5 Thanksgiving Traditions to Pass Along to Your Son

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 24, 2008 · 37 comments

in Fatherhood, Relationships & Family

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Mike Koehler.

Your family is gathered around the table, on its best behavior and ready to dig in to a great meal.

And there sits your son at the kids table or stuck between his aunt and uncle wondering what Thanksgiving means to him besides turkey leftovers and time with relatives.

As the man of the house, Thanksgiving offers you a great opportunity to pass traditions onto your son that can make him understand why the holiday is uniquely important and uniquely American.

Here are five traditions that you can pass along to your son while he’s sitting at the dinner table (and away from it) during the Thanksgiving break.

Carving the turkey

In traditional culture, there were often rites of passages for boys where they became men over their fresh kill. These days, that rarely happens in a suburban cul-de-sac, but you do have the opportunity to grant your son responsibility in front of a family gathering.

When you decide the time is right for your son to carve the turkey – and that may come because of age, or how he acts at the table or whether he fully understands the holiday – play up the ceremony. Brag on him, tell his grandma and cousins why he’s earned this.

And then show the way. Show him where the knife cuts the best, show him who gets the best piece (his mother) and how not to make a mess.

If you show him how to carve the turkey now, he’ll want to do the same for his own family.

Delivering meals

Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity to expose your kids to how other people in your community live. Adopt a less-fortunate family in your town, buy them a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, and deliver it to their home. Serving dinner at a soup kitchen doesn’t have the same impact of actually going into someone else’s home with your son. By going into the homes of the less-fortunate he can see that not everyone has a Nintendo DS or a HD TV or bags and bags of chips.

Doing this will teach him that giving thanks for what you have shouldn’t be done in a vacuum.

Watching the Cowboys game

The first lesson of Thanksgiving should be to give thanks that you aren’t a Lions fan.

Seriously, since football has left baseball in its dust as America’s pastime, watching it can unite fathers and sons with stories about old teams, great stats, and awesome games. On Thanksgiving, you can tell your son about the time Troy Aikman wasn’t an announcer, but a player. The day affords the time and relaxation to explain rules, break down the playoff races, and decide the best time to take a nap.

Diving into the leaf pile

How do you trick the entire family into doing a chore? Challenge them and reward them with fun. The challenge? Just how big of a pile of leaves can we make in the front yard after we’re done chowing down on pumpkin pie. The reward? Diving into it! The best piles will envelope dad, mom, sister and the family dog. Throwing leaves at each other and seeing how deep you can get buried can also burn off some of those sweet-potato calories.

And when you’re done, your yard won’t be any worse than when you started.

Saying grace

This is what it’s all about when it comes to Thanksgiving. Some families have the tradition of saying what they’re thankful for. If so, let your son start that conversation. If he just says a blessing over your “fun,” let him do that. Whatever he says, no matter what it is, it should be honest and from the heart. You may be surprised what flows out once that tap has been turned on. He may even thank you for being such an awesome dad.

Now it’s your turn. Share the Thanksgiving traditions that you plan on passing on to your son or children. Drop a line in the comment box.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alfred November 24, 2008 at 10:36 pm

playing football with the cousins is a fun thing to do on thanksgiving

2 Brandon November 24, 2008 at 10:56 pm

My dad and I always took the football out and played catch in the street. It wasn’t deep, but it was special to me.

Us kids always had to say a “prayer” of sorts. My family wasn’t very religious, so they weren’t religious prayers, but we would talk about the things we were thankful for and stuff going on in the world and history. It kind of turned into a oratory competition with my siblings and I-who could pull off the most moving speech.

3 Richard A November 25, 2008 at 5:48 am

Nice ideas except,
1) Here in Michigan, we don’t have the option of being grateful for not being Lions fans (unless we live in those corners close to Chicago or Green Bay). Instead, we have to learn how to take it like a man, also a valuable lesson.
2) Here in Michigan, you’re likely to find your leaves covered with snow on Thanksgiving Day. And if you live in those corners close to Chicago or Green Bay, two words: lake effect.

4 Conibear Trapp November 25, 2008 at 6:23 am

I will root for the Lions, thank you. I am a Packer fan and, along with most of America, we hate the Cowboys. I will only cheer for the Cowboys if they are playing Denver.

Having said that, I will grant that Troy Aikman is the best color announcer in football right now. His knowledge of the game is superior.

5 Nesagwa November 25, 2008 at 6:51 am

I dunno, I usually turn the TV off and keep it off when family are over for special gatherings like this.

