10 Fun Things to Do This Thanksgiving

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If make a purchase through these links, we receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Please see our disclosure for more info.

Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite holidays. And why wouldn’t it be? A day off from work dedicated to preparing and eating a special meal, gathering family and friends together, and expressing gratitude – what isn’t there to love?

Every year, Americans gather together on the fourth Thursday of November and consume an incredible 46 million turkeys. However, there was no turkey at the very first Thanksgiving, which was held in the autumn of 1621. 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians gathered together to feast for three days on plentiful meat and fish as well as harvested fruits and vegetables. There was no pumpkin pie or cranberry relish as we know them, but there were probably pumpkins and cranberries!

Thanksgiving would not become a national holiday for another 200 years. In fact, the existence of the holiday is all thanks to a woman called Sarah Josepha Hale, who is also responsible for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She wrote a series of letters to President Abraham Lincoln over a period of 17 years, eventually convincing him to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Over the years many Turkey Day Traditions have been established. We’ve come up with a list of 10 fun things to do this Thanksgiving to make it your best one ever!

A roasted turkey on a platter surrounded by Brussels sprouts and carrots

1. Make it a Potluck

The idea of cooking a whole Thanksgiving feast can be really daunting, even for the best home cook!

If the whole gang is coming over to you this year, share the burden of cooking for a crowd by making your Thanksgiving dinner a potluck.

Cooking for large numbers is much easier if you delegate tasks and get prepared ahead of time. If your auntie makes the best mashed potatoes in the world, your sister whips up crazy-good corn, and your mom is the queen of the pumpkin pie, give them their chance to shine.

When everyone gets to make the dish they are best at, everyone gets a share of the glory when their dishes are enjoyed! It’s also a great opportunity to share family recipes and swap secrets. Why not buy a small notebook or some recipe cards and start collecting them all together?

If you’re having a smaller get-together but you’re responsible for the whole meal, remember that most Thanksgiving dishes (especially desserts and side-dishes) can be prepared ahead of time. It’s so much easier to reheat than it is to try and make everything from scratch in one day.

Also, most stores will offer pre-made side dishes – having a more relaxed day is completely allowed, and anyway, we won’t tell you didn’t make the whole lot!

Several different fall squashes and orange pumpkins in a pile

2. Get Active

Thanksgiving might be the holiday that is all about food, but gobbling until you wobble can leave you feeling tired and uncomfortable.

Blow the cobwebs away after lunch with an energizing walk instead! Depending on your location, the end of November might be cold and snowy or the last hurrah for the golden colors of the fall leaves.

Whatever the weather, put your boots, warm sweaters and scarves on and head outside. It’ll help fight the sluggishness that comes after eating a big meal, burn off some of the kids’ energy, build memories with family members, and help prepare you for that extra mid-afternoon slice of pie.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, check out this list of Turkey Trots and organized runs happening near you. All across America, Thanksgiving Day is a great excuse to give your health and fitness a boost and raise some money for charity.

Whether you’re a pro runner or you’ve never run before, there are events to suit every level of fitness – as well as special kids races. Find a run near you and work on that Turkey Day appetite!

Felt cutouts of turkeys and a felt pilgrim hat atop a small stone

3. Get Crafting

Thanksgiving is a great excuse to break out the glue sticks, pencils, papers and paints and get creative! Get-togethers can be tough if you’ve got a large family to entertain, but kids will love crafting together and it’ll give you the chance to focus on cooking and having fun. Here are a couple of ideas for things you can make and do:

  • Craft turkeys from pine cones, feathers, and hand prints cut from red, orange and yellow card.
  • Gather some leaves on a walk and use them to create a wreath, or with paint as stencils.
  • Make and decorate some pilgrim hats.
  • Create a “pin the tail on the Turkey” game that can be played by everyone after eating.
  • Get some Christmas crafts and let kids make their own ornaments – after all, the holiday season is right around the corner.
Facade of the original Macy's store in New York City

4. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was in 1924, when 400 employees marched from Convent Avenue to 145th Street in New York City. There were no huge balloons, but the live animals of Central Park Zoo were there!

The parade has grown into a huge spectacle, with marching bands, floats, entertainers and huge balloons parading through the closed streets of Manhattan for two and a half miles.

The Parade marks the beginning of the holiday season, and offers one of the first glimpses of Santa Claus. It doesn’t matter how far away you are from New York, gather together with your family on Thanksgiving morning to hear the music and see the amazing balloons. This year’s parade promises balloons for all the family, including Charlie Brown, The Grinch and his dog Max, Elf on the Shelf, Olaf from Frozen, and the Nutcracker. It’s the perfect backdrop to your Turkey Day breakfast!

Steam rising from coffee served in two pumpkin-shaped cups

5. Watch Football

Of course Thanksgiving Day wouldn’t be complete without indulging in another American pastime – watching football!

