Our Thanksgiving Family Traditions

Does your family go all out for Thanksgiving? Or do you have more of a dinner-and-naps kind of holiday? One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that you can do whatever works for your family. Here’s what we’ll be doing to celebrate with our Thanksgiving family traditions. 


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because my family goes IN. We get together with my mom’s family, including my aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as my mom’s cousins and their kids. It gets rowdy pretty quickly with that many people.

Our Thanksgiving is a two-day affair. Day one, on Thanksgiving, consists of dinner at one family member’s house and then desserts and games at another family member’s house down the street. Dinner kicks off with whiskey sours (a family favorite) and we usually have about five turkeys that are either grilled, baked, or deep-fried. A blind taste test determines which cooking method was the winner for the year.

After we’re all thoroughly stuffed, we take a post-dinner stroll to the next house for pies, cookies, hot apple cider, and coffee. We also play games, usually euchre, spoons, and the ever-competitive Balderdash. Our family also has a game called Cahoots that newcomers have to figure out if they want to join in (a true Cahooter never tells the rules of the game).

Day two holds options: you either participate in the cookie exchange or you go bowling. Bowling also gets competitive as we have some die-hards in the group. Our weirdest tradition is probably that we sing Hava Nagila before someone bowls for a turkey, especially since my family gatherings are essentially WASP conventions.

Anyways, after bowling is done and at least one person is hammered from too many Christmas Ales, we all get together for leftover turkey, desserts, and more games. Then we all stumble home and sleep forever.


We alternate which side of the family we spend Thanksgiving with every year, joining either my Mom’s family in Toledo or my Dad’s family in Cleveland. During Toledo years we usually head there at lunch time and I admire my grandma’s expertly decorated pies. Toledo Thanksgiving is pretty chill, with us all shoveling delicious food into our faces and then hanging out playing games. After we eat, we’ll draw names for our Christmas secret Santa and we usually have a theme for the gifts, so I’ll be interested to see what this year’s theme is. 

2013 Cousin Photo

My dad’s family’s Thanksgiving is where it gets crazy. He is one of 18 kids and most people live in Cleveland or come into town for Thanksgiving. There are typically around 100 people at Thanksgiving, so we have to rent out a hall. The day starts with a game of football that used to send people to the hospital every year, but now that they switched to flag football it is a little safer. I obviously stand on the sidelines or hide inside with the donuts and coffee.

After the game is over, everyone heads home to get changed for the main event: the family photo. Making 100 people line up and pose for a photo is an ORDEAL. We take the full family photo, the grandkids photo, the aunts and uncles photo, and individual family photos. Anyone who comes as a guest or who is not married into the family has to take all of the pictures and juggle a million cameras/phones. After about an hour of photos, we set up all the tables and start eating.

Every adult person in the family is assigned something to bring. One year I was assigned mashed potatoes for 25 people. That was A LOT of mashing. This year my parents are doing a 20-pound turkey and a gallon of gravy. I got two pumpkin pies, which seems easier than mashing a million potatoes. After we eat, everyone disperses to head to their next Thanksgiving commitment and my family goes home and watches movies.


Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. Mainly because my family doesn’t really do too much. We’re more make-it-easy-and-stress-free kind of people. So naturally, we started the tradition to go bowling during the day to give us all something to do. Everyone always asks “why bowling?” and, pretty simply, it was that or the movies. It’s really one of the only things open that day.

Because it is such a low-key holiday at my parent’s house, and because I live across the country, I haven’t been back for their Thanksgiving in a few years. The past couple of years, however, I’ve started going with my boyfriend Tai to his family’s celebration in St. Louis. Theirs is a much larger affair with all of the cousins and aunts and uncles. Plus, it is pretty miraculous to watch the one weekday Tai lets himself have a beer at noon. He literally waits all year for it.

And since we’re flying-distance away from family, surviving holiday travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas has become my new personal tradition.

Patent-pending holiday travel techniques for the anti-socialite:

  1. Put your headphones in immediately upon airport arrival. This is Tai’s #1 rule and for him, it doesn’t even matter if they are plugged into your phone (usually he forgets, and they aren’t). It still gives the illusion you’re very busy and cannot be bothered by things like terrible weather delaying your flight.
  2. Carry one of our “Plz Don’t Talk to Me” pouches so people immediately know where you’re coming from. You’re not on this plane to make friends.
  3. When/if traveling with pets and someone comes up to ask to pet him, always say they are mean. This will get you out of any awkward airport conversations you don’t want to be having anyway.
  4. Hoard your airline drink coupons all year specifically for these flights. The holiday travel is ROUGH and you’re going to need that second glass of free wine to get through.

So, what are your Thanksgiving family traditions? Anyone else trying to survive the crazy travel conditions? Or are you laying low at home this Thursday?

Featured image from Death to Stock


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