The very first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 after the Pilgrims had their first successful harvest. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed the first National Day of Thanksgiving; the tradition has since become an integral part of American culture.
The essential elements of Thanksgiving are food and family. It is a day of togetherness where most people, admittedly, eat far too much.
Gift-giving isn't traditionally part of Thanksgiving Day festivities, but it is becoming increasingly popular. The perfect gift for Thanksgiving is simple and usually not very fancy. The focus is more on things that can be enjoyed, like food, family games, or activities. Read on for more Thanksgiving gift ideas.
What are some of the best Thanksgiving traditions?
Every family makes up its own traditions for a happy Thanksgiving. Turkey Day might look slightly different based on what people value and how they choose to celebrate. Here are some Thanksgiving Day traditions that might be a part of your celebrations and some that you may want to start doing.
Some families like to go around the table and give each person a chance to express their gratitude. This gives everyone the chance to thank the people, situations, and opportunities they have been given in life.
A twist on this is to ask everyone to write what they are grateful for on a piece of cloth, like the tablecloth with fabric markers. This tablecloth filled with messages of gratitude can become a part of your family's Thanksgiving Day traditions. Each year loved ones can add a new message of gratitude.
Alternatively, have each person write their message on a small piece of cloth. Use these cloths to make a gratitude quilt that can be kept and passed down or given to family members as Christmas presents.
Another idea is to keep a gratitude jar in your home. You can fill this jar with things you are grateful for and appreciate about friends and family. On Thanksgiving Day, you can either read these notes of gratitude or give them directly to each person to read for themselves.
While some families enjoy expressing their gratitude. Other families simply accept the gratitude of others because they choose to gather together, enjoy each other's company, and share a meal.
Feeling and expressing gratitude has become a big part of many people's lives. Sharing Thanksgiving traditions with friends is quickly becoming a popular and meaningful celebration. This new Thanksgiving tradition often happens before one travels home to join in family Thanksgiving Day festivities.
Watching or playing the game
Every Thanksgiving, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play home games against two other teams. The tradition of a football game being played on Thanksgiving Day dates back to 1876—soon after the game was invented.
The tradition of the lions playing started in 1954 when the team's owner George A. Richards was trying to attract more fans. His plan worked, ending with a sold-out stadium. While other football teams played games on Thanksgiving Day before 1954, the Detroit Lions game was broadcasted across 94 television stations.
In 1966 the Dallas Cowboys joined in the tradition when their general manager Tex Schramm wanted to generate more national publicity for the team. The Dallas Cowboys continued to play on every Thanksgiving Day except in 1975 and 1977, when the St. Louis Cardinals played the holiday game.
Watching the Thanksgiving Day football games have been a tradition for many families, while some prefer to play their own football game instead.
Watching the Thanksgiving Day parades
The tradition of Thanksgiving Day parades started in Philadelphia in 1920. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade moving through the streets of New York has been a Thanksgiving tradition since 1924. Around 3 million people attend the parade yearly, with tens of millions more watching it on TV.
America's Thanksgiving Parade® has been cheering up the streets of Detroit since the same year. Today around 1 million people gather on Woodward Avenue to see this parade which is also broadcast on over 180 television stations across the U.S.
Another, perhaps lesser known, Thanksgiving Day parade was held in Newark in the beginning of the 20th century. This parade moved from East Orange to downtown Newark and Bamberger's flagship department store. On parade days when the weather was nice, the Newark Thanksgiving Day parade drew crowds of more than 600,000 people.
Bamberger's was owned by Macy's, but they still kept their Thanksgiving Day parade tradition until the late 1950s. Around this time, more people started to prefer staying in and watching TV to going out in the cold to see the parade.
Eating oh so very much!
Thanksgiving is about spending time with the people you love – and eating. So much eating! Usually, a Thanksgiving Day meal involves a roasted Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. The traditional dessert eaten on Thanksgiving Day is pumpkin pie. Sometimes the host prepares most of the Thanksgiving feast, but often it is a collaboration between everyone.
Breaking the wishbone
A turkey's wishbone is its forked chest bone. This point is not unique to turkeys, and neither is the tradition of breaking it for good luck.
At around 800 BCE (at least), the Etruscans who lived in ancient Italy believed that birds could divine information. They often used live chickens to get answers to questions about the future. When the chickens died, the wishbone was kept, and people would touch it, hoping to access the chicken's power. When people touched the bone, they would make a wish. That is why this bone is called a wishbone.
