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Happy Thanksgiving – (And An Ask The Audience – Searching For Doable And Feel Good Holiday Traditions)



Happy Thanksgiving. So this is what happens, huh? As children we see our moms happy-cry all the time and like most big things in life you don’t really listen or understand until it’s happening to you. So now, it’s my time. Saying I’m grateful for what I have in life is a massive understatement, but it’s Thanksgiving, and I really, really am.

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I get asked all the time in interviews what are our holiday traditions and I don’t really know how to answer and I want that to change. Sure, we see Santa, make cookies, build gingerbread houses but this is the first year that having them be slightly older – ACTUAL KIDS (at 4 and 6) we are ready for some big kid traditions and I’d love your help.

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What do you really remember from your childhood that imprinted? What felt special and personal to your family that you tell people you did? What do you do now that you are proud of? I want to know it all.

A lot of what I remember that we did as kids were facilitated by our church which is super helpful – huge potlucks, lots of service projects, caroling and making gifts. So in a general mid-life quest to ensure I’m doing everything with meaning and purpose I would LOVE to know what you guys do to do that.

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One thing we are starting this year (in my family is a service advent calendar) is 12 acts or days (or more – we are still formulating it) of service that are actually doable and meaningful during such a busy month. This is everything from making a gift for your UPS guy to caroling at a nursing home, donating toys. etc. You get it. I would LOVE to get suggestions from you guys on what service projects you think we should include. We are going to create one that is more kid-oriented, as a huge part of this is instilling this pattern in them, and one less kid-oriented, that is for grownups.

So if you have time today or over the weekend to share some your wonderful, family bonding, character inducing traditions I would be so grateful (as if I’m not already grateful for all of your and your constant support and feedback). Have a truly wonderful Thanksgiving and I can’t wait to read and compile all of your responses. xx

Fin Mark


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My kiddos are 6&4 as well and the last couple of years we have picked from our church’s adopt a family gifts that are appropriate for their age and then they pick them out. This year we have a Spider-Man toy for my son to pick out and a craft kit for my daughter to pick out. I think a lot of it is also seeing you volunteer. I signed up families for the adopt a family program and then my oldest came along and gave out candy canes to the kids. The food bank probably does a holiday meal… Read more »


Our family also really enjoys scouts. I have a son and daughter. We have a very service oriented troop that help facilitate service projects throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. Boy Scouts, now Scouts BSA, is open to both boys and girls if you want a group the whole family can be involved in.

Dee Nowak

Love this post! I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as much as I did growing up because I’m vegetarian now and my husband isn’t American anyways. So for me it’s mostly a signpost that I can officially start getting ready for Christmas 😀

Dee ~ Vanilla Papers


Every year, since I can remember, all my family gets together at my grandparents – I’m talking 35+ of us and we always make pies with my grandmother, we do a taffy pull with my great grandmothers recipe, we set the table and after we all eat we sit in a circle and everyone goes around and says what they are thankful for. It’s a really special tradition that I cherish ❤️

Angela Hannigan

A few of ours include having the kids decorate the mailbox for our mail carrier and leave a note and/or candy bar. We hide “dragon tears” round glass or small dinosaurs in the sandboxes of local parks for kids to find. We tape quarters to parking meters downtown. Another favorite is to go shopping with the kids to create a give away bag (hats, gloves, pb crackers) to keep in the car.


We do the Giving Manger with our kids every year at Christmas! My family started a tradition where on Thanksgiving, my parents would give each kid a sum of money. We got to pick how we wanted to bless someone with it. We left gift cards to Target on the shopping carts, went into a restaurant and picked a random family to pay for, bought someone’s movie ticket, etc. We all went around town together doing this. It was SO fun to be sneaky and giving at the same time. We all loved coming up with different ways to spend… Read more »

Cassie Bustamante

I love this idea so much!!!


My kids are 7 & 8 and for the last 3 or 4 years, we have spent our whole year saving dollar bills. Whenever we use cash, and happen to have a dollar bill, it gets saved. At the end of the year (typically the week before or after Christmas) the kids split however much money we’ve saved and they each get to decide what cause they want to donate their dollars to. Last year was the ASPCA and the local food CO-OP. They absolutely LOVE this tradition! My kids also only receive 5 gifts from Santa. I am a… Read more »


Just beautiful!


