They are not too old! You can always start new Thanksgiving traditions with your teen. Here are 25 Thanksgiving traditions for teens and tweens.
I remember the early years of celebrating Thanksgiving with my young family. They would bring home hats made from construction papers and turkeys created from felt.
They would look adorable in their fancy outfits sitting at the kids’ table. They’d eat about 14 dinner rolls and drink Sprite from a fancy glass.
Those were special times, and I cherish those memories.
And then they started growing up, and those cute traditions started waning.
Getting them out of bed started getting a little harder. A hoodie seemed to accompany every outfit. We made continuous threats throughout the day about not being on their phone too much.
It can be tough to get your teens to embrace Thanksgiving and the feeling of gratitude for being together during the holiday season. Parents of teenagers may be grieving for how fast the time has gone, and for how things are changing even more quickly.
Getting them excited and participating in the activities they used to love can be a struggle, and it can be tempting to let go of some of those family traditions.
But no matter what their attitudes or eye-rolls say to you, these family bonding activities are important to teens and tweens, even if they don’t realize it at the time.
So, instead of giving up on all your traditions completely, make them more teen-friendly. Remember, it’s about spending quality time together and instilling a grateful heart in your kids.
And it’s never too late to start a new holiday tradition.
25 Thanksgiving Traditions for Teens and Tweens
We have a list of expanded traditions below, but we would like to start with including your celebration to include a new tradition of having a culturally responsive discussion about Thanksgiving and how we can lift Indigenous voices more. If you’d like to find out more, this article entitled “A Teacher’s Guide to Teaching Thanksgiving Responsibly” is a great resource.
1. Volunteer as a family, a gratitude-based Thanksgiving tradition for teens and tweens
Thanksgiving is a day to express gratitude, and quite literally, a day to express our thanks for what we have in this life. Volunteering as a family is a great way to instill a lesson of gratitude in your teens and remind them of all they have. We think it’s the most important Thanksgiving traditions for teens. Many organizations and soup kitchens sponsor meals that day, senior centers will allow visitors for those without family, or you can even pack up meals, snacks, or other toiletries up to distribute to the homeless.
If you cannot leave the house for whatever reason, consider writing letters to soldiers or veterans, hosting a food collection drive, or even cleaning out your closets to find items to donate. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but doing some good as a family is a great, fulfilling tradition.
2. Run/Walk a 5k
Nothing alleviates the guilt of a big Thanksgiving meal like a little pre-dinner exercise. Most towns have a Turkey Trot (you can find a local race here) the day of Thanksgiving with the proceeds normally going to charity. Gather up your family, lace up your kicks, and get your 5K on.
3. Start a gratitude journal with your teens or pass one around
According to Dorene Clement, author of Keeping the Five Year Journal, keeping any kind of a journal, including a Thanksgiving Gratitude Journal, helps the journal keeper grow personally and makes them freer because they are focusing on their inner and outer worlds and bringing them closer together.
We love gratitude journals for teens and think every teen should have one (check out our favorite gratitude journal for teen girls and their moms and our fave for teen boys), but especially at Thanksgiving. A great Thanksgiving gift can be to start a shared gratitude journal with your teenagers for the next year. It can bring you closer together and help you focus on the important things, instead of the little things that frustrate you like grades, messy bedrooms, or that sometimes persistent snarky behavior.
But a great family Thanksgiving activity can be having everyone write something they are thankful for in a notebook that you use year after year. It can be as simple as, “I’m thankful for mom’s mashed potatoes!” to more meaningful, deeper reflections of what the past year has meant to you. The result is a beautiful keepsake that can be passed on from generation to generation.
4. Random Acts of Kindness
We love random acts of kindness, particularly the anonymous kind. Nothing is better than making someone else’s day a little brighter without them even expecting it.
A few ideas are:
- Raking a neighbor’s yard
- Dropping off some small dollar amount gift cards in mailboxes
- Leaving some baked treats on doorsteps
- Leaving “Happy Thanksgiving” notes on cars in parking lots in hospitals or other venues where workers can’t spend time with their families.
- Leaving flowers for someone going through a tough time.
- Paying a random layaway bill at a local retail chain.
- Buying coffee for a family with a new baby
- Sending a special playlist to a family member who may be alone.
- Gifting a subscription service to a family in need.
5. Family Board Game Challenge
There can be some downtime while the turkey is cooking, so fill the gaps with these Tween/Teen Approved Board Games
6. Holiday movie-thon
Thanksgiving is when all the best holiday movies start, but it may be tough to get your teen to sit through It’s a Wonderful Life. Instead, find a new family favorite with this updated list of Holiday Movies for Tweens and Teens. If holiday movies aren’t your thing, wax nostalgia with some of the best 80s movies to watch with your teen or tween.
7. Technology-Free Turkey Day
OK, they’re not going to love this one, but you can make it fun. Remind them that the pilgrims did not have SnapChat to check in with their friends. See if you can get your teens to unplug for as long as the turkey is in the oven or from noon to six, but be prepared to fill the time with some fun activities or this list of 50 Screen-Free Activities for Tweens and Teens may help.
