Thanksgiving Activities & Traditions
By Cara J. Stevens
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Thanksgiving will see many families gathered around the television watching football, cheerleading competitions, or Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade – or all three. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade (originally called Macy's Christmas Parade) began in 1924 in New York City as a kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Since its first national broadcast in 1947, it has been a staple for TV audiences across the country.
Other families take advantage of the four-day-weekend holiday to take a trip – either to visit family or take a vacation. Either way, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the most heavily trafficked days of the year by car or by plane.
Long airport delays, higher fares, unpredictable weather conditions and other travel hassles have some families opting to go local and bridge the familial distance on less difficult days.
For families who stay close to home, opportunities to participate in community celebrations, as well as opportunities for volunteering, are abundant. Many do-gooders go civic and volunteer at local soup kitchens, shelters, orphanages, and other charities to lend some helping hands during the holiday.
Celebrating with Kids
Ready? Set the Table!
To prepare for the holiday, it's always fun to get the kids involved in menus and food preparation. Setting the table or creating centerpieces are fun ways for kids to get involved and help out. Instead of table linens at the children's table, tape a sheet of brown butcher paper or a roll of white paper to the table and set the table over it. Set out cups of crayons, chalk, markers, or stickers and encourage guests to decorate their own place settings. This can be a hit at the grownups' table, too!
Thanksgiving Poems and Performances
Children enjoy writing and performing puppet shows or Thanksgiving plays, and it's a great way to extend the holiday by talking about the themes and leading up to the big day. Memorizing and reciting poems is fun for the second grade and up, and songs are fun for kids of any age.
Tell the story of Thanksgiving through a book such as Thanksgiving Day, by the mother/daughter team of Anne and Lizzy Rockwell (1999, Harper Collins) In the story, the children put on a class play to reenact the first Thanksgiving meal shared by the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims. It serves as a great jumping off point for discussions, crafts, games and even performances related to the holiday. During a lull in the eating and serving, children can get together and make up a poem or story, then recite it for the adults when they finish. Parents can present kids with "story starters" – pieces of paper with a word or phrase on each one – to set a theme, tone or idea to get the group started.
Some families use the theme of the holiday as a way to encourage the family to share things for which they are thankful. Going around the table and having each guest state one thing they are thankful for can often lead to multiple rounds of expressions of thanks.
This can also be turned into a game where each person writes what they are thankful for on a piece of paper, then put it in a hat. As each one is read aloud, everyone can guess who wrote it. Parents can also give thanks and bless their children at the Thanksgiving table. Placing their hands on each child's head, they can silently or aloud state something they appreciate about their child and add a blessing or wish for the child for the coming year.
For even more great ideas, check out our Thanksgiving crafts and printables as well as this list of great Thanksgiving books for kids of all ages to find more inspiration on celebrating this wonderful holiday with your family.
Cara J. Stevens is a freelance writer and author of six books for kids. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children.