Perspectives: 9 Parents on How Their Family Celebrates Thanksgiving

Perspectives on celebrating Thanksgiving

Christian Alzate / Verywell

For our Perspectives series, we are interviewing diverse families from around the country on their favorite Thanksgiving traditions.

Traditionally Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, offering up the warm fuzzies thanks to all of the lovely comforts of home. The holiday makes us think of delicious food, family time, and appreciating all of the little things we might normally take for granted in our daily lives. While the overall message of Thanksgiving might be the same across the country, traditions will vary from household to household.

Maybe instead of a turkey, a family comes together to make their annual Thanksgiving lasagna. Or a friendly game of flag football is scheduled before everyone settles around the table. There are so many different ways to celebrate, so we asked families from across the country about their favorite traditions. And, now, we're sharing them with you. Get inspired, and enjoy your time with family!

Erika Harston

Erika Harston

Christian Alzate / Verywell

Erika Harston

Partner's name: Jason

Occupation: Health & Nutrition Coach

Location: Tracy, CA

Kids' ages: 8, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, and 22

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We have our traditional turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green olives. We love baking pies, especially pumpkin pie, and we have added a few other foods that we like, as well. We enjoy every minute of the preparation, the baking, and the eating! We love playing games and enjoying our extended family’s company.

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

We like to have the children make decorations for the tables. The crafts for decorating are usually different each year, but the fun is the same! Several days are devoted to preparation and fun, so Thanksgiving feels like more than just one moment.

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

When I was a child, after we ate our big dinner we would go around the table and everyone would share one thing they were thankful for. This was always a special memory for me. Then we would play board games and card games with our cousins and enjoy ourselves for the rest of the day.

Erika Harston

I have loved how our children have learned to express gratitude over the years.

— Erika Harston

My husband and I decided to keep the tradition of sharing our gratitude at the table after Thanksgiving dinner. I have loved how our children have learned to express gratitude over the years. It is adorable to hear their little voices saying they are thankful for their doggie or blanket. As they've grown and matured, it has been heartwarming to hear true, heartfelt gratitude for things of the greatest importance, like God, family, and freedom.

Kelly Barkhurst

Kelly Barkhurst

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Kelly Barkhurst

Age: 38

Location: West Virginia

Occupation: Graphic designer and founder of Arts and Bricks

Kids' ages: 7 and 9

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We celebrate Thanksgiving by eating! We have all of the fixings with a deep-fried turkey, baked apricot casserole, cheesy corn casserole, green beans, turnips, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and desserts! Food is often followed by family board games, too.

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

Last year there were 26 days before Thanksgiving. Each day, we built a letter from the alphabet from LEGO bricks and wrote down what we were thankful for that started with that letter of the alphabet.

It's become our "26 Days of Thankfulness" project. We started at Z and made our way to A, day-by-day! The collective response was great. Now, we've even created printables for a family-friendly analog version. We plan to repeat this Gratitude project year after year.

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

It is definitely watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! We always watched it together as a family growing up. I loved seeing Santa!

Our family is not big on screen time, but I actually specifically requested that we purchase a TV upstairs so that we could watch the parade! That way, we can enjoy the floats while cooking and hosting Thanksgiving.

Kate Ring

Kate Ring

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Kate Ring

Partner's name: Bryan
Age: 37

Location: Virginia
Kids' ages: 6, 10, and 11

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We do our own version of a Turkey Trot, which is traditionally a 5K race run on Thanksgiving. Then we fill our home with company and cook a huge traditional Thanksgiving dinner. As sports fans, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without some football, so we always watch the Dallas Cowboys game!

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

We are big into memorizing songs and poetry in our house. I especially love the poem "The First Thanksgiving" by Jack Prelutsky that tells the story of the first Thanksgiving. When my oldest child was in kindergarten, we started reciting and memorizing the poem as a family prior to Thanksgiving. Then, right before Thanksgiving dinner, she had the opportunity to recite the poem to our company. The sense of pride and accomplishment she felt was so rewarding, plus our company was super impressed with her memorization skills.

We've now done that with each of our children, and we continue to recite it as a family each Thanksgiving. I've developed some fun Thanksgiving activities, including a dinner placement that kids can color on with the poem written out on it. We've started using this at our family dinner so that guests can join in the recitation as well. 

