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42 Thanksgiving traditions to start with family and friends this year

Celebrate the spirit of the season with these activities for kids and adults.

For many people, the things that make Thanksgiving meaningful aren't things at all, but rather the special traditions we celebrate with friends and family around the holiday.

Among them? Raising a glass as part of a spirited Thanksgiving toast or blessing, playing a game of touch football in the backyard or just lounging on the couch after dinner and watching classic movies like "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."

Admittedly, Thanksgiving can be overwhelming when you factor in travel, family gatherings and cooking the turkey just right. But in the end, it's all worth it, because it's Thanksgiving traditions shared with those you love that bring true meaning to the holiday.

If you're in the market to add some new traditions to the mix or are hosting your very first holiday and looking for ideas, you've come to the right place.

We've gathered a variety of suggestions to help level up your Turkey Day this year, including fun activities like Thanksgiving games for the whole family, a Thanksgiving Day pajama party, or a book swap, as well as favorites like watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or National Dog Show.

With so many good choices, you're bound to find something that your loved ones (including kids and adults) will enjoy — and perhaps even carry on for years to come. And that's something everyone can be grateful for.

Create a Thankful Tree

While many people use Thanksgiving as an excuse to put up their Christmas tree, try setting up a Thankful Tree instead. Your "tree" can be as simple as some tree branches in a case, or as elaborate as a spruce. Whatever you settle on, have everyone write what they're thankful for on a piece of paper or card stock, punch a hole, then hang it for everyone to see and share in the gratitude.

Make an old-fashioned cornucopia

Whether you use paper or pick up a cornucopia basket at the craft store, go old school and have everyone help construct a cornucopia. You can fill it with gourds, fruit, plants candy, snacks, treats or whatever else strikes your fancy. And for bonus fun, take lots of photos of your Thanksgiving masterpiece, then post them on Instagram with a clever caption.

Take a family photo

Getting the whole family or all your friends together for a meal only happens once in a blue moon, so this is an opportunity to take a photo of the whole gang. Gather in front of the fireplace, in the the backyard or around the table, put your phone or camera on a timer, then snap away. Use your group photo for holiday cards or frame it as a keepsake. Either way, it'll preserve the moment for years to come.

Make a pumpkin dish

Pumpkins and Thanksgiving go together like Pilgrims and buckled shoes. Though pumpkin pie is obviously the gold standard for Thanksgiving, there are tons of other ways to use the colorful gourd on the holiday. Make pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cheesecake or roast up a batch of pumpkin seeds in the oven to hold everyone over until the turkey is done.

Run a turkey trot or road race

You don't need to be an Olympic athlete to participate in a turkey trot or Thanksgiving Day road race. Cities and towns across the U.S. host annual walks and runs on Thanksgiving morning. Challenge yourself and your loved ones to participate in one. It doesn't matter how long it takes to cross the finish line, it's just good fun and a healthy way to start a day that's devoted to eating and napping.

Offer a Thanksgiving blessing

Begin your Turkey Day celebration with a Thanksgiving blessing or prayer. It doesn't have to coincide with a particular faith unless, of course, that's your preference. Otherwise, offer some thoughtful words, a Thanksgiving poem or other inspirational message to warm everyone's hearts and bring the crowd together in gratitude.

Create a memory or memento table

Celebrate and remember those who aren't able to join Thanksgiving dinner by creating a memory table. Encourage guests to bring and share photos, favorite objects or other reminders of friends and loved ones who are either across the miles or have passed on.

Break the wishbone

Thanksgiving dinner.
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If this year's Thanksgiving dinner includes turkey or chicken, then, once the meal is over and all the food has been eaten, as is tradition, select two guests to make silent wishes, before having them break the bird's wishbone (the V-shaped bone found near the base of the neck). According to folklore, the person who receives the larger half in the contest will supposedly have their wish granted.

Celebrate 'Sidesgiving'

Sure, turkey is the star of the show, but it doesn't have to be. Especially since everyone knows it's the sides we all love best. Gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole and all the rest are what complete any respectable Thanksgiving dinner. So go ahead and celebrate 'em this year by having each guest bring one of their favorites to share, then take a vote and choose a winner.

