- Some families are skipping the turkey this Thanksgiving and going with other food they love.
- Others are getting creative on how they express gratitude, with a gratitude scavenger hunt.
- The emphasis is on enjoying the time together and having fun.
- This article is part of “Holiday Insider,” your go-to guide for celebrating the festive season.
Thanksgiving launches us full-throttle into the holiday season. The day is an opportunity to express our thanks, spend time with loved ones, and stuff ourselves with food.
From start to finish, the holidays tend to encourage families to be more focused on togetherness and making memories.
Here’s how families across the country use the holiday spirit to embrace connection.
Customize Thanksgiving dinner to your family’s preferences
Breaking bread helps connect us and is a central part of the day.
Most Americans cook a turkey — whether it’s brined, roasted, smoked, or deep fried. Popular accompaniments include gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin pie.
But if serving the classics doesn’t bring joy to your family, switching things up can make the meal more fun.
Lindsay Lou of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said that her family loves the traditional Thanksgiving sides but doesn’t like turkey. So last year they served lobster claws and crab legs instead.
“It was incredible. We’re doing it again this year!” she said.
And Tania Ramirez-Fontanez of Wilmington, North Carolina, said turkey is the only traditional dish her family prepares — the rest consists of the family’s Latin American favorites like pernil (slow-roasted pork), rice and pigeon peas, and pasteles (stewed meat with masa wrapped in banana leaves).
Express gratitude as a family
Most of us can recall sitting around the dinner table, taking turns stating what we’re grateful for. But there are more exciting ways to express gratitude and foster family closeness.
Years ago, Olathe, Kansas, resident Jennifer Kropf tried out a photo scavenger hunt with her family — each person took 10 to 15 photos of things they were grateful for.
“The only rule was that you had to explain why you were grateful for each item, and you couldn’t say the same reason repeatedly,” Kropf said, adding that the results were heartfelt and sometimes hilarious — her husband took a picture of his car.
“By the end, our hearts were full. The tradition reminded us of how blessed we truly are,” she said. And they’ve continued this tradition ever since.
Cindy Marie Jenkins of Orlando, Florida, makes a gratitude tree with her kids, now 6 and 8 years old, the week they’re off from school for Thanksgiving.
“I make a tree bark out of brown paper on one of our walls and cut leaves from different colors of paper,” she said. The family then writes one thing they’re grateful for every day on a leaf and adds it to the tree.
This year, Jenkins said her family is going to try a gratitude garden instead. “I have a bunch of white rocks that we’re going to paint with things we are grateful for,” Jenkins said, adding that the rocks will line the path to their front door.
Do something together as a family
Vera Kutsenko of San Francisco said that her family likes to pay it forward during the holidays by volunteering at the local food pantry or gathering supplies for people in need. She recommends seeking out charity organizations within your community, as they’re likely to require extra help during the holiday season.
“This way, your kids can learn empathy and be caring and giving. Just make sure that you call ahead so that you are prepared for any unexpected surprises,” Kutsenko said.
Caroline Truett of Greenville, South Carolina, has made a family tradition out of catching leaves in the backyard.
“We have several large maple trees that blanket our yard in leaves,” she said. “If it’s a windy day, they fall down like rain, and we all compete to see who can catch the most. It’s trickier than you’d think, and the kids, ages 3, 5, and 8, love it!” Truett said.