A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving May Be Exactly What Your Family Needs This Year

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
A woman in an orange vest with dreadlocks giving another woman with curly hair a white box
Thomas Barwick/Getty

Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. I have fond memories of going to my aunt and uncle’s Chicago home. We’d have a massive, traditional meal, complete with multiple slices of pie. Then we’d bring out the old-fashioned Bingo game and play for epic prizes. It was fantastic.

We no longer make that trip, and I’m also jaded by the reality that Thanksgiving is the ultimate colonizer holiday. The more I’ve learned about our nation’s racist history, the more I loathe the pilgrims-and-Indians narratives that are whitewashed to give us (non-American Indians) the warm fuzzies. I also think Thanksgiving is so cheesy—that gratefulness is forced upon us like the plot of a Hallmark movie. Thanksgiving no longer feels genuine to me, and I’m looking for some new traditions. Maybe you’re in the same position?

Here are some non-traditional Thanksgiving ideas. Perhaps, instead of just going through the motions of a holiday we don’t love or canceling our celebrations completely, we need to do something new, fun, and quite importantly, not-racist.

Host Friendsgiving.

Friendsgiving has been growing in popularity in recent years, since not all of us live near family or don’t care to have a meal with their families. (Uncle John is hella racist and sexist. Political rants? Hard pass.) Friendsgiving is where you invite your nearest and dearest friends over for Thanksgiving. You can do all the prep, or you can ask each person to bring their most delish dish to share, play charades after the meal, or even have a theme that’s non-Thanksgiving-ish at all. If you host a Friendsgiving, keep in mind Covid-precautions. Outdoors is best—but that’s not always possible depending on where you live. Also, BINGO is still our family’s fave holiday game. Have everyone bring prizes, and make sure to use an old-fashioned BINGO set.


The holidays offer many volunteer opportunities, including serving a meal to those in need on Thanksgiving day. There’s also opportunities to organize “angel trees,” deliver meals to those who cannot leave their homes, prep and clean up after meals, and much more. As a family, choose something that everyone is passionate about and can partake in. (But for the love of turkey, do not take a bunch of pictures, post them, and self-glorify your family’s selfless Thanksgiving volunteer moment.) Afterwards, come home and have pizza. Because really, who doesn’t like pizza?

Go on local vacation.

Now isn’t the best time to hop on an airplane and risk spreading (or contracting) COVID or influenza. However, you can research your local area and find plenty of day trips or a close-by overnight to take your family on. What local attractions has your family yet to enjoy? I don’t know about your kids, but mine think that staying at a hotel is magical. Even just one night away can be exciting, especially all the time we’ve all spent in our homes over the past year-and-a-half. Be sure to check hours and prices well in advance. For example, our local zoo requires reservations now to avoid over-crowding due to COVID risk. When in doubt (and on a serious budget), find free and outdoor activities.

Get outside and play.

With COVID, it’s a really great time to gather with your loved ones—outside. Hikes are free. Nature exploring is free. A football, volleyball, or basketball game is great, too. Rent bikes and explore a local trail. Invest in a beanbag toss game for the yard. Wear your jackets and have a meal (traditional or otherwise) outdoors. Bring out the fire pit and have s’mores for dessert. As we inch toward winter, we could all use as much sunshine and fresh air as we can get.

Prep for December holidays.

We use Thanksgiving as the perfect time to put up our Christmas tree, outdoor lighted garland, and start wrapping presents. If Thanksgiving really isn’t your family’s fave, it’s OK to use the holiday as your jump-start to December holidays. Decorating, cookie baking, and of course, blaring Christmas music is part of the fall to winter magic. Just don’t force anyone to participate in prep they hate. My husband loathes decorating the tree, so his job is simply to put it up for the rest of us. In my house, my oldest and I are the bakers—while everyone else prefers to eat.

Make a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Gasp — I said it. Sometimes traditional Thanksgiving food is downright gross (do not get me started on green bean casserole) or boring. Personally, my family dislikes plain turkey. It has no flavor! I will fight you on this. This year, we found several new recipes to try, including a maple-glazed, mega-herbed turkey, vegan gravy, and cornbread stuffing. If we like them, we plan to make them again for Christmas. A few years ago, we learned to make sweet potato pie, and we’ve been enjoying that as a family instead of pumpkin. Along those same lines, it’s OK to ditch the traditional Thanksgiving food altogether. One year, I begged my mom to let us have something else, after she vented how much work it is to make a turkey and all the sides. We had a taco bar, and almost everyone absolutely loved it. I mean, who doesn’t love tacos (and, er, margaritas)? If lunch or dinner isn’t your vibe, Thanksgiving brunch sounds good to me. Mimosas, anyone?

Stay in and chill.

I can hear your sigh of relief as you read this suggestion. Thanksgiving is sandwiched between Halloween (aka: sugarfest) and the December holidays. For many people, especially moms, this time of year can become overwhelming and stressful. Instead of forcing your fam to head to your great aunt’s—which they can’t stand—or any other tradition that isn’t serving your family anymore, consider staying home, ordering pizza, wearing pjs, and watching a movie. We’ve got to let go of the guilt of tradition. Repeat after me: it’s OK to do something relaxing for all. Plus, you can maybe get in a bubble bath while the fam watches Home Alone and devours cheese pizza.

There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate a non-traditional Thanksgiving, ways that can become your family’s new tradition! Whether you get dressed up and head to that family function, head out on a hike, or snuggle up with your fam for a Christmas fest, your Thanksgiving will be better when you ditch the guilt and come up with a new plan.

This article was originally published on