6 John November 25, 2008 at 6:58 am

Every year my dad and I get up early and start the smoker so we can cook the turkey. We’d be outside every hour or so, splitting firewood and checking on the bird. There’s nothing like spending the day hanging out with your dad and standing over a real fire instead of an oven.

7 Roger Imhada November 25, 2008 at 7:06 am

Thanks for this, again you inspire me to be a better man.

8 Tim November 25, 2008 at 7:34 am

I’ll watch football on Thanksgiving, but as a Skins fan, I will never EVER root for the Cowboys.

9 NZR November 25, 2008 at 7:38 am

My rite of passage, helping Dad smoke the Thanksgiving turkey outside (which is our tradition). A couple years of “apprentiseship” and then I was doing the work myself for the family.
Once my wife and I start our own traditions, this will be something I do.

10 NZR November 25, 2008 at 7:40 am

Originally Posted By Conibear Trapp I will only cheer for the Cowboys if they are playing Denver.

Ouch Friend, that hurts. Is it because we beat you in Super Bowl XXXII? (wink)

Go Broncos.

11 kDub November 25, 2008 at 9:09 am

Our family tradition has been to go around the room and to say at least one thing we are thankful for. I hope that is something my boys will do with their families one day.

12 Kevin November 25, 2008 at 9:35 am

Heh, I’m a Lions fan and I don’t even live in or near Michigan. My grandfather was born there, and that has been passed down not unlike some of the traditions listed here. Used to be we looked forward to Thanksgiving because it was the only time the Lions were guaranteed a win, but this year I’ll just be thankful if they aren’t buried by 21 points in the first quarter.

13 Bayou Boy November 25, 2008 at 9:37 am

These are good. I like these traditions. I’ll add a couple of traditions from our family:

On Black Friday, when all the women do their thing, we men take our sons and sneak out to the lake where we can do some duck hunting. We usually leave on Thanksgiving night and get there late and set up a fire and tell stories about last years hunt, what the weather was like this year and what we ought to expect. Nothing sets a deeper impression for Thanksgiving than making your own kill and learning the value of manly skill. When you come home with nothing, and sometime it happens, albeit rarely, the boy learns Thanks.

Besides teaching how to cut a turkey, they also learn to clean a duck. In this way, the whole family participates. Because the boy will PROUDLY hand it over to his mother for the first time and she will thanks him proudly and he will FEEL thanks and learn his value to the family is good. He will feel useful too and every man wants to feel useful.

Now, it used to be the Cowboys and Redskins. We always cheered for the Redskins because our nearest city is Houston, and no true Houstonian would ever cheer for a Cowboy team, might as well be a Yankee team.

Finally, it is not that SOME families say grace and thanks. Grace IS thanks. If you ain’t saying Grace, then you are NOT celebrating Thanksgiving and you are likely one of those dysfunctional families that can’t get together without arguing.

Since we are fully Texan, I should tell you that in SE Texas, the Texans are also Cajun. Yes, fully Texan, fully Cajun, it is a Divine race. Now this makes quite an interesting mix. It explains why duck hunting is tradition. We speak Cajun at home, only da hard-headed couyon wouldn’t understand.

But, as such, we deep fry our turkeys Cajun style. If there be anyone who says that deep fried turkey is not Cajun, let it be to him anathema. deep fried turkey is Cajun turkey, that’s just what it is.

I Cajun fry a turkey for each of my employees every year on the night before Thanksgiving and bring it to them early in the morning with my son in tow.

14 Derek November 25, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Raking leaves on Thanksgiving? Leaf pile jumping or not: sacrilege!

15 Tim November 25, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Cowboys are by far the least manly team in the NFL.

16 Lin Burress @Telling It Like It Is November 25, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I especially like the suggestion to have a tradition of delivering meals to others. Such selfless giving of our time and energies to those less fortunate than ourselves, and teaching our children not only to appreciate what they already have (as opposed to a laundry list of “wants”) builds self-esteem in children, as well as compassion and empathy for others.

17 Nick November 25, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Good traditions…except the one about rooting for the Cowboys. I do believe you’d get beat to death with a drumstick for that out here in Philly (Go Birds!)

18 Andy November 27, 2008 at 7:17 am

You disappoint me sir, at your lack of ability to spot a manliness coaching moment.