Write thank-you notes

As the name suggests, Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks. While you can always offer your appreciation in person, give each guests something to walk away with: a thank-you card with a personalized message inside. Before the festivities begin, take some time to think about why these people mean so much to you and then tell them why. Can't be together in person? Drop their card in the mail for a thoughtful post-Thanksgiving surprise.

Make it a pajama party

The minute the guests leave, it’s pajama time. Why not get to the good part right off the bat? Switch up the dress code and have everyone arrive in their favorite PJs. An added bonus: No uncomfortable clothes to sit in after eating too much pumpkin pie.

Send guests home with party favors or leftovers

One of the best parts of a wedding is coming home with a momento or reminder of the special event. In a similar vein, send Thanksgiving guests home with a small token of the day, like a photo or small party favor. Or just box up leftovers in inexpensive to-go containers to give 'em what they really want: more food.

Host a Friendsgiving

Friends are the family we choose, so celebrate them by inviting your crew to a Friendsgiving dinner. Since most everyone is tied up with other plans on the actual day of Thanksgiving, plan the gathering for the day before or after.

Serve brunch instead of dinner

If everyone is coming from far-away places and, well, even if they're aren't, consider hosting a Thanksgiving brunch instead of dinner. You can still serve all the fan favorites like turkey and stuffing, but also incorporate some breakfast staples. This allows family and friends time to visit with other relatives later in the day or spend the evening relaxing at home.

Video chat with far-away loved ones

Take a pause in the middle of Thanksgiving activities for a video call with family or friends who aren't able to join you in person. Even if you don't have tons of time to sit and chat, a short call will still let others know you're thinking of them during the holiday.

Plan a Thanksgiving-themed getaway

Whether you're a history buff or just like Thanksgiving trivia, plan a themed getaway to any number of Thanksgiving-related destinations like Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts or New York City to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Have a potluck dinner

Simplify things by hosting a potluck dinner. To ensure the meal is on par with the day, send out dish assignments in advance. The crowd is sure to be in suspense wondering what'll end up being on the menu.

Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

A Thanksgiving tradition since 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is quickly approaching the century mark. If it’s not already part of your Thanksgiving morning tradition, consider watching it as you get ready for the day. Even better, gather the gang and make a pilgrimage (yes, pun intended) to New York City to see the legendary parade up close.

Add something new to the menu

Your Thanksgiving menu is the same year after year, so spice things up by introducing at least one new dish. It’ll give everyone something to talk about. If the dish is a hit, it just might become a permanent fixture on the table.

Make a special family recipe

Remember that chocolate cream pie your great-grandmother used to make? Chances are everyone else does too. Don’t let family favorites get lost in time. Instead, serve at least one family recipe, then send everyone home with a copy of the recipe to keep.

Share a treasured photo

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It doesn’t matter if it’s Friendsgiving or a traditional Thanksgiving celebration, have guests come with a photo (hard copy or digital) to share with the group. It can be a favorite memory from the past year, or a cherished family member who has passed or is unable to attend.

Play Thanksgiving trivia

Everyone loves trivia games! Test your guests’ knowledge with a rousing game of Thanksgiving trivia. Up the ante by offering prizes for first and second place. When did the Pilgrims land on U.S. shores? The answer: 1620. You get the idea.

Use the 'good' dishes

Disposable plates and silverware are an excellent way to keep the dishes from piling up in the sink on Thanksgiving. That said, use this moment to break out the family china because, if we’re being honest here, the occasion calls for something more extravagant than paper plates.

Create a Thanksgiving songs playlist

Thanksgiving is often a multi-generational gathering, which makes it the ideal time to poll family members on their favorite Thanksgiving songs. Once you’ve got a list, add all the songs to a playlist and share it with everyone.

Have a book swap

Turn Thanksgiving Day into a book swap! Have each guest bring a book they’ve enjoyed (and don’t mind sharing) to the gathering. When the day is done, send everyone home with something new to read.