My parents divorced when I was five and each fairly quickly remarried. They lived less than a mile from each other but the necessary logistics of having two homes, with extended family on each. Well. It’s like having in-laws your whole life. So traditions were always flexible and accommodating. We celebrated all the grandparents homes and each smaller family. Looking back nearly 50 years now, I’d say what I cherish the most is that flexibility. My parents (all of them) kept emotional drama low, made it easy for people to join if and when they could and moved the timing… Read more »


I have no idea why but this reply made me tear up! Maybe it’s the pressure to “do it right” and make it so special. But you are right! It’s the mood & just being together that is important! Thanks for sharing 🙂


This is so sweet. I needed to hear this.

Mary Beth

My parents would always invite guests for Thanksgiving dinner. We did not live close to relatives. My mom would ask me to make place cards for the table. When I got a little older, I got to set the table which I loved because of all the beautiful things. I thought it was fun and it did me to set a formal table! Sadly, I have had little opportunity in my life to set a formal table!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!


One of my bible study leaders shared this with me a few years ago, and it has since become my kids’ favorite and most talked about tradition. We put them to bed (on a school night Which makes this even more exciting), and then I start ringing bells or banging a pot with a wooden spoon shouting at them to come downstairs. We load up in our van all dressed in PJ’s with Christmas cookies and hot cocoa in their water bottles and drive around looking for the best Christmas lights. The surprise and never knowing what night is might… Read more »


This is adorable!


I have an 8 year old boy, and we have a bunch of holiday traditions. I grew up Catholic but now go to an Episcopal church, so some of our traditions are informed by that. 1. Religiousy traditions: we have an Advent wreath and light candles and sing a song and say a prayer each night. I have a Fisher Price Advent calendar where you add a different nativity character to the scene each night. (Sadly, he has outgrown this and the lure of a chocolate advent calendar is real!) We also have a Manger and put a piece of… Read more »


Lovely traditions. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is a wonderful chapter book to read with an 8 year old. It’s funny, but also teaches valuable lessons. My daughter loved it. And I once read it to my 8 year old niece while she was sick while staying with us for the weekend. We finished the entire book, which made her laugh out loud, even though she was sick! The next time she wanted a story, she called me so that I could read to her – a great moment of aunt/niece bonding.


‘The lazy genius’ just did a podcast episode on this that I loved. #132 Ten Steps to Creating Your Own Traditions,
Kendra is the best, you should check out out.


We do pie making and food baskets at our church. My kids do a large picture of a turkey and i cut out different color feathers. This started when my oldest was 4. All 23 family write what they are thankful for, and in pin the tail in the Turkey blindfold. We read them
With desert. I save them
Every year and get ready eyed now that the oldest is 22.


It’s not really holiday tradition but for my kids birthdays they each get a set sum of money (usually $20-30) and they have to think of someone in need or something kind and then I take them to spend that money and deliver whatever they chose to the recipient. One child wanted to buy backpacks for kids going to school who didn’t have a fancy one. Another child felt that all kids should have lucky charms and peanut butter so he used all his money on that and we took it to our local food bank. It’s fun each year… Read more »

Victoria Smith

We do a cute advent calendar (Gathre just released a darling one). We pick a night and go have “breakfast for dinner“ at a greasy spoon diner (Conrad’s in Pasadena), then get cocoa and drive around looking at Christmas lights. We also pick one night and watch Christmas movies and “camp out” under the Christmas tree. Then lots of cozy church activities and stuff. Merry Christmas!