Being a Lions fan is indeed a great lesson in manliness, and life. It teaches you the meaning of loyalty and of not just jumping on the bandwagon of the next winner that comes along. It teaches you to be proud of where you come from, and to support your local team even when it’s hard to actually articulate or even remember why. We stuck by the “Dead Wings” and were rewarded, and for a fleeting moment the Tigers flirted with success, so the Lion’s time will come. It teaches you to stick with your team through thick and thin, and how to refine the art of grace in defeat (and lord knows Lions fans have had practice at that!) It makes winning the Superbowl when it finally arrives – and it will – that much sweeter, and it means that when, after an 0-16 season, we open next season with a win against the Cowgirls, everybody can laugh, and laugh at them, and the Lions will say to America, “You’re welcome!” ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to the Titans, go easy on us it’s Thanksgiving ;-)

19 Andy November 27, 2008 at 7:18 am

You disappoint me sir, at your lack of ability to spot a manliness coaching moment.

Being a Lions fan is indeed a great lesson in manliness, and life. It teaches you the meaning of loyalty and of not just jumping on the bandwagon of the next winner that comes along. It teaches you to be proud of where you come from, and to support your local team even when it’s hard to actually articulate or even remember why. We stuck by the “Dead Wings” and were rewarded, and for a fleeting moment the Tigers flirted with success, so the Lion’s time will come. It teaches you to stick with your team through thick and thin, and how to refine the art of grace in defeat (and lord knows Lions fans have had practice at that!) It makes winning the Superbowl when it finally arrives – and it will – that much sweeter, and it means that when, after an 0-16 season, we open next season with a win against the Cowgirls, everybody can laugh, and laugh at them, and the Lions will say to America, “You’re welcome!” ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to the neutrals give the Lions a shout – and to the Titans, go easy on us it’s Thanksgiving ;-)

20 Chris P. November 27, 2008 at 7:44 am

Thanks for the ideas! When my son mentioned raking leaves, we got busy, made a pile and I got the camera…

21 Ken S. November 27, 2008 at 9:08 am

We started a new tradition this year: ran the local Turkey Trot 5K/1 mile walk/run. The whole family was out for it–left the house at 0-dark-thirty for the 7:15 start, and it was beautiful (45 degrees and clear at sunrise here in Clearwater, FL).

Walking in the door, the smell of cooking turkey watered everyone’s mouth.

22 prin November 27, 2008 at 10:59 am

it’s just me and my son so this year i decided he needed to know how to cook the dinner. he’s almost 20 and i’ve never asked him to help ever. I was surprised when he jumped at the chance. he made the pies, the sweet potatoes, the green bean casserole and washed, dried and salted the bird for me. it was great and without a doubt the bird turned out better this year than it ever has!
thanks for all you have on here. i have a file for my son in my bookmarks. in case something happens to me and i don’t get said or taught all i needed to before i die then he knows that if he ever wants to find out what i would say to a question he might have then he is to go to that file, because somewhere in it he will find his answer. i was so tickled when i found your site to put in there. it is a great site especially for single mothers raising boys. thank you so much for being here.

23 Robert Gillam November 28, 2008 at 6:29 pm

I have found it hard in the past to get my large, extended family to watch football, and they declared going around the table to give thanks a big inconvenience. (I know, I know, but it’s family, what am I supposed to do about it?) So this year I started a few new traditions. I made a family football pool with each square only a dollar so even the broke teenagers could buy in. It really upped the interest in the game. Then my wife printed out “I am thankful for…” cards, and each person wrote down something specific and personal on the card without telling anyone. The cards were collected in a basket and during dinner I read the cards. After each card was read, the family tried to guess who wrote it. The family enjoyed this twist on giving thanks. And those who wanted to thank God were able to do so without the non-religious in our family having fits. Thanksgiving seemed more festive this year than ever. In addition, our family has made it a tradition three years in a row now to play the card game Werewolf after dinner. This game is perfect because everyone can play from my eighty year old mother down to my five year old daughter without having to move off the couch. The kids are quite demanding about playing the game every year as it has become their favorite. You can order the game cards online.

24 Mark Loest December 2, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Much of American religiosity is about what we have done. That’s hardly thanks as it is arrogance. Go to church and hear about what God has done without your help or you helping yourself. You’ll truly be thankful once you realize you can’ go it alone, neither do you have to.

25 DMD December 5, 2008 at 10:34 am

In my immediate family we have our Thanksgiving dinner in early afternoon. In the evening, we have the tradition of going to the movies while NO ONE is in the theater. There were maybe six people present when my family saw the new James Bond movie last week. It’s great…. like your own private theater.

