Creating Thanksgiving Traditions that Skip the Food

Creating Thanksgiving Traditions that Skip the Food

Traditions, many of them passed down from generation to generation, can be the best part of any holiday. Often, those traditions are centered on food. There’s Grandma’s secret recipe for stuffing that makes your mouth water just thinking about it. There’s Great Uncle Owen’s award-winning pecan pie. Your own maple-brined twist on turkey is on the list, too.

Of course, when food allergies are part of your family story, some of those traditions are hard to hold on to. There are alternatives, of course. You can find gluten-free stuffing options and nut-free pies to enjoy.  You can mash potatoes without relying on dairy and you can always forgo the cheese sauce on your veggies. We’re grateful for these alternatives, but we also miss the tradition of sharing something generations before us have come together to enjoy. This Thanksgiving, turn your focus to some non-food traditions as a way to connect with family and friends from the past and into the future.

PJs and Parade

Unless you’ve got a car to pile into and a long drive to make before dinner hits the table, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade may be part of your holiday routine. This parade first made its way through the streets of Manhattan in 1924, and the first giant balloon joined the festivities in 1927. If you’re curling up on the couch with the family and a hot cup of coffee to enjoy some of the parade on your television, you’re in good company – and you’re likely doing something members of your family did decades before you, too. Own the tradition! Why not kick it up a notch by making it an official “PJs and Parade” custom for your household. Rate your favorite floats and compare notes.

Volunteer Together

Sharing the things we’re grateful for is one thing. Living in abundant gratitude is another. Don’t just talk about gratitude with your family; live it out by serving others. Make it a family tradition to volunteer some place on (or around) Thanksgiving. Find a local food pantry that gives out Thanksgiving food baskets and help sort and pack the bags of food they’ll be distributing the week prior to the holiday. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Head to a local nursing home and spend time with residents who don’t have family coming in to visit.


Football, frisbee, or a good old-fashioned game of tag can be the foundation of a really fun and special family tradition. Whether you’ve got a big extended family to include in your game or you create a neighborhood match, focus on the opportunity to spend time together without the stress of a busy family schedule beckoning you to do something else. Thanksgiving is a day to sit and focus on gratitude – and each other. Have fun with it!

Collaborative Art

Skip the fancy tablecloth and roll out craft paper instead. Put crayons and markers out and let your guests create their own one-of-a-kind piece of collective art. Encourage everyone to draw or write about what they’re grateful for this holiday season. Let the imagination run wild. Find a place at home to hang the finished piece as part of your holiday décor or tuck it away as a memento to reflect back on year after year.

Take a Hike (or a Neighborhood Walk)

Whether you’ve tapped into the arsenal of family recipes or you’ve created your own allergy-friendly alternatives, there’s probably been a lot of food consumed (or at least available to be consumed) throughout the day on Thanksgiving. After the last bite has been eaten, lace up the sneakers and take a family walk. You can ride out your favorite spot to spy the sunset or you can stroll around the neighborhood. Share stories about your year and expectations for the year that lies just a little bit ahead. Make it a tradition to start your goal setting and dreaming now, while you’re bursting with gratitude.

Say Cheese!

Some of us spend Thanksgiving with friends. Some of us gather with extended family. Whether you’re with a big group or a small one, odds are this is a special time to gather with folks who are important to you. Make the camera part of your tradition. You can go for the formal group pose or you can ham it (turkey it?) up and be silly. Bonus points if you can use it for your holiday cards or your social media header!

Make Your Own

There’s no real secret to this tradition-setting thing. Maybe you’re already doing some of the things we’ve shared here. Maybe one of them caught your attention and you’re excited about building a family ritual around it. Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes and said “Nope, not for my gang…” and that’s okay. This isn’t about picking the right thing from a list. It’s simply a reminder that traditions don’t have to be edible, even when a food-focused holiday like Thanksgiving is upon us. Find something special to you and your family and make it YOUR thing.

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