The Romans adopted this tradition but often wanted the bone and its power for themselves. They would then pull at the bone, and the person with the bigger part was the winner. It was believed that the person with the bigger part of the wishbone would have their wish granted and enjoy good luck for the following year. The Romans introduced this tradition to Britain, who, in turn, brought it to America.
In England, a goose wishbone (also called a merrythought) was used to divine the weather for the country's harvest celebration, Saint Martin's day, which, like Thanksgiving, happens in November. The person who got the larger piece of a merrythought was predicted to get married first.
The first time a bone of a Turkey was officially called a wishbone in the United States was in 1842 in an article in the Baltimore-based newspaper, The Sun.
Doing some good
Many people volunteer at soup kitchens on Thanksgiving Day. You can extend the goodwill by asking your guests to bring some canned foods to donate to your local soup kitchen or another charity. This could help them make someone else's holiday season more memorable.
Alternatively, you can spend some time at an animal shelter, organize or participate in a neighborhood cleanup, spend some time at an old age living facility, or run some errands for an elderly neighbor.
Exchanging Christmas ornaments
For many, the holiday season officially begins when Santa's sleigh makes its appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. You can join in on this by asking each guest to bring a Christmas ornament to your Thanksgiving Day celebrations. These ornaments can be exchanged to symbolize the beginning of your family's holiday festivities.
Setting intentions is not something traditionally done at Thanksgiving, but it could become a new Thanksgiving Day tradition. On a day that revolves around expressing appreciation and gratitude, you could express your hopes or wishes for the coming year. These could be kept private, written down, and placed somewhere prominent or shared with everyone around the table.
This intention can be carried with you (physically or metaphorically) into the holiday season and the new year. Take a moment to reflect on whether your intentions manifested at the following year's Thanksgiving Day celebration.
Perhaps ironically, the biggest food-related holiday in the U.S. also often involves some physical activity. While some families like to play a game of American football on Thanksgiving, others enjoy participating in a Turkey Trot or even just going for a walk.
All of these activities give family and loved ones the opportunity to spend some time together outdoors, enjoying each other's company and the late fall weather. It is also a great way to burn off some of the calories from that delicious Thanksgiving Day dinner.
Why give gifts on Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a day when you focus on family, food, and being grateful for what you have. It is not, traditionally, a day where gifts are exchanged. Many people like the fact that there is no pressure to buy and wrap gifts—that they can just show up and enjoy the day. Similarly, a lot of people believe that the essence of the day should be kept, and it should not be turned into something more commercialized like Christmas has for some.
Because of this, gift-giving is less common on Thanksgiving than on other holidays like Christmas. Even so, giving someone a gift is a tangible way to express your gratitude to them.
Usually, Thanksgiving Day gifts are edible. Desserts like pecan, pumpkin, or apple pies are great choices. Wine, sparkling cider, champagne, and some flowers make good Thanksgiving Day gifts.
Although Thanksgiving Day gifts are not common or traditionally given, it is always a good idea to bring a gift for your host or Hostess. This is a way to say thank you for being invited, for the beautiful meal, and for the opportunity to spend the day with people you love.
If you decide to bring gifts to Thanksgiving Day festivities and partake in the relatively new Thanksgiving gift culture, keep it simple, small, and practical.
Great gift ideas for family and friends
Finding the perfect holiday gift could be tricky. You want to find the balance between giving the perfect gift and not going over the top. Here are a few ideas:
Family portraits make excellent Thanksgiving gifts. You could have some professional photos taken, printed, and placed in a nice frame. This is a lovely way to preserve memories and show your family members how much they mean to you.
If you want to do something different, have an artist paint or draw your family portrait. This will be more expensive and take longer, but it will leave a more significant impact.
Personalized family mugs
Most people would appreciate having a mug of their own from which to drink coffee or hot cocoa. Giving personalized mugs is a fun way to include the entire family while gifting something unique to every member.
Personalized mugs could be as simple as having each family member's name on them. It could also have an image of something the person loves or a caricature or cartoon drawing of the person along with their name.
Foodies may appreciate receiving a recipe book as a Thanksgiving gift. They may also love a recipe box, especially if they have a bunch of recipe cards handed down from their parents and grandparents. These boxes can be engraved with an inspirational quote and the recipient's name to add a unique, personal touch.
If you ask someone about the elements that make the perfect Thanksgiving, 'food' will definitely be on the list. Giving food at Thanksgiving is an excellent idea since it will add to the feast. If, however, you want to give something that will last longer than a meal or two, kitchen accessories may be ideal.
