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10 Thanksgiving traditions you will want to start for your family

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Photo credit: Erin Donalson/Getty Images

Many family Thanksgiving traditions include gathering around a table and expressing gratitude over a huge turkey dinner. However, this year, raise your holiday game and adopt some fun Thanksgiving traditions by incorporating these ideas from Americans from coast to coast.

From creating memories in the kitchen baking a special family recipe, to creating a Thanksgiving tablecloth, or getting your Turkey Trot on before the big meal, there are seemingly endless ways to make holiday memories.

Pass down a special family Thanksgiving recipe

Baking a special dish and passing the recipe down to the next generation is one of many wonderful Thanksgiving traditions for families. Registered dietitian Kristin Koskinen, who has a private practice in Washington state, shared that her grandmother Hon baked her famous orange rolls every year for Thanksgiving. In fact, Koskinen tells us her recipe was entered in a contest and has since been adapted and can be found in the familiar pop-out tubes in grocery stores.

MORE: 6 new traditions to celebrate Thanksgiving with kids

“She taught me how to make these treasured pastries when I was 16 years old, and I have been making them ever them since. We enjoy the sweet rolls on Thanksgiving morning while we peruse the paper and watch parades,” she says, sharing that her two daughters now help her bake these sweet treats, carrying on the tradition.

Although Koskinen can’t share her family orange roll recipe (“It’s under lock and key,” she says), she does hint that adding the zest of one orange to a standard dinner roll recipe will get a similar result.

Don’t have your own orange roll recipe? Talk to your parents or grandparents and find a special family recipe that you can make this Thanksgiving.

Get rid of the “kids’ table”

The “kids’ table,” which is often a table for young children set up away from the adult table, has been a Thanksgiving staple for many families. But Pam Whyte of FamilyFunJoy.com says that having everyone sit at the same table fosters a spirit of togetherness.

“My mother has six children, 13 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and daughters- and sons-in-law for a total of 28 people for Thanksgiving,” Whyte, who lives in Wisconsin, says. “Every year, my mother makes a large turkey meal for all of us. Even though that is special enough as it is, the best part is she puts us at one long table — card table after card table covered in linens and set with beautiful china and pink glasses — that extends from the dining room into the living room. It’s a beautiful tradition and shows us all that although we may not be rich in money, we are rich in love.”

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Photo credit: GMVozd/Getty Images

Include your family heritage in the Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is a great time for your family to embrace its roots, so why not infuse some of your family heritage into your traditional turkey dinner?

Martín Cardenas, the executive chef and owner of the Cancun Grill Doral restaurant in Doral, Florida, says he incorporates his Mexican heritage into Thanksgiving by cooking pavo en mole sauce, Mexican stuffing and his signature cranberry sauce.

MORE: Thanksgiving traditions and history

“Part of what I love about being an immigrant in this country is adapting what I know from my birthplace, Mexico, and incorporating it into long-standing American traditions,” Cardenas says. “My two children were born and raised here, and since we do Thanksgiving as a family each year, I take pride in being able to prepare dishes for them that they will remember for a lifetime and hopefully make for their kids one day.”

Work off that turkey

Many family Thanksgiving traditions revolve around food, but it’s fun to also incorporate some activity into the day. Many cities host Turkey Trot runs, which are short runs that often take place on the morning of Thanksgiving. This is a fun family activity to help you get moving before the gluttony sets in.

Business manager David Edwards lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and he has a large family with 19 uncles and aunts, and their Thanksgiving traditions always include a fun game of flag football — a tradition that seems to have really taken off around the country. Golf is another fun outdoor activity, and playing a few holes this year could be the start of a wonderful Turkey Day tradition.

The Thanksgiving tablecloth

New York blogger Sara Borgstede from theholymess.com has a unique family Thanksgiving tradition that is fun for kids and adults.

“We have a fun, meaningful tradition called the Thanksgiving tablecloth,” she says. “Each year, whoever comes to our Thanksgiving table writes one thing they are thankful for from that year. It’s great to read those from previous years and write new ones for this year.”

Buy a plain white tablecloth and a pack of colorful Sharpie markers, and let each person write and/or draw on the tablecloth. Not only does this make for a colorful table covering, it also makes a great memento.

The Great Turkey

Get little kids into the spirit of Thanksgiving by introducing them to “The Great Turkey.”

“Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. When my kids were little we told them a story about The Great Turkey, who visits homes the night before Thanksgiving. Then when they were asleep, we would sneak into their rooms and draw two small dots on their cheeks with a red pen, telling them that he pecked them!” says California freelance writer Sherri Kuhn. “Now our son is grown and our daughter is in college, so our house feels very quiet. This Thanksgiving, I can’t wait to hear them tease each other and fill the house with their voices again. We might even pull out the red pen!”

Reading a Thanksgiving book — like The Great Turkey Race or The First Thanksgiving — also makes for a fun Turkey Day tradition for kids.

Thanksgiving game night

One fun way to bond with family while waiting for the turkey to cook is to pull out the games. Whether it’s family-friendly games like Monopoly, Jenga and Heads Up!, or more adult fare like Cards Against Humanity, games are perfect if you’re looking to add a fun Thanksgiving tradition.

Google strategist and international speaker Dannie Fountain lives in Chicago, Illinois, and says she gets together with her large adoptive family and they use board games to bond over Thanksgiving. “We get together, play board games (and I even get my mom in on a game of Never Have I Ever), and merge all the Thanksgiving traditions as best we can, honoring each of the pieces that make up our blended family.”

Go off the grid

If you are looking for a unique family Thanksgiving tradition, then this idea from Annie Bernauer, blogger at Montana Homesteader, will be right up your alley.

“My family and I live in rural western Montana and have a unique Montana spin on Thanksgiving family traditions. Over 10 years ago, we started the family tradition of cooking our Thanksgiving meal outdoors and off-grid,” Bernauer says. “We bake all of our Thanksgiving foods from scratch and in Dutch ovens over coals outside. The turkey is cooked outside in a gas-powered turkey fryer.”

Bernauer says she and her husband started this Thanksgiving tradition before they had children, but they now have a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old who like to help. “It is a lot of work, but it’s a wonderful family tradition we cherish and look forward to every year,” she says.

Let someone else cook

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you could ditch cooking and cleaning all day and go to a restaurant instead — just make sure you plan ahead and make reservations, something Texas native Janice Fenimore and her husband found out the hard way.

“We usually have a big, traditional day with 15–20 guests, where we cook up the same dishes and have lots of laughs,” Fenimore says, explaining that one Thanksgiving they found themselves without any guests, so they decided to go to a Luby’s restaurant. “The problem was that everyone else with no plans had the same idea, and we couldn’t get in. We spent all afternoon trying to find someplace to eat, and finally we found Esperanza’s Kitchen for Mexican food.”

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Photo credit: stevecuk/Getty Images

Open up your home

This family Thanksgiving tradition truly captures the spirit of the holiday season.

“Each year since I was a child, we invite someone who has nowhere to go on Thanksgiving and we treat them as family. Sometimes it’s an entire family,” says Pennsylvania-based health journalist and executive producer of NewsMD Maria Dorfner.

Invite a new family in the neighborhood, someone from work who doesn’t have family nearby, or a friend whose spouse is in the military and is deployed far away. Welcoming someone into your home fosters a sense of community that can be practiced all year long.

Old traditions meet new

Have fun creating new memories this Turkey Day with these creative and fun family Thanksgiving traditions. Whether you choose to bake a new dish that honors your family’s heritage, or cook your Thanksgiving meal “off the grid,” trying out unique Thanksgiving traditions is a great way to bond with your friends and family this holiday season.

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