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11 Thanksgiving Traditions That We Want to Steal for Ourselves

Every family seems to have their own special Thanksgiving traditions. We asked the Taste of Home Community Cooks to share their favorites.

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Senior people cheering with wine while preparing mealgoodluz/Shutterstock

Asking a Neighbor or Friend to Dinner

The holidays can be particularly hard for folks who don’t have family close by. Every year, Bonnie Hawkins of Elkhorn, Wisconsin asks over a neighbor or friend who might otherwise spend Thanksgiving alone to share a traditional dinner with her family.

Cook one of our Top 10 Thanksgiving dishes to share.

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Gift boxes with a large red bow against a background bokeh of twinkling party lights. Shutterstock / ESstock

Exchanging Gifts

When Glenna Tooman of Boise, Idaho has family visiting on Thanksgiving who won’t be back again for Christmas, they do an early gift exchange. It’s a great chance to share gifts together, and as a bonus, get some Christmas shopping and wrapping done ahead of time.

Try these creative ways to package food gifts.

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Cooked turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas in a roasting pan ready for carvingShutterstock / Elena Veselova

Fighting Over the Turkey Neck

Cyndi Gerken of Naples, Florida and her family have a really unique tradition. “When my mom would take out the turkey neck, it was ON! My mom, my aunt and I—each of us would try to get the biggest portion of that ‘tender on the inside, golden-brown, crunchy-on-the-outside’ pre-dinner treat! Family and friends would sometimes gather to watch the spectacle.”

If a turkey neck is not your preferred pre-dinner treat, don’t worry—we have all sorts of easy Thanksgiving apps!

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Woman Bringing Meal For Elderly NeighborShutterstock / SpeedKingz

Having Guests Bring a Favorite Dish

As families grow and move further apart, Thanksgiving traditions change and evolve, too. Dawn Lowenstein of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania used to make all the pies for her family’s big day. Since moving to a retirement community she now contributes to the dinner by bringing her famous Cranberry Orange Relish.

Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving side dishes.

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Giant King Kong on Empire State Building in Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment CenterShutterstock / meunierd

Watching King Kong

Or perhaps The Godfather, like the Pioneer Woman does while preparing the turkey! Classic movies played annually on TV have given many families a cinematic Thanksgiving tradition. For Susan Bikta of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, that special movie is King Kong. “We would always have my great aunt Laura for dinner and she would sit in the living room and watch the movie with “the big monkey” in it!”

Nobody knows Thanksgiving better than Ree Drummond—here are her best tips and tricks.

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Baked eggplant with tomatoes, garlic and paprikaShutterstock / Timolina

Making Everyone Happy

No one wants to see dinner guests with an empty plate. Mary Anne Thygesen of Portland, Oregon includes Thanksgiving dishes at her table that accommodate special diets like vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. By considering these dietary needs and guests with food allergies, you will be guaranteed to have a table full of happy eaters.

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Receiving greeting card.Shutterstock / g-stockstudio

Drawing Names for a Card Exchange

For the past 30 years, Lynne German of Woodland Hill, California and her siblings have drawn names on Thanksgiving Day for a secret holiday card “competition.” The cards (the sillier, the better!) get mailed anonymously once a week. On Christmas when they gather again, everyone brings their cards to find their secret sender and have a laugh at the selection.

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mother and sons are sitting on the couch watching television with popcorn in the kitchenNikolaev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Relaxing in PJs and Playing Games

Jolene Martinelli of Fremont, New Hampshire has one of the best Thanksgiving traditions ever: she and her family stay in their pajamas for dinner! They also spend the day watching movies and playing games. And at the end of the evening, she and her husband indulge in sandwiches made with leftover cranberry sauce, stuffing and turkey.

Looking for more leftovers inspiration?

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Thanksgiving Celebration Tradition Family Dinner Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com

Sharing Thanks Around the Table

Like saying grace before starting the meal, another special tradition is to go around the table and have everyone share something that they are thankful for, as Gina Dolieslager of Conway Springs, Kansas does with her family. Guests of all ages can participate and it’s sure to bring smiles and laughs from all.

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Open tin can of green beans on tableShutterstock / Africa Studio

Opening a Can of Green Beans

One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions was one started for me by my grandmother. I was a picky eater as a kid and to my parents’ dismay preferred canned vegetables to fresh. To indulge me on Thanksgiving, my grandmother would include, amidst a vast array of fresh and homemade dishes, a bowl of canned green beans warmed up just for me!

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People are celebrating Thanksgiving dayShutterstock / Rawpixel.com

Ending With a Song

After the meal, the pie and the coffee, what better way to round out the celebration than with a song? And to mark the end of Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas season, Bonnie Hawkins’ family ends the day with a chorus of “Jingle Bells.”

Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.
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