Watch the "National Dog Show"

Bill McCay / NBC

Who will take home the trophy: the schnauzer or the French poodle? Only time will tell. The National Dog Show has been around even longer than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, making it a beloved tradition for families everywhere. Only one lucky canine will be awarded Best in Show — and for that reason, it's a serious nail-biter.

Exchange Christmas ornaments

Kick off the holiday season with an ornament swap. Invite everyone to come with an ornament — new or old, wrapped or unwrapped. Have guests take an ornament as they leave, then ask them to snap a picture when it's hanging on their tree.

Learn about traditions around the world

Thanksgiving is primarily an American tradition, but that doesn’t mean other countries around the world don’t have similar celebrations. Do some homework and learn about different traditions like Germany’s Erntedankfest, the “harvest festival.” You might just find some interesting customs to add to your own.

Play Thanksgiving games

Sure, it might be a challenge to round up the family, especially when you factor in naps and football. But if the crowd is willing, have everyone join in a game of cards, board games, bingo, charades or any party game that brings the group together.

Share family history

There’s no better time to learn about family history than on Thanksgiving. Even if you’ve been getting together for years and years, you probably don’t know everything there is to know. Ask questions and tell stories. This is especially meaningful for kids who can learn a lot about the family tree from grandparents and older relatives.

Have an honorary family drink

Whether it’s beer, wine, a cocktail or mocktail, come up with a family drink and declare it yours. At least for Thanksgiving anyway.

Make a family contribution

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks and count your blessings. One way to show gratitude is by helping others. Pool your money together for an annual contribution to a cause of your choice or simply ask dinner guests to come with canned goods and donate them to a local shelter.

Take a vacation

If big dinners and family gatherings aren’t your thing, then skip Thanksgiving altogether and book a vacation instead. To help manage any guilt you may feel over missing the big day, make it a point to visit loved ones before leaving or stop by — with souvenirs, of course — after you return.

Have an annual scavenger hunt

After eating all that turkey and dessert, it might be tempting to take a long nap on the couch. Resist the urge and participate in a scavenger hunt instead. Round up a bunch of random household items (think: pencils and fallen leaves), and hit up the dollar store if you need some extra trinkets.

Host a themed thanksgiving

Shake things up by giving Thanksgiving a new theme each year. One year, go back in time with classic recipes and vintage decorations. with classic recipes and throwback aesthetic. The next, make it modern with contemporary trimmings and a trendy tablescape. Invite guests to dress for the occasion or bring an on-theme dish to share.

Celebrate missed occasions

Thanksgiving often brings friends and relatives together that don’t get to see one another the rest of the year. That means there are a lot of missed anniversaries, graduations and other important life events. Celebrate them all while the gang's together.

Come up with an annual toast

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Instead of the usual “bottoms up,” elect someone to deliver an official toast. Have them prepare something formal ahead of time, even a funny Thanksgiving quote will get the job done. Spread the wealth by nominating a different guest do the toast each year.

Draw names for holiday gifts

There’s no time like the present to hash out the holiday gift situation. Throw everyone’s name into a hat and have each person pick one to decide who buys for who. If that’s not your family tradition, then use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to get hints on what loved ones might want before heading out for Black Friday shopping.

Watch a holiday movie

When the clock strikes midnight on Thanksgiving, it means the holiday season has officially begun. Get a jumpstart by watching Christmas classics like "Home Alone" and "It's a Wonderful Life." Who knows, you may even find a new favorite or two!

Invite someone new to Thanksgiving

Not everyone has somewhere to go on Thanksgiving, so make it an annual Thanksgiving tradition to invite someone who might otherwise spend the holiday alone. New faces bring new experiences and you never know, they just might end up becoming a permanent part of the family.

Make it a progressive dinner

Break up the work by turning Thanksgiving into a progressive dinner where each course is served up at a different location. Start with appetizers at one house, then move to another for the big meal, before finishing the day with dessert. It keeps things lively, all while sharing hosting (and, um, cleaning) duties.

Light a memory candle

Honor the memory of loved ones by lighting candles in tribute. It's a reminder that even though they're no longer able to join the gathering, their spirit remains part of the celebration.

Autumn Cornucopia
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