20 Things to Do on Thanksgiving That Don't (Entirely) Revolve Around Eating

Updated 10/05/18
Things to Do on Thanksgiving—Margo and Me
@margoandme

For the past several years, I've had an ongoing, albeit simple, Thanksgiving tradition with my father. We drink cups of coffee together, lace up our walking shoes, and go for a morning stroll overlooking the surf. I grew up near the beach in Los Angeles, so Thanksgiving mornings often resemble summer more than fall—last year it was 80 degrees, and dozens of surfers were out on the waves. But my dad and I use this time to catch up, enjoy some fresh air, and get some exercise before a day of eating.

It's also fun to trick him into thinking the ocean water isn't as cold as it is. He always falls for it.

Thanksgiving is a day of routines, of course, and they mostly revolve around food. We all anticipate the same comforting heaps of sides and the golden turkey, as well as the cuts of ham and vat of gravy, but the rest of the day is often left open. This year, plan to create another tradition or two for your family to celebrate instead of putting all the pressure of the day's success on the dining table. We put together 20 ideas for you to consider—from an early morning turkey trot to an afternoon touch football game to an evening wearing matching pajamas—so that your routines extend past the expected menu.

While it may not be a walk on the beach, there are plenty of other activities to look forward to as well.

Morning

Things to Do on Thanksgiving—Hanna Stefansson
@hannastefansson

Go for a walk. A simple walk around your neighborhood is a relaxing way to get this often hectic day started, and it's especially beautiful if you live in a place where the leaves change colors.

Better yet, participate in a turkey trot. There are countless different races you can join on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, and it's a great opportunity to get the family together. Bonus points are given to those who dress up!

Make a light breakfast. It's never a good idea to skip eating altogether until the turkey hits the table. Whip up a light breakfast to keep your energy up—even if it's something as simple as a fruit salad and a coffee—so that you don't feel out of sorts later.

Call older relatives. Maybe you have older relatives who are no longer able to travel to join everyone on Thanksgiving. Give them a call and let them know you're thinking of them. It'll make their day.

Organize the kitchen. Do you ever watch cooking shows and notice that the hosts always have the ingredients they need within reach? Make the chef's duties easier by organizing everything that's needed for the feast ahead of time. This will also give you a chance to notice what's missing in case you need to make a last-minute grocery store run.

Have some quiet time. Before you're surrounded by relatives asking you 1000 questions, find some time to be alone. Sit quietly by a window, read a chapter of a book, or scroll through Instagram—just find something that gives you a moment of peace.

Volunteer. Serve breakfast at a local soup kitchen with your relatives, or help deliver Thanksgiving dinners to the community.

Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It's cheesy, we know, but it's also a heartwarming tradition.

Afternoon

Things to Do on Thanksgiving—Half Baked Harvest
Half Baked Harvest

Start cooking. You may have already started doing prep and a few easy recipes in the morning, but now is the time to really get to work. Don't forget to ask for help if you need it, especially if there are teens around.

Decorate the table. Create a themed centerpiece, and make sure everyone has a matching table setting. You can also decorate the kids' table with crayons and construction paper, too.

Put the game on. Even if it's not your team or you could care less, it still rounds out the day.

Coach a game. Once the early afternoon is underway, the chef is likely scrambling to get things finished. Make sure guests who want to watch football are taken care of—with drinks and snacks, of course—and then lead others to play a game outside and away from the kitchen. That can be a simple relay race, hide-and-go-seek, or (what else) touch football.

Serve cocktails. Whether you pass out seasonal beers or flavorful mocktails, make sure everyone has a drink waiting for them before dinner.

Create a buffet line based on birthday months. Now that the turkey is on display and the sides are ready to go, it's time to do what this holiday is all about: chow down. But instead of rushing to the front of the line, ask everyone to line up according to their birthday month. Flip a coin to see if you'll go forward from January or backward from December.

Have a few conversation starters ready. Nothing is worse than eating in an awkward silence, so be sure to have some lighthearted conversation starters ready for when everyone starts slowing down.

Evening

Things to Do on Thanksgiving—Maria Bernad
@maria_bernad

Go on another walk. Thanksgiving dinners are often served earlier than usual, which means that it's probably just going to get dark as you finish eating. Ask everyone to bundle up for a short walk around the block. You can even sing carols if you're up to it.

Watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It's a beloved classic that adults and kids will love to watch again.

Dinner winners serve dessert. Slices of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple pie aren't going to eat themselves, you know. Ask those who were served dinner first to be the ones to serve dessert.

Play charades. Break everyone into teams to guess clues for different movies, restaurants, and television shows.

Wear matching pajamas. Buy everyone cheap matching pajamas to wear during a classic movie marathon. Our vote? The Indiana Jones trilogy.

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