For the last five years we have participated in a kickball game every Thanksgiving morning with friends. Just got back from it! It’s a rotating group of 5–10 families—whoever is in town that year—and it’s so much fun. We meet early, 8 am, at a city park and play kickball (boys against girls and everyone plays) and have hot chocolate. We have done this in every type of freezing weather imaginable (we live in the Midwest) and it’s so fun. We do it early so everyone can get on with their Thanksgiving with family after. I love this tradition because… Read more »

Roberta Davis

Service projects are a great thing! I have done various things over the years, but none of them with my whole family. I think doing service projects together is fabulous. I married a man who had 3 daughters, and they lived across the country from us most of the time, so our time with them was short. Now most of us are in the same area but they spend the actual holiday with their mother, who is sick and alone if they wouldn’t be with her. So we always do our Thanksgiving and Christmas with my step daughters, not on… Read more »

Annie K

I am a daughter of a caring and loving stepmom. I have a couple of friends who were bullied by their stepmothers and the pain they still feel in their thirties is deep. Parents like you and my stepmom make a family whole. Thank you for sharing.


I am not American and Thanksgiving has some mixed and funny memories for me, but I grew up with a traditional Christmas that was repetitive ad nauseam, yet, these are the fondest memories I treasure now. I made sure to implement all the repetitiveness in my own family live and every year we went to see “The Grinch” at the Old Globe Theater here in town. We usually had duck or goose and other European meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our Thanksgiving was less American, but filled with tradition and now that my kid is an adult, that’s what she… Read more »


On Thanksgiving I craft gratitude ornaments and at Thanksgiving everyone writes what they are grateful for on them and we hang them on a Thanksgiving “tree” (some branches in a vase) on the table. Then whichever family member is hosting that year gets to keep them for their Christmas tree so it also serves as a hostess gift! We also have the cousins all wear matching pjs and they take a photo with their Great Grandmother so we can give her that framed photo on Christmas. It’s all she ever wants and she’s 98 now so each year it becomes… Read more »


My twins are 33 now. We always did a gift exchange between the two of them on Christmas eve. I’d take one to shop for the other, leaving dad with the other kiddo, then rinse and repeat. They used their own $$ once they were old enough, and we’d have a hot chocolate/cookie break, and then home to wrap it ASAP. Some of my fave pix of the two of them are opening their Christmas sibling gifts. Its a tradition they STILL continue even living in different states now, they just mail stuff and open via Skype/What’s App. As they… Read more »


My kids have loved shopping for their siblings and for the gifts we choose from the school giving tree. These have both become important traditions. They have moved on from elementary school so we don’t have the school to facilitate the giving tree, but it’s fun and important for them to do some giving during a season with so much focus on getting.

Erin Frost

I don’t know if service around the holidays really brings home the message because the excitement of all the stuff sort of eclipses it. And day to day life is still one of complete privilege because of your race. We are in a similar position. I think the things that really resonate for our child were trips were we lived around people that did not have access to things (volunteering on trips thru our Unitarian church). Kids are not really permitted to do service work until they are 16-18yrs. So finding opportunities can be challenging. But we often participate thru… Read more »


My mom would always give my sister and I $20 to donate or somehow help others in need. Some years I bought pet food for a local animal shelter, others we’d give to a friend in need. It was really cool to have control at a young age to decide where we wanted to put our money. It was also especially powerful for me because we were poor ourselves and yet my mom always set the example that sharing what we had was more important than having a extra present under the tree.


I’m at the older side of 9 kids (aged 30-15) and growing up we would do nightly prayer during Advent including Christmas songs and lighting an Advent wreath.

But we also had a stocking for Jesus. And in preparation for His birthday, every night we would write down what each member of the family was thankful for, as a birthday gift for Christmas.

My parents still do this with whom ever is at the house (even guests participate) and my brother does it with his kids too.

Happy Thanksgiving!


I work at an assisted living – in Loma Linda, CA – and our residents love visits from children. Christmas is especially hard for them, as many have outlived their spouses, relatives, and, in many cases, their own children. I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and the number of visits from children has dwindled considerably over the years. I’m constantly calling nearby schools and churches and they come through for us every once in a while – they are busy and we understand and are extremely grateful for the time they do make. (Teachers have to coordinate with… Read more »


I did a really big toy drive for two Pasadena area kid charities and it was so gratifying.

