What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

November 22 |
Death by Variety © by lowjumpingfrog, used under Creative Commons license.

Offbeat Home reader Kyle wants to pick our brains about the things we do at Thanksgiving to force our families to interact in meaningful ways. Or maybe just force us to interact — my family Thanksgivings often include a lot of napping.

My husband and I just recently moved closer to our families and we were thinking it would be fun to start some new traditions at our now expanded Thanksgiving table. What sort of quirky, offbeat Thanksgiving traditions do you have?

While we were living overseas, we started a tradition with our friends: Talk goes around the table and each person shares their first world problems. Silly stuff like, "Well this year I didn't get a Shamrock Shake at McDonald's and now I have to wait until March for another chance." The sillier and more aggrandized the better. We helped each other remember that even though our jobs and being so far away from home may stress us out, we still have the good life — but without it turning into sappy sermons about what we're thankful for.

Even if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, hopefully you'll find our reader's answers helpful at some momentous occasion — and I'm sure you you've got traditions of your own to share!

  1. We always go around the table and say what we're thankful for (AWWWW.)
    To honor my late grandmother, we always make a Jello mold. She made them for every holiday get-together and NO ONE ATE THEM. She passed just before I was born, so it's a tradition I hold very near and dear. It's a moment for my aunt, my mom and I to sit and relax after the hubub of the meal, like we might if she were around to enjoy it with us. We all have a bite of the Jello mold and remember her. I've lived my life with so many stories about her that I feel like I know her.

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    • JELLO MOLDS. My family's version is lime Jello, cottage cheese, and canned pineapple. It's an acquired taste. Lately the Jello hasn't made an appearance (maybe everyone realized it wasn't that good) but for many years it was a staple at every holiday.

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      • Colleen, prepare your eyes:
        12 Terrifying Jello Recipes.
        Now, I'm not here to say that none of these are delicious (?) but I am here to say that the presentation of a Jello mold can be truly terrifying.

        Also, I freakin' love cottage cheese and jello, jello and pineapple, as well as cottage cheese and pineapple. It never occurred to me to mix these three!
        BEWARE JELLO MAKERS–Pineapple is chemically designed to burn holes through your Jello and melt that mold. Combine only when ready to devour. ;)

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        • I have a Jello tradition too! Every year my aunt would make raspberry Jello in a mold filled with strawberries and whipped cream, and tell us how it was my cousin's favorite recipe. At the time he was working for a company that moved him around the world, so he was never home. Finally he made it for Thanksgiving one year, and it turned out he never remembered eating that particular recipe. "Well, it's okay, I guess…" So now the big joke is how it's NOT Eric's favorite recipe after all.

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        • Oh my… who knew there were so many ways to combine meat and Jello?!

          I didn't know pineapple would melt a Jello mold. We always mixed the pineapple right into the Jello and then set it in the plastic mold. I do know, however, that fresh pineapple (also oranges, kiwi, and I'm sure many other fruits) will keep Jello from setting. You've gotta used canned.

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        • My family always did cherry jello and canned pineapple. I'm pretty sure the jello was just poured into the can and set like that. It was super tasty, but I have to say, all the "with cottage cheese" or "with cream cheese" variations are kinda freaking me out. Especially after those terrifying jello molds. I just… Don't get them…

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      • we use cream cheese instead of cottage cheese and also add in some marachino cherries. it's my favorite thing to eat with Thanksgiving and also for breakfast the next day (it has fruit so it's healthy…)

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        • We use evaporated milk instead of the water with apricot jello. It gives it a wierd flesh-toned color, but is consistently a family staple.

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      • My Grandma always made this^ and we called it green slime. Interestingly, much like the previous poster's family nobody liked to eat it but we all did so as not to offend her. She taught me how to make it when she knew she was going to pass away soon and I still sometimes make it to remember her.

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    • I once read that jell-o molds can be hooked up to a medical scanner and give results in the same range as the human brain . . . I could never feel quite comfortable eating them after that.

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    • Believe it or not, the weird jello dish is actually my favorite dessert. The hard part is getting people to try it. Ours is orange jello with apricots and a whipped cream mixture, topped with…shredded cheddar cheese. Yes, really. It is so delicious, I can't even. I look forward to it more than the pumpkin pie.

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  2. My family has this little basket of dried corn kernels. My aunt is the keeper of it and she pulls it out each Thanksgiving. Everyone around the table takes a kernel and then we pass around the basket, say something we're thankful for, and plop our kernel in the basket.

    What makes it silly and slightly gross is that we've been using the same corn kernels as long as anyone can remember… probably at least a couple of decades. I think swapping in new ones would create a mutiny.

