21 Unique Thanksgiving Bucket List Ideas for Families

Updated

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time for family and friends to gather together, remember all there is to be thankful for, and celebrate the year as it comes to a close. While Thanksgiving dinner is undoubtedly a highlight, there are plenty of other fun, enjoyable things you can do with friends and family members to make the holiday special.

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If you want to start a few new Thanksgiving traditions or simply put together a fun bucket list of activities for your family to do together, we’ve got you covered.

Thanksgiving Eve Bucket List Ideas

The day before Thanksgiving is typically filled with food prep, but who says you won’t have time for an extra fun activity or two? Here are some ideas for food prep and fun before Turkey Day gets started:

1. Make apple cider

Pair this bucket list item with the classic fall activity of going apple picking. Depending on how close to the end of apple season you go, you might end up with quite a lot of apples! If you need a fun way to use up some, find a recipe and make delicious, hot apple cider for your family to enjoy.

2. Make a pumpkin pie from scratch

The pumpkin pie recipe on the back of Libby’s Pumpkin is pretty good, but there’s nothing like making a pumpkin pie from scratch. You can use “pie pumpkins,” but you can also use the regular carving pumpkins. There’s not much difference between the two types once you get to the final product. It takes work, but this is a must for anyone’s food bucket list.

Pro tip: Look over your recipe and plan plenty of time! You’ll need to bake the pumpkin, puree it, and perform a few extra steps that canned pumpkin doesn’t require.

3. Donate a Thanksgiving dinner to the food bank or shelter

Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for the many good things we have in life. If you’re in the financial position to do it, grab a basketful of canned goods or even a frozen turkey and take it over to the local food bank for a family in need.

4. Read the prior year’s ‘Thankful Jar’ entries

Do you have a Thankful Jar? A jar where you write things you’re thankful for on little slips of paper all year long? The day before Thanksgiving is a great time to pull those out and read them together. Then, on Thanksgiving, you can start filling the jar anew.

5. Take a drive to see fall colors

Depending on where you live, the fall colors might be a bit faded by Thanksgiving. However, if you have some trees showing off their autumnal reds, oranges, and yellows nearby, it’s well worth a drive to revel in the last glory of fall before the leaves blow away.

Thanksgiving Day Bucket List Ideas

Thanksgiving Day can be fun. It might be chaotic, but one thing’s for sure—you’re bound to make memories. Incorporate these fun ideas to make the day a little extra special.

6. Bring out an old family recipe

Do you have your great-grandmother’s pecan pie recipe in her handwriting? Perhaps your grandpa’s specialty was making adult eggnog from scratch just the way everyone liked it. Pull out an old recipe that’s been sitting in the cupboard and honor their memory by making it, then reintroduce an old favorite to your family gathering.

7. Deep fry or smoke the turkey  

If you’ve never deviated from the traditional method of turkey preparation, you’ve got to try deep frying or smoking the turkey at least once in your lifetime. Either method, when done right, will result in a turkey cooked to perfection. It’ll be juicy, flavorful, and the talk of everyone’s Thanksgiving feast.

Pro tip: You don’t need a fancy smoker! You can easily smoke a turkey on a small Weber grill. Just give yourself plenty of time and use a tried and tested recipe.

8. Have everyone share something they’re thankful for

Once everyone is gathered around the dinner table, or you’re ready to let everyone pick a seat around the living room, family room, dining room, and patio, take a moment to pause. Ask everyone to share one thing they’re thankful for and go around the room sharing. This is a simple way to bring “thanks” into Thanksgiving.

9. Play a game of touch football

What’s Thanksgiving without a little bit of football? Get a game of touch football up in your front or back yard and run off all the turkey you just ate. 

Pro tip: Are your neighbors doing the same thing with their families? Invite them over, mix up teams, and enjoy the game together.

10. Watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Times Square has been a Thanksgiving tradition since 1924. Since then, the parade has grown into an event enjoyed in person, watched on TV, and streamed worldwide. Whether you watch it all or you let it play in the background during meal prep, the festive floats, music, and dancers are sure to bring smiles.

Pro tip: Add this activity when you make a travel bucket list for NYC, and you’ll check off a destination and an activity at the same time!