Items like serving dishes, pie servers, wine glasses, or cheese boards are great because they can be used in future celebrations. A monogrammed apron or dishtowels might be perfect if you want to give something more personal. Gifts that are custom-made or personalized gifts show that you have put a lot of thought and planning into them and are usually received with delight.
If you are hosting a Thanksgiving Day celebration, you could consider gifting some party favors. This is an extra little surprise “thank you” to everyone who came. Party favors can be small gifts to help guests remember the day. Bread or cake mixes are great, as are fall-inspired scented candles or sample-size bath and body products.
If you live in the area and want to do something different than your usual Thanksgiving Day traditions, you can give your loved ones tickets to the Football games that are played on the day. Big fans will appreciate it, making it a different experience than the usual Thanksgiving Day traditions. Afterward, everyone can go home and enjoy a meal together.
How to personalize giving with homemade Thanksgiving gifts
Most people appreciate the fact that Thanksgiving is not a commercial holiday. They love that they can enjoy the day without the pressure of needing to buy, wrap, and exchange gifts.
One way of preserving the wholesomeness and innocence of Thanksgiving while still exchanging gifts is to exchange homemade Thanksgiving gifts. This could be seen as a gesture of appreciation more than gifts bought because it is expected.
Homemade Thanksgiving gifts showcase your skills or talents—although they don't need to be fancy or difficult to make. A simple craft project or handmade soap is easy to make and will leave the recipient feeling appreciated. Other homemade thanksgiving gifts include quilts, body products, holiday decorations, jams or preserves, or even scrapbooks filled with fond memories.
What can I give to children to share the spirit of Thanksgiving?
Because gift-giving is not as common at Thanksgiving as it is at Christmas, it is best to stick to small gifts when giving Thanksgiving gifts to kids.
Fun Thanksgiving gifts for kids could include quirky Thanksgiving-themed items like drawstring bags or pumpkin spice latte-flavored lip balm.
Snacks like caramel popcorn, Thanksgiving-themed cookies, or other treats will be a hit with the younger ones.
Children will always be happy about being given toys. Keep toys given at Thanksgiving simple. Soft toys could become treasured keepsakes. Giving a holiday-themed soft toy could become a part of your Thanksgiving Day tradition. Children might cherish the soft toys that they receive at Thanksgiving and keep them through the years; they may even extend the tradition to their own families once they are grown up.
Puzzles or board games that the entire family can enjoy would make an excellent Thanksgiving Day gift. These types of gifts bring families together and can easily become a part of your Thanksgiving Day celebrations. Similarly, Thanksgiving-themed books are thoughtful gifts that encourages family members to spend time together.
Older children might appreciate Thanksgiving-themed jewelry like turkey-shaped earrings or pendants. The same goes for clothing with cute or clever Thanksgiving-related images or quotes. Younger (and older) kids could enjoy receiving Thanksgiving-themed dress-up items like hats, face masks, or costumes.
What are some good gift ideas for the host(ess) of a Thanksgiving dinner party?
Traditional Thanksgiving gifts for hosts(esses) involve flowers or an alcoholic beverage like wine or champagne. Alternatively, look for a beautiful set of drink glasses. Get classes that the host(ess) will use. A whiskey drinker will have little use for a set of white wine glasses. Another thoughtful non-consumable gift can be a decanter or cocktail mixer if the host(ess) prefers drinking cocktails. And we of course, have a soft spot for gifting a meal hosts can enjoy at their leisure. It’s a great way to say thanks for all the hard work.
If you give flowers, go for something that won't need the hostess' attention straight away–they will already have enough to do on the day. Instead, consider a floral arrangement or something in a pretty vase that can be put down and tended to after everyone has left.
Don't expect that whatever alcoholic beverage you bring will be served at dinner or at all that day. This is not a gift you bring for yourself but something you give the Thanksgiving host to enjoy.
If the host likes quirky jewelry, some Thanksgiving-themed jewelry will make an excellent Thanksgiving hostess gift. Look for something like earrings or a bracelet charm shaped like a pie or turkey legs
A thoughtful hostess gift could include something to pamper them or that they can enjoy the next day. Bath salts or a foot treatment could soothe bodies and feet tired from cooking and running around all day.
A gift basket filled with items that can be enjoyed with Thanksgiving dinner leftovers the next morning takes care of day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast. It gives your host an easy way to feed themselves and their families after what is sure to be a hectic Thanksgiving Day.
Chocolates usually make an excellent thank-you gift. To really show your appreciation, go for the good stuff instead of picking up a box as an afterthought on our way to dinner. On the other hand, picking up and bringing some last-minute gifts like a box of chocolates or two is better than bringing no chocolates or showing up empty-handed.