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  3. We actually started a new one for our families a little before Thanksgiving, we get pies from Village Inn, everyone get's their favorite and then we share slices of our favorites on Thanksgiving. It may sound a little odd but it ensures that there is at least one part of the meal that is conflict free.

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  4. It's not very sentimental, but it certainly gets us interacting with one another: after Thanksgiving dinner (always hosted by my cousin and his partner) our family gathering devolves into a Rock Band marathon. My mother sings a mean version of Maxwell's Silver Hammer.

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    • A few family members have Wiis and we usually set one up at holidays. It's fun and interactive for all generations and we have a blast. My parents never bought us video games as kids so I think it's so funny that after my husband and I got a Wii (wedding present!) they bought one, too–mostly to play at family gatherings.

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    • Even though most of us are "grown-up," it just doesn't feel like the holidays without a few rounds of Halo with my siblings and stepdad : ) This is the family that used MarioKart battles to solve conflicts growing up.

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  5. My family takes a walk.

    It doesn't sound like much but after gourging ourselves on not only turkey but pierogies, cabbage rolls, and infamous green jello, no one wants to walk except my mother.

    And so she came up with an genius/evil way to guarantee that the entire family would walk together. She took control of the pie.
    No walkies. No pie.

    Now that we're all adults we actually do look foward to the walk a little. It's crisp outside and helps settle the food to create room for the pie.

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    • My family used to do this, too! It reminds me that husband and I should re-start this family tradition, only with our dogs. Thanks!

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    • My family does walks too, but usually before the big dinner, while the turkey is in the oven. We also often go see a movie during the turkey cooking time.

      Thanksgiving is my brother and my aunt's birthday, so it's basically a birthday party.

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      • Yup, in our dinner, the walk happens before dinner. I suspect maybe it evolved as a way to keep us littles (when we were little) from asking every ten seconds when dinner was. But it's still nice, you go out for a walk, and when you come back, it's time to start reheating sides and making last minute sides and the turkey is mostly done.

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  6. When my younger brother was very little, he wanted to help with the Thanksgiving meal. His job was to make the Rice Krispies treats…but he did it with a twist. He sculpted the batch into the shape of a turkey! Ever since, we've been sure to have Rice Krispies treats, sometimes sculpted and sometimes not…but they're always there!

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  7. We play trivial pursuit every year in the evening. For some reason it is always hilarious! We usually declare a "dumb team" at the beginning of the game because we are jerks, but you'd be surprised how often they win. Pictionary is always a good time too. We try playing other games sometimes but it always comes back to Trivia, drinking beer, and insulting one another's intelligence :)

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    • Games are a big tradition with my family at just about every holiday. All my uncles are/were in the military so I learned how to play cribbage, spades, and euchre at a very young age. One would think that naturally, since I'm a girl, I'd sit around in the kitchen with my mom and aunts and lady cousins to be Chatty Cathies over coffee, but that's never been my style. After dinner it's usually off to the basement to play cards with the guys. We tend to get a bit mean too, but that's half the fun of it. On no other occasion would it be appropriate to call my brother a sandbaggingsonuvabitch :)

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    • Instead of a game, my family does puzzles. My mom finds the most interesting jigsaw puzzles that she can find, and from now until New Years, there will be a puzzle out on a special board for people to work on.

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  8. My mom's side of the family does seasonal birthday parties; all the birthdays from each season are celebrated together. Makes it easier! Thanksgiving dinner was usually combined with the Fall birthday celebration, which is probably why it's my favorite holiday, since my birthday is Nov 27! Pumpkin pie with candles = best birthday "cake" ever.

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    • Mine too! I'm Canadian so I was always grateful not to have to share my birthday with Thanksgiving but I can see the appeal.

      I had a turkey beanie baby when I was a kid and it's birthday was November 27. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

      Sorry to derail this thread – just wanted to say Happy Birthday on Sunday. Cheers!

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  9. This year I'm going to my first thanksgiving ever.
    We live in Edinburgh and the lovely American girl friend of my Nephew-in-law (yes I made that family title up, but it sounds better than my partner's, sister's, son's girlfriend!)has decided to show us Scottish folk what a proper Thanksgiving dinner is like. I'm looking forward to it!

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  10. We have cards for each person on a table and over the course of the day you go and write in what you are thankful for about each person in their card. They're great mementos and create lots of warm fuzzies. It might be dangerous if there is someone in your family people are all that thankful for though. :(

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  11. We used to have a tradition of watching Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    Now that we have little kids around we play bingo or other games. more traditional, but still fun!

