Thanksgiving activities

Bring the meaning of Thanksgiving to life with these family activities and ideas.

What's in a date? The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621, the fall after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Despite this, in 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, set June 29 as the day to give thanks for their good fortune in establishing their community.

One hundred and six years later, the annual "thanksgiving" observance was moved to November 28 by declaration of the Continental Congress in 1782. Subsequent presidential proclamations confirmed the 4th Thursday in November as America's annual Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving ideas and activities

Thanksgiving Day is a day to reflect on all the things in our lives for which we are thankful. As you and your family prepare for this year's holiday, here are some thoughts for reflection:

  • Ask your children how they would celebrate Thanksgiving Day if the holiday remained in June? What kinds of food would they serve at the feast? What kinds of activities would they do?
  • Whether we celebrate in November or in June, the concept behind Thanksgiving remains the same: to give thanks for the bounty in our lives. As you prepare for this year's feast, invite all the members of your family to reflect on all the things for which they are grateful. You might consider sending out an email asking everyone to contribute a paragraph or two that could be read aloud at the family meal. For younger children, ask them to draw pictures or perhaps dictate to their parents.
  • Create a handprint Thanksgiving tablecloth, with new thankful messages added each year.
  • Read how Americans throughout the centuries viewed this date. Read the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, the Continental Congress' Proclamation and Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation.
  • Celebrate the change of season and nature's bounty by making a wreath of Fall Treasures.
  • Throw an authentic holiday feast by incorporating ideas from the first Thanksgiving feast.
  • From setting the table to helping you cook, Thanksgiving is full of teachable moments to enjoy with kids.
  • Have kids make heart maps to illustrate all they are thankful for.
  • Perform Five Little Pumpkins, giving each little one a part to play.

Thanksgiving poem

Originally published in Flowers for Children, Vol. 2 in 1844, here is the poem many of us grew up singing or chanting each year. Share it with all your children.

A Boy's Thanksgiving Day
By Lydia Maria Child

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather's house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the wood,
to Grandfather's house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for 'tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river and through the wood—
when Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, "O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for every one."

Over the river and through the wood—
now Grandmother's cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Happy Thanksgiving!