26 Erik December 15, 2008 at 10:38 pm

One of our traditions at Thanksgiving is showing and letting the youngest boy
in the family pop the champagne cork. Also as dinner is winding down everyone
at the table demonstates his and her abilities at making their wine glass or
water goblet sing by rubbing their wetted finger along the rim. Great fun.

27 Zachariah June 15, 2009 at 4:33 am

The fact that the Lions suck so bad only makes it more fun to watch them on Thanksgiving! Getting mercilessly pounded each fall has become its own tradition for us Michiganians (even those of us who are displaced) and we take delight in our gloomy pigskin franchise. We have gotten so bad, that its almost fun watching a game and commenting on this year’s “new low.”

: )

28 alexander November 23, 2009 at 11:34 am

ragardless of what you do or dont do, what you watch or dont watch, and who is at your thanksgiving table, it is also very important to remember how important your role is to the process, regardless of whether or not you are the head of the table or the guest.

As a Man without a son, and a son with a father who is not the best at engaging his teaching mode, I always find it is my duty to participate in every place possible. I am always nearby when the cooking and carving process is in play, and most importantly, I am the one who is tasked with keeping my cousins out of my grandmothers hair. They can be a little wild. I have taken the support role for my family, and this makes for a very successful and happy family gathering.

29 Matt November 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

My family has always had the tradition of making spaghetti carbonara the night before Thanksgiving. It’s not much, but it’s nice to get the immediate family together before the relatives arrive the next day.

30 Rick Scoutmaster November 24, 2009 at 9:42 pm

What can I say? The comments above are America, by and large they are a peek into the breadth of what Thanksgiving is for many of us. Thanks men.

31 daman y'all November 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Seriously, I need to start taking “saying grace” a little more seriously.

32 TheEconomyReallyisGettingBetter :) lol November 25, 2009 at 11:33 am

I’ll cheer for the Lions thank you. And Hell will freeze over before I ever cheer for the Cowboys– I’d become an Obama drone before I’d cheer for the Cowboys….ok, I wouldn’t go THAT far but you get the idea ;)

The Cowboys are lower than whale sh_t in my book.

33 Chris April 6, 2010 at 5:01 am

Wow, I’ve never done any of these things, nor has my father. For one thing, since no one can cook a decent turkey, we never eat turkey. When we do, it’s my grandmother who does all the carving because there are always heavy politics surrounding who gets what piece of meat.

As for delivering meals, it sounds like a good thing to do, but I’ve never even heard of it.

I hate football, and most other organized sport, especially watching them on tv. My father only has a slight passing interest in it. There’s nothing to bond over.

Since I’ve always lived in cities and areas without deciduous forests, I’ve never had either raking or leaf piles (let alone lawn care). However, reading calvin and hobbes does make me wish that I did have such opportunities.

Finally, as my family is not at all religious, “grace” has never been a part of meals, even on thanksgiving.

34 David the Younger February 9, 2013 at 11:34 pm

My family probably wouldn’t say grace were it not for my Aunt Molly and her family coming over for every major holiday. They are… Not “devout” catholics, but certainly more religious than my family. And, instead of watching football, we play a tabletop version I found and worked on. It’s based on the d20 system, and has all sorts of things that make football more entertaining. Like making a wizard be your quarterback, and have him just cast True Strike every time he has the ball and throw it to the uber-fast guy already in the endzone. For the non-nerdy, True Strike gives you a +20 to accuracy. Essentially, you can’t miss.
-David the Younger

35 Andy luke May 20, 2013 at 10:00 am

We would always get together at our local church building and hold the “turkey bowl” in the field out front. It was a lot of fun playing football with the other guys from the church and community. It was a great way to enjoy the crisp fall morning.

36 Don Odom October 10, 2013 at 8:36 am

Chris, you are never too old to start your own traditions. I just started smoking a turkey on my grill/smoker 2 years ago for the first time. I’m 50 by the way. Now my wife’s family, whom we do the holidays with, begs for it every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We aren’t a religious family but I still say grace over every meal and thank God for all our blessings.
Even an atheist can say what they are thankful for, regardless of where they believe it came from.
I hope this is received in the spirit intended: to encourage you. You can be the start of traditions for your own future family. How proud will you be if in 40 years you can look around at your family and realize YOU started these things they love?! Good luck!

37 J. Jackson October 16, 2013 at 10:21 am

Replace Football with a good early morning Deer hunt on the family farm. Now, this only works if you have a family farm, but it incorporates tradition of passing down a rite of passage from a father to a son. My dad did it with me, so my kids will do it too, and hopefully kill their first deer out of the same stand that my grandfather killed his last, and me my first.

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