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  12. This will be my third year not doing a ton for Thanksgiving since we host Market Day's Black Friday sale the next day.

    BUT. I just made a GCal appointment for my husband, housemate and I to get soused and watch the Macy's parade on Thursday morning.

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  13. I think celebrating it at all is pretty offbeat for us, considering we're both British and aside from one 9 month period when I was in the States (which did include Thanksgiving) have lived in the UK our entire lives.

    Oddly enough it was my husband who insisted on it. We have a lot of American friends and I think he felt left out when everyone was talking about it on Facebook. (We like to tell some of them, jokingly of course, that we're thankful their ancestors buggered off so they're a safe distance away.)

    Because it's just the two of us it's pretty low key – basically a small roast dinner (we do turkey breasts) and sweet potato pie for dessert. Then we get a bit tipsy and play video games. This year it might be the Ankh-Morpork board game instead, we just got it and we're hooked.

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    • If you have anything interesting to share — a good perspective on being a Brit celebrating a very American holiday, or just something fun you did, or a DIY — I'd love to read a post. It may not go up till next Thanksgiving, but still.

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    • How did I not know that game existed!?!?!? Great, now I have to buy it, and make a 150-mile trip to see the friends I know will play it with me. :-P

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      • It's a brilliant game. It's like the best bits of Monopoly and Magic the Gathering combined, with a Discworld twist. And strangely addictive too. I think we played it 5 times in the first 2 days we had it.

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  14. Even though we've been together for 3 years, this year is the first thanksgiving that my Mister and I get to actually celebrate. Last year he was 7,000 miles away, and the year before we hadn't yet accepted how serious we were getting so we went to our own families for the holiday.

    He wanted to plan dinner all by himself, so I'm eager to find out. He refuses to let me suggest anything I like, but I made a Thanksgiving-style dinner on his leave so he has an idea, I hope. He suggested that I should be decorating for Christmas while he cooks. So that's my plan. It's just the two of us this year, so it'll be extra special.

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  15. One year when my son was small, we thought up our own fun pilgrim or indian names. We made construction paper hats and wrote the names on them. Some of our favorites were: Goody Whimper and Walks with Pies.

    Have fun!

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  16. mine is simple, if I don't make pumpkin cheesecake I'm not invited. ;)
    The new husband and I want to start making paper turkeys every year starting this year so it's nice and solid by the time we have kids and it's our first Thanksgiving or any holiday as married. Cheese alert. ;)

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  17. I have a very large family. Half of the family used to always go to a movie after dinner and the other have used to always bitch about how going to the theater was a terrible idea because no one got to talk and be "family-like" in a dark theater. Actually… the majority of talking that we did do was just complaining about another family member. It's become tradition.

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  18. My family of course has game night.

    We also have our own Jello concoction…it is called Sunshine Salad. It consists of Lemon Jello, Shredded Carrots and Pineapple.

    However, my favorite tradition is "practice christmas." Where my step-grandma gives the kids a Christmas Ornament that reminds her of the child/grandchild. Those are the most meaningful ornaments I have received, and I display them year-round.

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  19. Last year I reached out to my fella's family to see if they had any family traditions or treats that I could make for him while he spent Thanksgiving with my family. We are in California and his whole family is in Kentucky.
    His mom sent me a recipe for a pumpkin roll which was a favorite dessert of his on Thanksgiving. It was such a hit with him AND my family that I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to make it for every holiday from now on forever! (They made me make 2 more on Christmas morning last year…or I wasn't invited ;p )

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  20. our tradition started three years ago…the day after thanksgiving my husband and i hosted a bunch of friends over for Friendsgiving. everyone brought a potluck dish and we were able to spend the evening over great food, wonderful company, and delicious drinks :)

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  21. My Father is English and we've taken an English Christmas Tradition – Christmas Crackers. They're not edible but rather like wrapped up tubes, you pop them open and each one contains a silly paper crown that you're supposed to wear during dinner, a little toy, and a really really bad joke.

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    • There was almost a mutiny at our house one Christmas because my stepmom forgot to buy these. Those jokes are my favorite!

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    • Am I the only person in the world who genuinely finds cracker jokes hilarious?

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      • I've never seen cracker jokes. But I'm positive I'm the only one that find popsicle stick jokes truly funny.

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    • OMG, do Americans not have these!?

      Crackers are amazing! Also, very easy to make for yourself with wrapping paper and toilet paper tubes, though it helps if you can buy the little bit of noise-making paper stuff, otherwise they don't "crack" when you pull them apart.

