Thanksgiving officially kicks off the holiday season! But what if you could pay your Thanksgiving gratitude forward all season long? Placing extra focus on gratitude during this busy season can help you build stronger connections with family and friends—and stay focused on what matters most. We’ve found 10 creative ideas for how to practice gratitude at your holiday gatherings.
- Pie and postcards. Hand out stamped postcards and pens with those slices of pie at dinner. Then ask everyone to write a note to a friend or loved one who they wish lived closer. Encourage folks to include a reason or two why they’re grateful for the postcard recipient. If it’s a family gathering, you might pick one or two far-flung loved ones to bombard with postcards. Who doesn’t love to find a personal message or three tucked among their junk mail?
- Gratitude guest books. A guest book isn’t just for a wedding or big, fancy party. Try making this a tradition for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner or an annual holiday party. Place a simple notebook by your front door and ask guests to write down something their grateful for as they arrive. Then choose a few entries to read a few out loud during your gathering. Another idea: Make it an annual tradition with the same guest book, so you can see how your entries change over time.
- Drawing names. Sharing kindness. Place each guest’s name on a piece of paper in a jar or bowl. As cocktails or dinner wrap up, hand the container around and ask each person to draw a name. Then set a Time Timer PLUS 60 Minute for the same number of minutes as there are people at your party. This gives each person one minute to say what makes them grateful for the person on that little slip of paper. Keeping the time short takes off the pressure (and the over thinking) while still giving everyone a chance to tell those closest to them exactly why they mean so much.
- Make thankful hand turkeys. Nothing loosens up people from ages 8 through 80 like a funny art project. Remember making hand turkeys as a kid? Give each person a sheet of paper and some crayons or markers and ask everyone to trace around their hands to make a turkey. Then fill in each of the four “feathers” with a different answer to the question: What are you thankful for? Take a little time to decorate these turkeys and see if any volunteers want to share what’s written on those feathers.
- Play gratitude Mad Libs. Remember Mad Libs? Those funny stories where you ask your friends to fill in the blanks with random nouns and verb. Then read the hilarious results aloud. The genius folks at Real Simple magazine made a gratitude one (get the free printable here) that you can place on the plate of every holiday guest. Or if you’re creative, write your own family specific Mad Lib full of inside jokes. This might be a good pre-party task for a creative tween or teen.
- The ABCs of gratitude. Games are fun, but for big groups, simple is better. Try playing a gratitude game where you go around the room or table and ask each person to share something he or she is grateful for. The catch? Go through the alphabet starting at “A” and ending at “Z”, and the thing each person names must start with the corresponding letter. Start thinking up your “X” words now! This extra element adds a bit of humor to the mix.
- Sharing is caring. Ask each person to share a fun fact or story that others might not know about them. This a great way to deepen connections, see loved ones in a new light and become more grateful for each other. If you’d like, you can create prompts to help this exercise along: The most trouble I ever got into while in school was the time when… My favorite childhood memory is…
- The gratitude Grammys. OK, maybe not actual Grammys, but definitely MAJOR awards. Think up some fun categories—biggest smile, best laugh, most generous, best pie baker—and give out certificates or handmade ribbons. You can make it a popular vote or just pre-determine the awards yourself ahead of the gathering. Be creative with your categories and create an award for everyone.
Host a “grateful for new friends” party. If you have lots of friends and family who don’t necessarily know each other, make being grateful for new friends the theme of the party. This can help your in-laws mix with your school friends and your neighbors, too. The trick? Plan one or two ice breakers to encourage mingling. A quick idea: Give everyone a piece of paper with a different task. Find someone with the same favorite color as you. Meet a left-hander you don’t already know. You get the idea!
- Collect items for a local shelter or food pantry. It can be tough to organize a volunteer opportunity for a big group, but you can still give back together. Invite your holiday guests to each bring a donation that you’ll deliver to a local shelter or food pantry. Reach out to the charity in advance and find out what items are most needed and share that wish list with your guests in advance. Nothing shows gratitude more than giving to others—especially when it’s a group effort.