lot more about my family’s Thanksgiving – pictures of the cooking process, pictures of the spread on the table, I had even planned a cute outfit for once! But a last-minute exposure to The Virus and a will-it, won’t-it moment regarding our family dinner has made my week absolutely wild. Bear with me as I get this blog organized as best I can last minute. Right now I am just grateful that we are all virus-free and able to be with each other in these wild times.]

What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Is it turkey? Stuffing? Pie?

Do your families have any special Thanksgiving traditions? Do your family members fight over who gets the wishbone? Do you go around the table sharing what you’re thankful for this holiday season? Do you play football out back with Uncle Bill?

Everyone has some sort of tradition, especially around the holiday season. Maybe it’s a tradition your family has followed for decades. Maybe it’s a hybrid of two different families’ traditions to celebrate a new family. But I always enjoy the idea of adding in new traditions with the old, especially the years when new members join the family or when it’s your first holiday on your own.

My family’s Thanksgivings have been fairly standard for about as long as I can remember, with the only real changes being moving house and the guest count fluctuating over the years.

The typical Thanksgiving fare for my family includes the star of the evening – the turkey (which my family has been naming silly names since before I can remember), ham (naming optional), mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, and corn casserole, and the much fought over King’s Hawaiian rolls.

  • Mom starts on the turkey first thing in the morning, getting it in the oven early enough to give us time to straighten up the house and prep the kitchen for the rest of the meal before guests start showing up.
  • Once everything is ready to go, we all take our turns keeping an eye on the food while the others get dressed.
  • Guests show up around noon, which is when the grazing on snacks and appetizers begins. We use this time to warm up any of the side dishes and make sure the correct amount of settings are on the table.
  • Dad takes the lead when we sit down to eat, saying a blessing over the meal. Then we dig in!
  • Once we’re full (or sometimes over-full), we clear the table and start cleaning up. Maybe put on a pot of coffee to keep everyone warm.
  • Turkey coma usually hits at about this point and some of my family may end up sprawled on the couches, snoring optional.
  • If we’re particularly lucky, we get a good family photo in before folks get too drowsy. This usually becomes the annual Christmas card picture.
  • At the end of the evening, family members are sent home with containers of leftovers and we spend the evening relaxing before Christmas season begins. We’ve never really been a Black Friday family and, in the years that I’ve been doing my own Christmas shopping, I usually make it a point to shop small businesses when I can – which often means I’ve finished all my shopping before Thanksgiving even happens. What about your shopping habits – yes to Black Friday? Or would you rather stay home and digest?

Sometimes Thanksgiving involves Beau being a mooching moocher


So, now that you know how my Thanksgivings tend to be, let’s talk traditions.

Aside from loved ones and food, my family has never really been into the other typical American Thanksgiving traditions. We don’t much care for football, so we neither watch nor play. We’ve never watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We don’t do turkey trots.

So I’m pledging to start some new traditions for my family this year and I hope that you might see some of these ideas and join me – or, better yet, come up with your own ideas and share them in the comments below!

My New Thanksgiving Traditions

Write down one thing I’m thankful for each month and keep each gratitude note in a jar with the other Thanksgiving guests’ notes, then share those notes at the beginning of the next year’s feast. I think this variation on the “share what you’re grateful for” tradition is nice because it gives a better view of the past year than an on-the-spot answer from a hungry family member.

Invite someone who isn’t able to be with their family to dinner. Be it a coworker, a fellow student, a friend, or a neighbor – share the reason for the season with others. I’ve seen versions of this tradition where a family might “adopt” a military servicemember who is unable to be with their family for the holiday and share their meal with this young stranger. This idea is one I’ve wanted to share with my family for a while, but I feel it’s probably best to keep this one in my pocket for better days.

Commemorate. This might be more appropriate to save for if I ever have my own kids. I imagine iterations of this might be a butcher paper table runner with the children’s scribbled messages of gratitude, or a plain tablecloth with the children’s handprints marked in paint each year. The keepsake of having a record of how your children have grown and changed is what I think makes this really special.

Share a homemade dessert with neighbors. If you know that your neighbors will be in town and you are certain you won’t be breaking any dietary restrictions, the idea of sharing a homemade dessert with a neighbor is a beautiful gesture of friendship to me. And you never know, you may start a neighborhood trend of dessert swapping!

Volunteer. I know what you’re thinking – “Thanksgiving is when everyone wants to volunteer, charities and soup kitchens will be overrun with volunteers!” But I believe that the proper way to honor the spirit of sharing with others is to volunteer throughout the year. You can keep a journal of your experiences to share at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or you can share it during your “share what you’re grateful for” toast – all that matters is that you get out there and do what is in your power to do to make someone’s day a little better.

Donate. This is a counterpart to the previous point. If donating money or goods is more in line with what you can do for your community, more power to you. Take stock of your pantry and check those expiration dates. Some food banks will accept expired food and find the proper use for it. Score! If the weather is getting cold and you realize that last year’s coats aren’t quite the right size, research what organizations in your area accept donated clothing. No matter what you donate, take pride in the good deed and share it with your loved ones.

Share. What better way to celebrate family and gratitude than taking the time to share with your family! Maybe you spend some time with Aunt Sharon learning how to make her trifle, or maybe you ask Grandpa Jones about what it was like for him growing up. Use the holiday season to collect your family’s history – the memories, the photos, and the recipes would make a wonderful scrapbook for generations to come. Add more to it each year so that you never lose any history.

Those are my ideas for new (to me) traditions that I hope to bring to my family for next Thanksgiving.

What do you think? Are any of these traditions something you might start doing with your loved ones? Or do you already do these? Have you heard of any other Thanksgiving traditions that you might like?

Share your thoughts below, I’d love to hear back.


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