The 2019 NFL schedule promises three great games: Bears vs Lions, Bills vs Cowboys, and Saints vs Falcons.

Gather your family and friends, make some popcorn, and settle down to watch one of these games. Even if you aren’t really into football, chances are some of your family members are. Play some football games, place your bets on who is going to win, take it in turns to explain the rules, and just have fun. Watching football is the perfect, low-effort antidote to the inevitable food coma!

Dozens of old, black and white photos spread across a Thanksgiving table

6. Have a Family Photoshoot

Thanksgiving means the holidays are officially just around the corner, and if you’ve got everyone together, why not take the opportunity to snap some family photos for your Christmas card?

You don’t have to hire a professional, just head outside and make use of the timer on your camera or phone (but you might want to get your hands on a portable tripod ahead of time!). Invite all your family members to wear co-ordinating outfits, or you could go for wacky holiday sweaters or a fancy dress theme. The most important thing is that everyone has fun together – though it also gives you another reason to get outside in the fresh air and avoid the food-coma!

Taking photos together is a great way to involve everyone, build memories, and get ahead of the game for Christmas presents and cards. Framed photos make great gifts for grandparents.

Several brightly colored Christmas gifts and gold ornaments by a tree

7. Dig Out Your Christmas Decorations

While we’re thinking about Christmas being just around the corner, why not spend Thanksgiving afternoon getting ready to decorate this weekend?

Dig out those boxes of ornaments and special holiday decor from the attic so you’re prepared for the coming season.

Most people have ornaments they have collected over the course of a lifetime. Make the most of the precious time when your family is all together to talk about your favorite holiday traditions, treasured ornaments, and memories from previous years.

Sharing happy memories is a great way to include your older guests in the Thanksgiving spirit. If they are able, ask them to bring a few photos to help them share their stories with everyone.

In addition to the Thanksgiving crafts listed above, you could also start a new tradition by allowing all the kids to create their own ornament to hang on the tree this year. Most good craft stores will have a great selection of fillable baubles, ribbons, gems, stickers and other ornament supplies at affordable prices. Everyone will love creating something for their own tree, and it means they have a gift to take home, too.

Two old hands clasped and balancing on the top of a cane

8. Volunteer

Is there an elderly person in your neighborhood who will be alone for the holidays? Volunteer to bring them a Thanksgiving meal and stay and chat for a half hour. This will help you use up some of those leftovers and bring a little joy to their day.

If you’ve just moved into a new area, local branches of the Meals on Wheels service can help connect you to an older person who needs your help. Thanksgiving is all about being grateful for what we have, but it’s also a great starting point to get involved with your community and make a difference to someone else.

Trinkets and a tea pot arranged on a worn table

9. Create a Black Friday List

Not into watching football? Spend Thanksgiving Day afternoon planning the bargains you want to bag on Black Friday! The day after Thanksgiving has typically been the day that many Americans start their Christmas shopping.

It’s been the busiest day of the year for most stores since 1952. Luckily, you don’t have to brave the huge queues if you don’t want to. Today most things can be delivered right to your door.

Make the most of a few quiet hours on Turkey Day to create a plan of attack. Are there things you know you want to buy this Black Friday? Is there a big item you’ve been holding off on purchasing in the hope of getting a huge discount? Can Santa save 50% on the asking price for the kids most-wanted toy this Christmas?!

Try to remember to buy the things you want and need this Black Friday, instead of buying something simply because it’s on sale.

Head to Amazon, Walmart, Toys R Us, Nordstrom, Target, Sears, or Home Depot and “favorite” or “add to cart” the items you want the most. Sites like Amazon already have lists of Black Friday deals, so you can get a good idea of the deals available.

When the offers start, you’ll be in the prime position to get the best deals on the things you actually want, or choose a suitable alternative if the thing you wanted didn’t get a huge discount. Your future self will thank you!

A turkey, pilgrim, and pumpkin patch made of felt cutout pieces

10. Give Thanks

Last but by no means least, remember to give thanks on Thanksgiving! Gratitude is linked to our emotional and physical health, but it’s also at the root of this holiday. It’s important to stop and consider all of the good and positive things that have happened to us and to say thanks to those who have made them happen.

Before the meal, give everyone at the table – from oldest to youngest – the opportunity to share something they are grateful for with the whole group. Explain to children why Thanksgiving exists (and that it isn’t just an excuse to eat turkey!) and remind them of the value and importance of gratitude in our lives. This ties in really well with volunteering, which can be done as easily by the whole family as by a single person!

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions? Share them with us here.

Photo of author

Natalie Seale

Natalie Seale is a writer, researcher, and editor for keepinspiring.me. She holds an MA, MSc, and PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh, and has started two businesses since 2011. Natalie is an avid reader, a keen traveller, and enjoys cooking and walking with her English Spaniel. Her posts focus on inspiring others to live healthy, happy, and active lives.