I don’t know about anyone else, but each year the pressure of Thanksgiving gets to me. I worry that the dishes I am responsible for will be a flop and that I will ruin Thanksgiving because of it (which, of course, wouldn’t be the case even if a dish did some out badly). Every year I do endless hours of research, looking for an even better recipe for dish X or Y, only to come back to my tried and trues because I am too worried that I would mess it up. Yes, even us professionals get nervous about what we cook on major holidays.
But in the end, while the Thanksgiving meal is one of my favorites of the year, the piece I actually value most is the time we get to spend with loved ones. When I think of past Thanksgivings, I’ll remember a dish here or there, but what I remember much more vividly are the conversations that were had and the walks between courses – in short, the time together.
So this year I’m shifting my focus away from perfecting or experimenting with dishes and towards the other parts of the holiday that I value: time to gather with family and friends, time for gratitude and reflection, and time to have fun around the table.
So, in an effort to help you to enjoy your time with loved ones, I wanted to share some fun ways to make Thanksgiving meaningful for everyone.
Ways to Make Thanksgiving Meaningful for Everyone
From games to conversation prompts to group activities, there are lots of ways to make Thanksgiving meaningful.
Games for Engagement
Games can be a great way to break the ice and get the laughs flowing. I like to choose games that will work for all age levels, so that everyone can feel included.
Alphabet gratitude game
This is a really fun one for all generations to play. Have everyone go around the table and take turns naming something they are grateful for in alphabetical order. I dare you not to laugh when you get to X and have to come up with something…
Animal, vegetable, and memorable
Go around the table and say one animal (or person) you are particularly grateful for, one vegetable (or food on the table) you are thankful you get to eat, and one memorable (something that happened this year that made life happier/better).
Here are some fun questions to get the conversation flowing around the Thanksgiving table:
- What are you grateful for this year that is different from other years?
- If you could eat one Thanksgiving dish all year round, what would it be?
- Are you a savory or sweet person when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner?
- If you could invite one character from a book, movie, or TV show to join our Thanksgiving meal, who would it be and why?
- What’s the funniest joke you heard this year?
- If you could invite one person from history to join our Thanksgiving meal, who would it be an why?
- What was something beautiful that you saw today? Did you witness any acts of kindness?
Activities for All
Thanksgiving banner making
The kids are always done eating first, so why not give them a fun activity to keep them busy so the grownups can talk? Or, if you’ve got some crafty adults they can join in the fun as well. Clear some space and roll out butcher block paper, throw down some (washable) drawing supplies for the kids, and invite them to make a giant Thanksgiving banner or drawing.
This is a great one to get the kiddos out of the house while you put the finishing touches on the big meal or in between courses. Send the kids outside to find beautiful fall leaves (the more colorful the better). When they return with their leaves, set them up with paper, glue, and washable markers and invite them to create seasonal collages.
Gratitude with Leaves
Here’s another fun way to take advantage of the fallen leaves. Have the kids go outside to collect the most beautiful and sturdy leaves they can find (on the ground). When they return with their leaves, challenge them to come up with one thing they are grateful for for each leaf that they brought back and then to write those things onto the leaves with markers. You can then put all of the beautiful leaves into a gratitude bowl, which can serve as a centerpiece for the table or a decoration for the remainder of the holiday season, if you want.
Go for a mid-meal walk
This one has become a Thanksgiving tradition for our family. Each year, a number of us take a break between the main course and dessert and go out for a walk to stretch our legs, give our stomachs a chance to catch up, get some fresh air, and let the kids run around. This tradition makes dessert taste that much sweeter!
Family dance party!
I know not every family (or family member) will be into this one, but if you want some great laughs and memories, consider having a dance party after dinner. Put on songs that as many generations and possible can enjoy or find a playlist on Spotify or Pandora, kick off your shoes, and go wild.
Or, if you want to be productive AND have fun, you can turn doing the dishes into a dance party. Put on some fun music and invite folks into the kitchen to do dancing and dishes together. I promise the time will fly by!
Family gatherings are also a wonderful opportunity to conduct family history interviews. It is a lovely way to have the generations connect and learn from one another. Learn more about how to do these well here.
Do you have family traditions that help to make Thanksgiving more fun and meaningful? I would love to hear about them in the comments!
Got family who will be far away but that you’d still love to connect with this Thanksgiving? Check out our tips on how to celebrate together online.