Most of us already have our "ways" of doing Thanksgiving — ways our mother did it, ways our extended family did it, ways our neighborhood did it. Thanksgiving doesn't lend itself well to trying out new things, but sometimes the situation calls for new decisions — you can't make it home for Thanksgiving, for example, or you have kids now and want to start traditions of your own. So what can you do to heighten, deepen, and extend Thanksgiving to its most memorable end?
We dug through reader comments over the years and pulled out 10 Thanksgiving traditions worth stealing.
1. Start the day with an indulgent, relaxing breakfast.
While some people are firmly in the "no breakfast" camp to save room for the big meal later, we love the idea of starting the day in such a festive, delicious way! Pancakes, waffles, eggs, even pie — it's all good.
"We always go to an annual pie breakfast my mom's friend has at her lovely home! I made a golden raisin pie with a lattice crust this year."
"A little 'treat yo self' the morning of the big day is perfect. I usually make myself toasted croissants and scrambled eggs on Thanksgiving morning, but pumpkin pie is a really good idea. If you do a little googling around, there's a recipe for something called a "pumpkin pie breakfast bake" that's also a good option to scratch that pumpkin pie itch."
"Every year a friend hosts a Dude, Where's My Turkey? breakfast party. Everyone gathers around 9 a.m. to eat waffles and eggs and drink mimosas before caravanning to the New Orleans racetrack for the opening day races/celebration with everyone else in town. A ton of fun!"
2. Take time for yourself before time with family.
As wonderful as Thanksgiving can be, we all know it can be exhausting and overwhelming. That's why it's such a good idea to deliberately take a little time for yourself during the day to make sure you enjoy the holiday on your terms.
"My best friend and I started the tradition of an early nature walk with her children (twins) on Thanksgiving morning before we go to our family Thanksgivings. The twins were wheeled through the paths when they were one; they will be six this year. It's a healthy tradition that gives us wonderful memories each year."
"I have always helped my mom first thing in the morning to prep the bird and make the stuffing before going back home for coffee, breakfast, and the parade on in the background. My husband and I enjoy spending the lazy morning at our house before joining my sisters and their families at my mom's house. This year it will be all the more special given that we have a 9-month-old daughter to keep us company."
"My Thanksgiving morning ritual is to make myself a good, strong cup of black coffee and start making pumpkin pie. Pie baking is something that always grounds me and makes me feel relaxed. And whether I'm making the entire feast or just dessert, it's something I need to make it really Thanksgiving. Once I have pie going, I know everything else will be just fine. Breakfast proper happens once I have pie in the oven."
3. Remember loved ones who have passed.
Holidays can be bittersweet when beloved family members or friends are missing from the gathering. This "circle of love" is a lovely way to honor their memory.
"The most important part of Thanksgiving for my family is what we call the Circle of Love. We hold hands in a 'circle' of sorts (we usually have about 50 people so we're really winding through several rooms) and say a prayer. We remember family members who have passed on and anyone can chime in with a prayer or thanks."
4. Write your thanks on a butcher paper tablecloth.
We love the practice during the Thanksgiving meal of naming things you're thankful for, and this is a unique way to do it — especially since you can tear off and save particularly meaningful memories.
"My family covers the table with butcher paper. During the meal, pens are distributed and each family member writes down a few things they're thankful for on the paper. We then go around reading our gratitudes. It's fun to keep the scribbles, or sometimes we just take pictures of the pieces of paper."
5. Let everyone toast!
Another way to make gratitude gushing even more festive is to let everyone make a toast. Raise your glass to the year, to your family, to your friends!
6. Have the kids serve dessert.
We know how much toddlers love to help, but bigger kids can get in on the action, too! Put them in charge of serving dessert and coffee after the meal.
"We kids always had to help with dessert! We didn't make it, but we did cut the pie, plate it, scoop the ice cream or whipped cream, and serve coffee. It was fun to "take orders" for dessert (which kind of pie, ice cream or whipped cream, coffee or tea) and it definitely kept us kids busy after dinner while the adults talked. As the oldest, I plated and poured, and the younger kids served."
7. Have Thanksgiving dinner for dinner.
Most people eat Thanksgiving in the early afternoon (here's why), but that is not a hard-and-fast rule. Why not make Thanksgiving dinner just that — a dinner? As this reader says, it slows the day down and makes the morning and afternoon much more enjoyable.
8. Take a long walk together after dinner.
No one is ready for dessert right after dinner anyway, so why not take that time to go on a long walk with your loved ones? Enjoy the (hopefully) cool, crispy autumn weather and get the blood flowing again after all that rich food.
"After dinner, we all go on a walk together (we used to go on a hay ride when my parents had a tractor) and then have hot cider and dessert when we return."
"One tradition we have — which might not work if you're socked in a blizzard, of course — is after dinner, once the food's put away, we all go take a nice, long walk. Then when we get back, we do dessert."
"We've been known to take post-dinner walks (glass of wine in hand) to say hello to the neighbors and just enjoy the weather if it is nice."
9. If it's just two of you, really treat yourselves.
It can be hard to justify making a huge Thanksgiving meal when it's just two of you, but that doesn't mean it has to be any less special, or even any less of a treat. In fact, it should be more so. Embrace the opportunity.
"My fiancé and I have celebrated Thanksgiving just the two of us for three of the last four years. We both love to cook and bake, so we've taken it as an opportunity to treat ourselves and make a very traditional meal. For us, it has been a great opportunity to spend time together and build traditions that will be for us, instead of trying to fit into each other's family traditions. We try to make it special by treating ourselves to nicer ingredients and better wine than we would normally use if we were cooking for six to 10 people (this year we'll have two bottles of beer that we've been aging). But what's really special for us is that we get to spend the entire day together doing something we love with no work or friends expecting our attention."
10. Stay connected with family members far away.
If you're not close to your loved ones during Thanksgiving, thankfully you can still be together — just virtually! Do a video call before dinner, or Facetime family members in for the giving-thanks portion of the evening. Make it an annual thing.
"Why not start a tradition of a Google Hangout (or any conference) with any loved ones who can't be present at the big family dinner? Coordinate your mealtimes if possible, say grace together, share thankfulness, etc. We have so many options today to create a sense of togetherness!"
What are your Thanksgiving day traditions? What traditions have you kept from your own upbringing? What are your new traditions?