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

My husband's family celebrates by making T-shirts for any major holiday they spend together. The shirts usually have our last name, the words "Family Thanksgiving" and the year. When we're together on Thanksgiving, we have our own version of a Turkey Trot and wear our T-shirts while walking/running.

The best part is that we get to wear the T-shirts throughout the year. People usually think it's hilarious that our whole family gets T-shirts made up for holidays. We like it because it's definitely practical (you can always use more T-shirts!), but also reminds us of the great memories we make.

Jillian Amodio

Jillian Amodio

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Jillian Amodio

Age: 31

Partner's name: Dan

Location: Annapolis, MD

Occupation: Self-Employed author, writer, and mental health advocate

Kids' ages: 6 and 10

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

In an effort to reduce the stress and chaos of trying to travel between two families, my husband and I have made it a tradition to do a small trip each Thanksgiving with our children. We find unique vacation homes and spend a few days in an exciting location with our children. We create memories, do crafts, play games, and explore new places as well as cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal together in a vacation home. 

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

Our favorite tradition is our gratitude tablecloth. We bring it out on the first of November. Every Friday, each family member writes what they are most thankful for that week in permanent marker or fabric marker. If we have guests over throughout the month of November, they are also invited to share something they are grateful for on the table cloth. We end up with a table cloth full of memories to bring out each year.  

Jillian Amodio

Our favorite tradition is our gratitude tablecloth. We bring it out on the first of November. Every Friday, each family member writes what they are most thankful for that week in permanent marker or fabric marker.

— Jillian Amodio

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

The only tradition we carry over from childhood is baking the pie crusts we use from scratch. We also typically walk our local Thanksgiving Day parade route while sipping on hot chocolate for the kids and coffee for the adults. It's great to get outside and get moving before we sit down for a big meal.

Michelle Keldgord

Michelle Keldgord

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Michelle Keldgord

Age: 29

Partner's name: Manuel

Location: Redlands, CA

Occupation: Blogger, BakingHow

Kids' ages: 5 and 9


How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

While our Thanksgiving traditions may not be super out of the box, they are important to me. Our latest tradition is to make turkey in the slow cooker. This is a tradition I started a few years ago. I didn’t want to fuss with a turkey in the oven for our small family. I found that the slow cooker created the juiciest and most succulent turkey, and that’s what I plan to continue doing from here on out.

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

We like to stay in our pajamas all day! We don’t think it makes sense to get dressed up just to stuff our faces and not fit into the clothes any longer anyways. It’s easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable for us to simply stay in our cozy jammies.

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

My grandma has always made a delicious cranberry Jell-O salad for every Thanksgiving. I have never seen a recipe like it and it’s one of the yummiest things you will ever eat. Now that she is getting older, I’ve taken on the tradition and enjoy making it each year. I hope my kids will do the same and make the dish for their families one day.

Jennifer Weedon Palazzo

Jennifer Weedon Palazzo

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Jennifer Weedon Palazzo

Partner's name: Evan

Occupation: Video producer and actress, MomCaveTV.com

Kids' ages: 6 and 11

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We try to alternate families each year for Thanksgiving. If we don't celebrate with one side of the family one year, we know we'll get to them the next. With grandparents and cousins living far away, it's one of our favorite times to connect. It's really important to our entire family that we have those holiday memories together.

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

Since having kids, I have had less time to obsess about the quality of the food and elegance of the place settings. So I usually ask to be in charge of dessert or appetizers.

If it's dessert, I get my kids involved in the baking. I love the moment of pride when they present their grandparents, aunts, and uncles with something they baked themselves! (Well, at my direction and with me cleaning up most of the mess! )

If it's an appetizer, I have a go-to plan that is easy and gets oohs and ahs—a charcuterie board with cheeses, olives, meats, and cut veggies arranged in the shape of a turkey. Kids and adults like it. It's easy and festive!

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

My favorite tradition from childhood is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I grew up far from NYC, so I always watched it on television. But my husband grew up in New York and we have old movie footage of him attending the parade in his stroller.

It's so fun each year to see The Rockettes, the latest Broadway shows, and, most importantly, we all hold our breath until the end of the parade when Santa comes riding in on his sleigh. That means the holiday season has officially started!

We then go take a trip to Macy's to have our kids' photos taken with Santa. I know it's a bit cheesy, but I have two of those frames that can hold multiple photos that I put up from Thanksgiving to New Year each year. I put the Macy's Santa photos in them each year, arranged chronologically. We have 12 years' worth now! 