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      • Nope, we do not have these. Some of us know what they ARE based on our experiences with Harry Potter and Doctor Who…but I don't know any regular retail stores that sell them here.

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  22. The SO and I have subs, pie and mashed potatoes and relax all day playing video games or watching mythbusters. I much prefer this to my family's normally large gatherings – as much as I love them I can only do that once a year.

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  23. Thanksgiving is always at my mom's house, because Dad takes almost a whole day to smoke the turkey. Delicious! So it feels like Thanksgiving around the house for a whole day.

    Next day, when the more normal members of the family go for mainstream shopping, my brother, his girlfriend, my husband and I all escape for the black Friday sale at the nearby game and geekery store. It's a great escape for a couple of hours. We don't care about any of the other Black Friday stuff.

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  24. For as long as I can remember, we start Thanksgiving with those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls from a tube. We cut some in half or quarters and arrange on a baking sheet so they look like a turkey. (Same for Christmas, except the cinnamon rolls look like a tree or angel or something. There was a whole nativity one year – very impressive.)

    I'd kinda like to start a tradition like "Dan in Real Life" where the guys and girls each get a copy of the crossword puzzle and losers have to do dishes.

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  25. We have a few traditions. One is a walk at 10 in a local park. This gets every away from the kitchen for a few hours. And we walk rain or shine. We invite all our friends and their families, and have between 10 and 30 people every year. For one friend, this is the only time of the year I can COUNT on seeing her.

    Another is that I do a craft project with the kids every year. The first year it was turkey hats, as they've gotten older its become more sophisticated. As the aunt with no kids of my own, it gives the parents a break and is good bonding time for me.

    Finally, I make pomegranate martinis for the grown-ups. These are ALWAYS a hit!!

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  26. My family has hosted every single Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. All of my cousins and siblings were relegated to the end of the table when we were little because we were horribly disruptive and obnoxious… And we still are in our mid 20s! Every year my dad says a beautiful grace before the meal and our tradition as the kids is to crack up laughing throughout the whole thing. We still do to this day… Not the most mature tradition but as soon as everyone is seated we start giggling! Afterwards all the "kids" (the youngest being 22 now) still hike through the woods to the park behind my parent's house and stay there until dark. It makes it seem like we're all kids again… I hope we never get "too old" for this kind of tradition!

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  27. My friend and I watch David Bowie movies/David Bowie related TV shows every Thanksgiving. We started the tradition by accident – the first time our families had Thanksgiving together we watched Labyrinth, and we've just kept going ever since – Flight of the Concords, Venture Bros, The Man Who Fell to Earth – hopefully we won't run out!

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  28. We always listen to "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie on xpn.org or wxpn on our radio. They always play it right after noon on Thanksgiving. My mom always makes pumpkin pie with a gooseneck pumpkin and it's amazing. Other pies can't compare for me anymore. This year after hanging out with my mom I am going to my in-laws and I'm bringing my "famous" clafoutis, which sounds like a venereal disease, but is actually a french dessert. Maybe that will be a new tradition.

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  29. This is our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. We couldn't afford to fly home from South Carolina to California to be with family and couldn't really afford a major feast either, so we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving Charlie Brown style. Our meal was complete with toast, pretzel sticks, jellybeans and popcorn. We even used JiffyPop to make it slightly more authentic. And we finished it off with Strawberry sundaes. This probably won't become a tradition for us, but it was a fun and somewhat adorable way to start off our lifetime of holiday celebrations. :)

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  30. We have a non-tradition.

    My great aunt, the matriarch of the family used to make cherry pie. Nothing special, just your standard latice top cherry pie, but every year without fail, it was there. And then she got cancer and died.

    The next Thanksgiving was coming up and a cousin of mine asked, "Sooo…who's going to make the cherry pie?" And my other great aunt, the new matriarch looked up from her book and said with a hilariously dead serious face, "You'll never have cherry pie again."

    We all busted out laughing, but it's been ten years, and we still haven't had cherry pie. It's a bit of a nod to our Dear Aunt Lu.

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    • For some reason this is my favorite tradition posted on this whole page.

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  31. A fairly new tradition is a game of Apples to Apples (this goes especially well if everyone had a glass of wine with dinner, since this if my brother's first year drinking it was especially interesting!). An older tradition is a viewing, on the biggest screen possible, which has sometimes meant an actual projection screen, of The Wizard of Oz. We also go round and say what each is thankful for. The year my little sister's bf said he was thankful for meeting my sister and made a speech we knew he had it bad. A year later they were married. He is still getting razzed. An unofficial tradition is keeping the hell out of my mother's way while she cooks. Every year we feel bad we are not helping more, and every year we are shooed out if we dare approach the kitchen. Also, breakfast. Having a big breakfast hours and hours before the turkey means those who can't make it for dinner can still sit down with us for a feast.

