7 Thanksgiving Traditions to Make The Holidays Your Own as a Military Family

November 18, 2019


It’s almost that time again when families come together to share in the best meal of the year.


But for military families? Well, you already know that this time of the year can be especially difficult.

Maybe your service member spouse is deployed. Or, you recently PCSed to a new location far away from immediate family members. So, while the holiday season may look less than ideal, how can you give it a familiar feel?

By creating Thanksgiving traditions! Here are a few ideas to make this time of the year your own kind of special:

  1. Host a Friendsgiving potluck.


Family is what you make it, right? So if you know fellow military family members who’ll be spending this holiday apart from their loved ones, too, why not spend the day together? Inviting others into your home for a Friendsgiving will allow you to connect on a deeper, yet more casual level. 

You can even save yourself some time and stress by pre-ordering a turkey to pick up from your local grocery store and asking everyone attending to bring a side dish or dessert.

  1. Recreate a special recipe or find a new one.

pumpkin pie

As the saying goes, “Smells ring bells.” So, we’ll ask you this:

When you think of the Thanksgiving meal, what’s the first dish that comes to mind? Maybe it’s sweet potato casserole or stuffing made from scratch. What about a pumpkin pie?

Whatever it may be, recreate that particular recipe to fill your home with not only pleasant scents, but also memories and emotions. Or, if you have little ones at home, get them involved by browsing Pinterest for a new recipe to add to the menu! If all tastes well, who knows, maybe it’ll become an annual must-have. 

  1. Give back to your community.

campbell's soup

Want to engage in your community and connect with your local civilian neighbors? Giving back is another way to incite a newfound sense of gratitude and appreciation. 

So team up with Meals on Wheels, reach out to your area’s Salvation Army or hospice center to see if they’re in need of a helping hand, put together care packages for deployed troops overseas, donate to the local food bank, or serve dinner at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. 

And no, not on the actual day of Thanksgiving. How about in the days or weeks leading up to it, or even afterward? Because, as Eileen Heisman, CEO and president of National Philanthropic Trust, explains, “Charities of all types can get overwhelmed with the generosity of volunteers during Thanksgiving and the December holidays…Helping a food bank get the infrastructure together to service people in need is much more helpful.”

  1. Tune into the parade.

Macys thanksgiving day parade

Source: Macy’s, Inc.

The famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that is. There’s just nothing like itit’s a historical tradition in and of itself. The good news is, it doesn’t start until 9 am! So you have time to wake up, make some breakfast, and get cozy on the couch with your loved ones and a piping hot cup of joe while you tune in to all the excitementfrom the Broadway actors to the sequin-clad dancers, well-known musical guests, floats, and plenty of classic and new balloons. 

Plus, you can live stream the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade online at nbc.com/live, making it easier to watch from wherever you may be.

  1. Get active.

While you’re anxiously anticipating the feast that lies ahead (and maybe even your favorite football team playing), why not get active to get those good vibes going? Here are some of our favorite ideas to do exactly that:

  • Sign up for your local Turkey Trot Fun Run (or create your own for a run around your neighborhood or local trail!)
  • Play a backyard game of flag football (a Turkey Day classic) 
  • While it doesn’t involve as much heart-pumping activity, start a friendly festive game of any of these classics, especially if the weather isn’t cooperating
  1. Write down your thanks.


Chances are you’re familiar with the idea of going around the table and sharing what you’re most thankful for before devouring your full plate of Thanksgiving fixings. What do you say we take that up a notch with an easy DIY project?

Go out and purchase a simple, rectangular, white tablecloth, as well as permanent or fabric markers. Then, during dinner, ask everyone to write what they’re thankful for that year. For each Turkey Day that follows, you can pull out that tablecloth, drape it on your dining table, and add to those sentiments with a different marker color!

  1. Pick your own day to celebrate.

november calendar

This may seem less traditional, but as military families, our lives are far from conventional. Historians, however, have explained that different colonies celebrated their own days to give thanks during the year. 

That said, if your service member spouse is coming home from deployment around Thanksgiving Day, or you’re planning to travel to visit family a weekend or two after the hustle and bustle of the holiday, maybe you consider picking your own day to celebrate? That way, you can look forward to a sweet reunion and even more reasons to express your gratitude this year!

Looking for more support and connectedness as a military family?

We’re eager to empower you to thrive, no matter where you may be on your journey as a military family. Click here to become a member of Blue Star Families for free today, and get access to local events and resources to enhance your military life. We can’t wait to welcome you.