Kristin Gonterman

Kristin Gonterman

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Kristin Gonterman

Age: 34

Partner's name: Joe

Location: Columbus, OH

Occupation: Full-time administrative assistant, part-time blogger

Kids' ages: 1 and 3

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We start the day out with cinnamon rolls in our pajamas while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Pre-pandemic, we traditionally traveled to my mother-in-law's house for a large dinner with her family.

However, last year we stayed in. I made Cornish hens instead of turkey. We like it better anyway, and since our toddler was little, she only ate the legs off of mine last year. This year, we will probably do Cornish hens again, with oyster dressing, yams, and green beans. As of now, we're choosing to play it safe and celebrate in our own home, where we can keep our children safe. Traditionally, we also watch Christmas movies since Thanksgiving marks the start of the season.

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

We're still working on establishing our traditions for our children. We plan to discuss being thankful this year with our 3-year-old. She loves art, and I would love to find a good art-related tradition that allows her to express herself. We usually do some sort of painting activity each holiday, so I might get some fall color paints and canvas and let her go to town.

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

I've passed down the tradition of watching the parade, without a doubt. When I was a kid, nothing was more magical to me than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The balloons that defied logic, the marching bands playing beautiful melodies, the musical numbers, the floats, and of course Santa Claus at the end.

Kristin Gonterman

When I was a kid, nothing was more magical to me than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The balloons that defied logic, the marching bands playing beautiful melodies, the musical numbers, the floats, and of course Santa Claus at the end.

— Kristin Gonterman

I've been desperate for my daughter to get as excited for it as me, and this year is shaping up to be the first year that she really gets into it! We've been talking a lot about it, and she's so excited about the balloons. I'm keeping Santa a secret, so she absolutely falls in love with the magic as I did.

Ana Garcia Kamenetzky

Ana Garcia Kamenetzky

Christian Alzate / Verywell

Ana Garcia Kamenetzky

Age: 44

Occupation: Advertising Executive

Kid's age: 10

[Editor's note: Ana is the writer's sister-in-law.]

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

My husband's parents come to visit for Thanksgiving and we have the traditional big meal with them and my brother-in-law's family. My work is really busy and I work long hours, so it's really nice to be able to relax a bit and unwind during that four-day weekend. We eat, take it easy, and watch the Cowboys game on TV. (I'm from Texas so it's a must.)

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

My mother-in-law, in particular, loves a Black Friday deal. Typically we go shopping the day after Thanksgiving to some of the stores that are more low-key but still have great sales. A few years ago my daughter, who is now 10, decided she wanted to join the ladies for Black Friday shopping. Since then, it's become a tradition. We didn't go last year because of the pandemic, but she's really looking forward to getting some holiday shopping time in with the ladies this year.

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

We really like to make our own traditions. I think that's one of the most fun parts of being a parent—getting to set new traditions around the holidays or birthdays. The biggest thing I want to pass down to my daughter is the importance of family and gratitude. We don't live close to either set of her grandparents. I want her to cherish the time when she has her grandma and grandpa nearby and make the most of those moments.

Olivia Burtis

Olivia Burtis

Christian Alzate / Verywell

Olivia Burtis

Age: 41

Partner's name: Justin

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Founder, Crafted Concierge LA

Kid's age: 3

How Does Your Family Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We try to spread the love to both my family and my boyfriend's family by switching up how we do Thanksgiving each year. Both sides want to see our daughter so to make things fair we'll go to his family one year and celebrate with mine the next.

There's always a ton of the traditional Thanksgiving food, including my grandpa's famous gravy. It's so good. The recipe was passed down to me and I make it with turkey for Thanksgiving and prime rib for Christmas.

Do You Have Any Special Traditions You Do With Your Kids?

I'm born and raised in Los Angeles, so during Thanksgiving weekend, we like to pick a tourist destination to visit that we don't get to experience on a regular basis. Typically, places like Santa Monica Pier or Hollywood Boulevard are deserted over Thanksgiving. It's a rarity, so we like to take the time to explore when we can have it all to ourselves!

Is There a Tradition From Your Childhood That You've Passed Down?

The biggest tradition I'm trying to pass down is spending quality time together and making memories. It's really true that L.A. is kind of a ghost town over Thanksgiving because so many people who live here head to wherever they're from during this holiday. It's such a nice, quiet time to enjoy all of the fun attractions and activities I grew up with without all of the hustle and bustle.

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