11. Attend a pro football game in-person

For football fans, this may be the most fantastic item on this list. Catch one of the games being played on T-Day and see it live! Depending on where it is, you could even combine this activity with some items on your travel bucket list.

Pro tip: Buy tickets for the Thanksgiving game as soon as they go on sale. These games always sell out fast.

Thanksgiving Break Bucket List Ideas

Are your kids off for the week of Thanksgiving? Whether they call it Thanksgiving break, Fall Break, or another name, we’re glad you have some extra time together. See if you can squeeze these bucket list items into your week off.

12. Conquer a corn maze

Corn mazes are a fall tradition in many states, and if you live near one, it’s well worth a visit. Divide into teams or navigate the entire maze as a family, and you’ll find yourself enjoying every twist, turn, dead-end, and wrong way until you finally emerge victorious.

13. Run a Turkey Trot

Turkey Trots are held anywhere from the week before to the week after Thanksgiving, and sometimes they’re held on Thanksgiving Day. The fun, family-focused walk/run 5k is a perfect activity for the whole family. Smaller children can run or walk, older kids can run the entire way, and parents can pick and choose. 

14. Plan a fall leaves photoshoot

If you’re a bit of a shutterbug, plan a photoshoot. Fall is a perfect time to take pictures. Capture your kids running around or jumping into piles of leaves. Have them gather up handfuls to toss in the air while you take candids. No matter how you decide to incorporate the colorful warm tones of fall leaves, you’ll have photos and memories to last a lifetime. 

15. Host “Friendsgiving”

Do you have a group of friends you love spending time with? Consider getting together and hosting a “Friendsgiving.” If you all have kids, hectic lives, or both, then keep it simple. Instead of a traditional turkey dinner, go with apps, drinks, and dessert. Ask each friend or pair to bring a hearty appetizer while you provide drinks and a dessert, and there will be plenty to go around.

Pro tip: For a twist on this idea, consider inviting your kids’ friends over to throw them a Friendsgiving. This is a hit with young kids and more mature teens or college students.

16. Go pick out your Christmas tree

It’s a little early to cut a tree down, but Christmas tree lots typically open up for tagging the day after Thanksgiving. This is when you can pick out your Christmas tree, write your name and phone number on the tree’s tag, and reserve it. 

Pro tip: Planning on getting yours from the woods? Take a bright yellow or pink ribbon with you. Tie it firmly to the tree so you can easily find it when you return to cut it down closer to Christmas. 

Kid-Friendly Thanksgiving Bucket List Ideas

There are plenty of fun things to do with kids of all ages. Here are some of our favorites:

17. Bake Thanksgiving cookies and decorate them

Who says Christmas has to be the only time you bake cookies? Take out Thanksgiving-themed cookie cutters such as turkeys, leaves, and pumpkins, and get to it. Have fun decorating them after they've cooled, and make memories all along the way.

Pro tip: Running short on time? Purchase pre-made sugar cookie dough and roll it out. Press the shapes out, bake, and voilà! Now, you're ready for decorating. 

18. Make sketches of fallen leaves

This is perfect for the artist or budding artist in your family. Younger children can make etchings of a leaf by sandwiching a newly-fallen specimen between two pieces of paper and rubbing a crayon over the top. Older kids may enjoy the challenge of sketching or painting a leaf. 

19. Make a wish and break the wishbone

Did someone find the wishbone? Have your make a wish, then break the wishbone in half. Legend has it, the wish will come true for whoever has the larger piece of the wishbone.

20. Create a ‘Things I’m Thankful for…’ list

Take out several sheets of paper and have each child write down several things they’re thankful for. Tape the list up somewhere accessible so your kids can return to it throughout the day and continue adding items to the list.

21. Learn to say ‘thank you’ in multiple languages

Teaching kids to be thankful can happen in more than one language. Have your kids choose a few languages to learn “thank you” in and then practice it together. Challenge each other to use each new language once during Thanksgiving.

Putting the ‘Thanks’ in Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to plan extra special activities like these bucket list items for you and your family. Take advantage of everyone gathering together to make memories, take pictures, laugh, share stories, and enjoy the family-focused holiday.

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