8. Teach a Family Recipe-a thanksgiving tradition for teens that will last for generations
This is one of our favorites. Write down a family recipe on a special keepsake card with the date, and then take some photos of your cooking together. We promise you that this will hold great significance for your teen in the years that come.
9. Take a Hike
Find the closest nature trail and take a hike before the hectic day starts. Everyone’s mood improves when they spend a little time in nature.
10. Teens Cook Breakfast/Adults Cook Dinner
It’s a lot to cook on Thanksgiving, so get your teens to help by letting them put together a breakfast of their choosing, no matter how outrageous it is. Whether it’s Captain Crunch or eggs benedict, enjoy it with a smile and be grateful you get to share this day together.
The Thanksgiving holiday can also be a great time to help your kid learn to cook. Here are a few easy recipes for teens to get them started.
11. Start a Gratitude Jar
Starting Thanksgiving Day, have everyone in the family write down something they are grateful for each day (or whenever something comes up, but you should do it at least once a week.) It can be as simple as a warm, Spring day to specific like getting a good grade on a math test. Do this for a year and then the next Thanksgiving you can read them aloud and remember all the great moments you had.
12. Free time
Thanksgiving is a holiday, and sometimes teenagers don’t appreciate being overscheduled when their entire life already seems overwhelming. Give everyone in the family a block of time (at least an hour) for them to do whatever they want with no complaints. They may just want to sleep, binge watch Netflix or scroll social media, but whatever it is, it’s their prerogative.
13. Fun Photo Op
Buy some fun props, get last year’s Christmas jammies out, or just let everyone come however they want, and snap some photos. Get one of your teens to operate the self-timer on their phones or enlist a neighbor to come over and shoot some candids. Just have some fun with it.
14. Watch the Macy’s parade and/or The National Dog Show
Make it fun. Rate the floats on a 1-10 scale or try and predict the winning dog at each event.
15. Document the day, a way to keep Thanksgiving traditions moving forward
This is one of our favorite traditions that a family member started a few years back. Buy some simple, customizable ornaments (we like these simple ball ornaments you can write on or these wood-based ornaments we’ve used in the past. We also like these markers), a photo frame, or even a piece of parchment paper and have everyone sign and date it. We cherish the ornaments that have family members’ signatures on them who have since passed and it is so special to share our memories about them each year.
16. Let your teens have a post-friendsgiving with leftovers, popcorn, and pie.
We get it. After a long day of cooking, the last thing you want is a house full of noisy, messy teenagers, BUT it means so much to them. Hosting a post-friendsgiving for your big kids can be a special time for your entire family. Just keep it simple, and it may just become your favorite Thanksgiving traditions for teens, and more importantly, a way to keep them involved for years to come.
17. Sleep in.
We remember when one of our friends said there was no rule that you had to eat dinner at 2 p.m. Each year, her entire family slept in and told guests that they would be eating Thanksgiving dinner at, well, dinner time. It completely revitalized the day for her, and she started to love hosting Thanksgiving as opposed to it being so much stress and work. Plus, your teenagers will thank you for those extra hours of sleep.
18. Create a family calendar with fun photos you took over the year.
When all the guests have left, sit down and look at some of your favorite photos from the year. Create a photo calendar using all your best pictures. Bonus, you can send a calendar to the grandparents too. Extra bonus, if you really want to give the Grands something special, check out this Skylight Digital Photo Frame. You can send all your favorite photos direct to the digital photo frame with a simple personalized email address so Nana doesn’t even need to do a thing. Trust me, they will LOVE it!
19. Create a playlist of everyone’s favorite songs to play throughout the day
Integrating music into the holidays can be one of the best Thanksgiving traditions for teens and tweens. Bonus points awarded for not complaining about any of the songs no matter what!
20. Make your favorite hot beverages to sip throughout the morning (or send your drivers out to pick a few up).
Nothing kicks off the season like a hot cocoa bar or some peppermint lattes. Your teens will appreciate the flavors, the caffeine and that they are being treated like a grown up.
21. Plan a family trip for the following year.
Nothing is more special than time together as a family, and traveling with your teen is one of the best ways to stay close.
22. Watch a vintage special, like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Nothing is more hilarious than watching your teenager who is used to the most technologically-advanced special effects watch a nostalgic, old-school holiday special. Here’s how you can watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
23. Have a Photo Scavenger Hunt.
Most teens love these and you can make them a tradition for any holiday. Using their phones, they can take pictures of items and then whoever gets back home first gets a special prize (maybe not doing any dishes!) If you live in a big neighborhood, this also could be a way for the big kids to keep the littles occupied for an hour to give parents some peace. This can be a favorite of all the Thanksgiving traditions for teens.
24. Give Everyone a Special Advent Calendar to Kick Off the Season
If you celebrate Christmas, Advent Calendars for Teens can be a great way to kick off the holiday season. Bonus points if you talk about how you want the upcoming holiday season to be special and full of traditions as well. Here are a few of the best advent calendars for teens.
That’s it! There are 24 new Thanksgiving traditions for teens and tweens. If you like these, check out our 25+ Christmas Traditions For Families With Tweens and Teens.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
The Holidays with teenagers can look a little different. Here’s some posts to help you enjoy this season a little bit more.
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