Why a food-filled care package fits perfectly with Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is about giving thanks…and food…and giving thanks for the food. That makes a food-filled care package or gift basket the perfect Thanksgiving gift.
What should I put in a Thanksgiving basket?
Thanksgiving baskets or care packages work well when they are centered around a theme. If you don't want to narrow it down, 'Thanksgiving' could also be a theme. Here are a few ideas of Thanksgiving gift basket ideas that you can put together. Add a gift card to the recipient's favorite store or any of these as an extra.
A day-after-Thanksgiving Day breakfast gift basket could include some tasty recipes that can be made with Thanksgiving leftovers. Think sweet potato waffles/pancakes, savory breakfast sandwiches, or a breakfast bake.
You can add bagels, croissants, tortillas for breakfast burritos, cheeses, jams, and waffle/pancake syrups.
Gratitude gift basket
A gratitude gift basket is filled with items that show appreciation for the person you are giving it to. Fill a gratitude basket with items the person can use or love, like a new journal or favorite candy or drink.
Add thoughtful messages to the basket. This can be in the form of a gratitude jar full of little notes describing different things you appreciate about that person. Another way to express your gratitude is by adding a handwritten letter.
DIY cake or pie gift baskets
If we haven't made it clear yet, Thanksgiving is all about food (and some family time too). Fill this gift basket with all the ingredients that are required to make a tasty cake or pie. Add a cake pan or pie dish and a cake or pie server.
Thanksgiving treats basket
Thanksgiving is a wonderful excuse to buy those cute turkey and pumpkin-shaped treats. Think cookies, cupcakes, or even doughnuts decorated in fall colors or shaped like pumpkins, turkeys, pilgrim hats, or mini-pumpkin pies.
For something more sophisticated, choose some Thanksgiving-themed chocolate-covered strawberries. Pair this with a nice bottle of champagne and some champagne flutes.
Cheese gift basket
There is something about a cheeseboard that makes people feel fancy and comforted at the same time. A good cheese gift basket will have a few different kinds of cheeses. You can pair this with some fresh fruit or good wine. Add some non-consumables like a cheese board or cheese knives.
Drinks gift basket
A drink gift basket is a good Thanksgiving gift basket for someone who enjoys a drink. Wine lovers might appreciate a good bottle of wine. Pair this with some cheese, a few wine glasses, and a bottle opener or decanter.
A gift basket for a cocktail drinker could consist of the ingredients to mix a couple of cocktails with a shaker, jigger, a couple of pourers, and a strainer.
You can still give a drinks gift basket to someone who doesn't drink alcohol. Fill it with great-tasting, non-alcoholic alternatives like alcohol-free gins or beers and their favorite sodas or fruit juices. Sparking apple, grape juice, de-alcoholized sparkling wine, or wine might be enjoyed around the festive season. Add some pretty glasses that can be used for their non-alcoholic drinks.
How can Spoonful of Comfort make Thanksgiving extra special this year?
Spoonful of Comfort has some fall-inspired care packages that are perfect for Thanksgiving.
These limited-edition gifts are filled with hand-selected items like a cozy meal to enjoy by the fire. Our classic packages start with two 32-ounce containers of soup or mac n' cheese, half a dozen Bacci rolls, and half a dozen cookies. Seasonal variations might include chai tea for two, a pair of Cozy Comfort socks, a cute kitchen towel, and a greeting card. You can make all our care packages even more special by adding a personal message.
All of Spoonful of Comfort's soups last between 3 and 5 days in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen to enjoy later. That means you won't need to worry about your friends or family having to rush to enjoy their soup while they are still feasting on Thanksgiving leftovers.
Our Thank You Cookie package makes the perfect post-Thanksgiving thank-you gift. You can choose to send one or two dozen delicious cookies. When you order one dozen, you can choose two flavors (half a dozen each). When you order two dozen, you can choose four different flavors.
Order a Thank You Cookie package in advance to take with you on Thanksgiving Day, or send one to your host after all the eating and socializing has been done.
Coming up with Thanksgiving gift ideas may be tricky, especially because gift-giving at Thanksgiving is a relatively new tradition. Personalized Thanksgiving gifts are sure to be a hit, as are gift boxes accompanied by heartfelt Thanksgiving cards.
The perfect Thanksgiving Day gift is one that is low-key and useful. As it is a feasting day, food-related gifts will always be welcome. Bring it along on the day or send it as a care package after the festivities are over to express your gratitude to the host.