If I had kids now I’d do it every year and volunteer


I have a seven and four year old and am still forming holiday traditions. When I think back to the Christmas traditions I participated in growing up, they are a mix of silly things and service oriented opportunities. Many things my siblings and I came up with on our own. Like our Christmas nest. Each Christmas Eve, we’d gather blankets and pillows into one big pile and all the siblings slept together. This was one of our favorite things. My parents initiated thoughtful service projects we could participate in. For many years we would do the twelve days of Christmas,… Read more »


We always went to pick a bunch of toys to donate and our son picked them, took them from the car and put them into the donation bins! That was huge for him. Also volunteering at Thanksgiving dinners for under-privileged was huge for him. He has carried these things into his adult life.


My mom started the tradition of having our Santa photos taken every year and hanging them up for all to see how we’d all grown up. I took it one step further and I have purchased The same ornament Frame annually for each of my 8 year old twins and I hang them on our garland on our staircase each year. Everyone who sees them comments on them.


Oh and I forgot a huge one!! We all get together for an annual cookie bake. The kids have loved it…depending on how many kids we have, each kid picks 1 – 3 fave cookie recipes and everyone helps bake them!


Every Christmas Eve we stayed home, ate finger foods and played board games. We still all do this with our own families today, even if we’re not all together.


I love that you want service to become a tradition and I totally agree that it is a meaningful way to create memories !! I know you’re no longer a member of the church, but there are some great kid-friendly Ideas here and most are based on being a good, kind person vs something strictly religious.

Excited to hear what your family tries!!


No one will like this suggestion, but as a former director of a homeless shelter, I can tell you that the one time we ( and other not for profits) don’t need anything is Christmas . Plan service projects for your birthday and spread the giving through out the year, to insure that social services receive donations when they need them most.


This is such helpful Insight. Thank you.


I volunteer at a homeless family center annually over MLK weekend, and they say the same! Most of what we do is organize and filter the massive donations from mid-Nov to late-Dec. They encourage us to tell everyone with a scout troop, etc to instead organize donations in Spring and Summer.


When we were growing up, my mom would take us shopping for gifts for our family members and the first stop would be at the giving tree. My mom, sister and I would each read through the cards and choose a kid in need to shop for. Then we got to pick out their present all on our own. It was a great lesson in the joy of gift-giving and got us to reflect on our good fortune as well. Even if we were tight on money, we would participate. It was always my favorite part of Christmas and I… Read more »


My all time favorite tradition is the Christmas morning scavenger hunt. The first clue begins on the tree (hidden in/on an ornament) and then each clue would take me somewhere outside in the cold, around the neighborhood, in the house, yard, until I found my gift. My dad started it when I was around 5 and I loved it so much it continued all through high school where the clues escalated to calculus and chemistry questions! It really extends the togetherness of gift opening, makes it super interactive and a team effort when the clues get tough (getting to help… Read more »


When I was growing up, our local library had a Christmas tree decorated with a bunch of tags. Each tag was for a local kid whose family didn’t really have the means to buy Christmas gifts. My mom took my sister & I to the library every Year and we each got to pick one kid to get a present for. I don’t know of any programs exactly like this in LA, but DPSS and CHLA both have adopt a family type programs. We would also normally each get to pick out a stuffed animal to donate to Toys for… Read more »


Two ideas: donate to a women’s shelter or help serve food at a soup kitchen. My children’s school collects toothbrushes and other toiletries as well as makeup, socks, etc and donates it to a local women’s shelter. Also, we have helped out one weekend preparing and serving food at a soup kitchen.

Diane Amick

Christmas stockings have always been of major importance in my family…both growing up and with my kids. A personalized needlepoint stocking for each family member based upon their personal important holiday symbols whether secular or religious is number one. I’ve made over 40 for in-laws, nieces, nephews, spouses of family members…their children, each different. We spend lots of time picking out stocking stuffers for each family member and take our time first thing opening them to ooohhh and aaahhh over each one. Always look forward to the stockings.