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  32. This year was mine and my man's first thanksgiving together, just us. We've decided that two of the things we did need to stick around, since they were that awesome. We had a competitive Hand Turkey contest (including glitter, colored sharpies, feathers and felt), which we did while the turkey was cooking and then decorated the room with. It was a lot of fun. We also decided to use scrap booking paper as placemats, to try to make our table look more festive, and after dinner, we had a contest to see who could draw the best thing out of the spills and stains on their paper. This is actually a draw back to my old roommate and I's first thanksgiving.
    We also watched movies and I was given the go ahead to start decorating for Christmas, so we designed our Christmas card in the evening, which makes me excited since they'll be in the mail within a week and OMG ITS CHRISTMAS soon.

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  33. We also have a jello tradition, but it is one that actually tastes good! Orange jello, 6oz of frozen oj, some ginger ale and mandarian oranges. Always a big hit.
    This was the first year of my life where someone other than my mother hosted Thanksgiving. My brother did a great job. We always try to do the big meal as a shared thing: one aunt always does sweet potatoes, another does green beans etc. It helps take some of the load off the the main host which is nice.
    We used to always have a tradition of playing board games with all of the cousins and then going to the movies on Friday. However, that has sadly gone by the wayside now that Thanksgiving is a one day event instead of a long weekend like in the past, and because we've grown up and gotten married and have other family commitments. My husband's parents had a messy divorce when he was in elementary school so he doesn't really have traditions of his own. I'm hoping we can build lots of great memories and traditions together. Love the ideas everyone has shared.

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  34. My sister's birthday occasionally falls on Thanksgiving, so we do a pinata. We all stand outside and we blindfold and spin the person around and let them go to town. It's been a turkey for the past couple of years and It's great because 1)some family member will yell misleading things like "left! no, no! OTHER LEFT!" 2)my dad is excellent at hitting people with the pinata when they miss. 3) When it breaks we all dive and yell "Don't hit me!" 4) British brother-in-law thinks we've gone mad, drinks beer and laughs, then he gets a turn and misses.

    In conclusion, PINATAS ALL THE TIME.

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    • PINATAS ALL THE TIME indeed! I had one at my wedding :-D

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  35. I'm Irish, and don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but all this talk of freaky Jello dishes makes me think of that bit from Monty Python's Meaning of Life about 'The Salmon Mousse'…dum dum DUUUUMMMM!!! http://youtu.be/4tIg2nK67LQ

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    • I'm beginning to suspect that the freaky jello thing is a tradition started in like 1950's suburban America. I found my grandmother's mid-century recipe book, and it was full of clippings from newspapers and the backs of food cartons…and most recipes seemed to call for a lot of Jello and copious amounts of rice crispies cereal.

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  36. Ooh, this thread is great! My family doesn't do Jello, but we do all go around the table and say what we're thankful for. It's been hosted by my aunt and uncle for as long as I can remember, and they and my cousins are some of my favorite relatives, so I absolutely LOVE Thanksgiving. Some other things we do:

    1. Ever since I went away to college and traveled there separately from the rest of my family, I've gotten to stay in their basement, which I really love because I get more time with them (and privacy when I want).

    2. My aunt is more experimental and modern while my uncle is more traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving food, so they switch off who's in charge every year and change the menu accordingly. I love my aunt's roasted veggie medley in lieu of the more traditional mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallow, though those are good too.

    3. Thanksgiving salmon! In addition to turkey, there is always salmon for their pescatarian friends and three different kinds of stuffing, including oyster stuffing brought by said friends.

    4. We go on a walk in between dinner and dessert through the same park every year. It's dark, there are lots of leaves, and it really defines fall for me. The only time I missed it was the year I was 21 and had lots of wine and was sleeping it off before dessert. :)

    5. My aunt and uncle also have friends who are professional and semi-professional musicians, so after dessert there is usually a jam session with lots of folk songs!

    6. My aunt is a substitute spinning instructor on the side, so on the Friday or Saturday after she'll teach a class. A few of us go, sometimes just my uncle and me, but I'm looking forward to when my cousins are old enough. Then afterwards we have a huge breakfast with homemade biscuits (based on my aunt's Appalachian grandma's recipe), bacon and sausage, eggs, vegetarian sausage, tons of jams, etc. And we always have to play the biscuit song (How Many Biscuits Can You Eat, though I'm not sure of the version).

    Basically, Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday.

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