What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

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Death by Variety Β© 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!

Comments on What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

  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.

    • 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.

      • 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. πŸ˜‰

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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…

      • 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…)

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  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!

  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 πŸ™‚

    • 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 πŸ™‚

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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!

  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!

  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. πŸ™

  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!

  12. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. mine is simple, if I don’t make pumpkin cheesecake I’m not invited. πŸ˜‰
    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. πŸ˜‰

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 )

  19. 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 πŸ™‚

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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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