My favorite activity that my family still does is we each individually decide what amount of money we can donate – matched by my parents – to a general “fund.” The 8 of us then pile in the car and go to Aldi or Meijer and buy however much food & supplies (from a soup kitchen preferred donation list ie soups, hamburger helper, brownie mix, dish soap) that amount can buy and deliver it to a local soup kitchen. We usually donate around $1500 of food and it’s fun to shop together for the cause as a family. We’ve also… Read more »


I grew up Mormon but no longer believe and only participate for family/social reasons on a limited basis. There are a lot of traditions and things facilitated by the church/gospel that I miss but that no longer hold the same meaning for me. So, I’ve had to find ways to try to recreate the parts I loved, in a way that makes sense for me now. For example, as a kid, my family used to read scriptures in the morning and pray over every meal. So with my kids (6 and 4 years), before every meal, we light a candle,… Read more »


Thank you for posting this question. Everyone’s comments are reminders to me that there is so much good in the world. ????


This is more Thanksgiving related, but we had a tablecloth and each year would write (fabric paint) what we were thankful for. We just brought it out this year to revive the tradition and it was hilarious, sentimental, and sweet! Highly recommend!


On Christmas, everyone opens just one present per hour. It keeps us in the moment and slows down the craziness of the day.


Some things we do for others: Blessings in a back pack (so kids who need it can go home on the weekend with food) In the same vain, blessing bag for the homeless (it feels good gathering/buying items for them) For ourselves: Anyone we know who lives here but has no family with them, we invite to thanksgiving dinner. We make the same Christmas breakfast that we get ready the day before. We take a walk on the beach every xmas. There is a huge house in the area that does one of those crazy light shows/music extravaganzas and we… Read more »


At school we took part in an annual charity shoebox appeal. We’d fill a shoebox with donated toys, little chocolates or treats, and wrap it up to be sent to another child. It was great to encourage a clear-out before Christmas, and even when I was very young I remember recognising that I had so much and I felt proud to be able to pass on things to other children who would need them more. I loved it, and have kept up a tradition of an annual clear-out and donation to charity every year since. It’s something I will pass… Read more »


My Dad and I always went on a tree finding expedition together. My Mom always had projects and my brother complained so it became our special holiday tradition. We created a set of criteria that worked for our home and looked at many options before selecting the best of that year. We drove home chatting about the day, drinking the last of the hot chocolate and often spontaneously started singing Christmas carols. Not everyone has snowy woods hike through to harvest a tree, however I think one could adapt this to any tree search. The important part was that Dad… Read more »


I’ll be following the comments and looking forward to a summary post in the future. My kids love doing Sibling Secret Santa, so last year I tried to put that energy towards giving tree recipients instead. They were onboard with the idea, so I got tags for kids same age/gender. The challenge was that the tags had very specific items (which I completely understand!) which were much easier for us (me) to get online. And they want them unwrapped (again, understandable) so my kids weren’t even able to wrap the gifts. I was very glad to have purchased gifts for… Read more »


On Christmas morning, our family meets at an assisted living facility with any friends who want to join, and we go caroling up and down the halls, in meeting rooms, and in a few residents rooms (sometimes directed by facility staff). We bring homemade cards to give to every resident and often bring other gifts approved by the facility staff. One year we made homemade scarves for all 80+ residents. The kids loved doing this with the scarf looms(?). Another year, we brought little packages with tissues, socks, nail files, etc. It kicks off the day in such an outward… Read more »


We don’t celebrate thanksgiving where I’m from but for Christmas one of my absolute favourite things we did was go for a midnight big Christmas food shop. My mum would bring me, my sister and my best friend every year, a couple of days before Christmas. It felt so exciting to be food shopping after midnight. We definitely were older than 4 & 6 though. There was one supermarket in the suburbs that did a late night shop, it had a great atmosphere and everyone was surprising chilled out while shopping. Some even in their pyjamas. Another thing we still… Read more »

[…] post Happy Thanksgiving – (And An Ask The Audience – Searching For Doable And Feel Good Holiday Tradi… appeared first on Emily […]


So many wonderful traditions in these posts. Thank you for sharing! I imprinted heavily on children’s books about Christmas, learning that some families made Christmas cookies, and learning that other families collected special ornaments. I did both traditions with my daughter, and included my nephew and nieces as they came along. And of course I read those books to her, along with other Christmas stories. I always wanted my daughter to know that many people were not as fortunate as she is, so every year she picked out gifts for a family that we “adopted,” or for Christmas giving programs.… Read more »

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