What to do when dinner is over

By: Christa Melnyk Hines

13 Ideas for Post Thanksgiving Dinner Fun

After all of the hours of prep work that goes into Thanksgiving dinner, it seems as if it’s gobbled up in no time flat. Now what? Here’s a bounty of activity ideas, big and small, for the entire family to enjoy after the big feast.

Sign a pumpkin. According to positive psychology research, simply expressing gratitude can actually enhance our overall happiness. Invite your family to consider their individual blessings. Purchase a large artificial pumpkin that you can bring out each year for your family to sign. Ask each person to write a note on it about what they’re most grateful for this year. Perhaps a new baby arrived into the family, wedding bells will soon be ringing, your child got an A in a difficult class, or a loved one overcame a health issue. Be sure and have everyone sign and date it.

Create a Thanksgiving tablecloth. Similar to the pumpkin idea, lay the Thanksgiving table with a memory tablecloth. After the table is cleared, each person can write a note to the host or a note of gratitude using fabric markers. Protect your table by placing a matte like cardboard under the tablecloth in case ink bleeds through it.

Go for a nature walk. According to the Calorie Control Council, the traditional Thanksgiving meal serves up 4500 calories and 229 grams of fat for the the average American. Start burning some of those calories by taking a stroll after the big meal. Angela Holmes and her sons Ezekiel, Xavier and Drake, traditionally make the outing extra fun by searching for fossils and bones. If there’s snow on the ground, they go sledding.

Get out the board games. Get your kids off of their phones and video games and engaging in lighthearted family fun and conversation with a board game. In a world where more and more people say they have zero confidants, playing games together can build camaraderie and provides a low-key, entertaining opportunity for face-to-face togetherness. Some family favorites include Catan, Pandemic, Telestrations and Clue. 

Play touch football. Football is as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie. Angie Worth and her family play one-touch football. They select team captains based on the strongest players in the family and the captains pick their teammates. “The rules are very loosey-goosey. The captain explains the route for offense or assigns coverage for defense. Then, it’s all about the touchdowns and points,” Worth explains. “It’s very casual, but fun-a good way to burn off some Thanksgiving dinner calories before pie!” 

Share family stories. While your kids are anticipating the mouthwatering dinner that’s about to grace the table, have them write questions to ask the family. They can slip a question under the glass or plate of each table setting. After dinner is over, go around the table and each person can pull their question and share. Questions like “what was Thanksgiving like when you were growing up?”and “What was your best Thanksgiving ever and why?” are sure to rekindle fond memories.

Plan a scavenger hunt. If the weather is agreeable, send everyone outside for a scavenger hunt. Give each team a small bag to collect their items or have them use their cameras to take photos of the items on the list. Keep the hunt simple for youngsters and a little more complicated for older kids. Items on your list might include: something red, a heart shaped leaf, a stick shaped like a Y, a black rock, a feather, etc. Team adults with kids and turn the hunt into a fun race to the finish. The winning team receives the first slice of pie or a silly prize like pilgrim’s hats to wear on their heads. 

Puzzle fun. Lauri Duncan, a mom of two boys, ages 8 and 11, says that she and her family traditionally put a puzzle together after the big dinner.  “We do one big puzzle every year that every age can work on. The kids, parents, cousins, grandparents all chip in and work on it in rotations throughout the afternoon between naps and football and snacking on leftovers,” she says. 

Pumpkin Tic-Tac-Toe. Choose five small white gourds and five small orange gourds. Make a grid on a card table using craft or painter’s tape. Or use larger gourds and set up the game in your yard using sticks to make nine squares.

Ready, aim…. If you’ve got a Nerf gun loving crew, turn 10 plastic drinking cups into turkeys that they can stack and try to shoot down. Paste google eyes on the cup. Underneath the eyes, place an upside down triangle to form the beak. Pick up a bag of colored feathers from a craft store and hot glue a few red, orange or yellow feathers on the back of each cup. Not into Nerf guns? Use a tennis ball and play turkey bowling with the cups instead.

Get into the holiday spirit. If you’ve got a large extended family together for Thanksgiving dinner, this is a good time to pull names for holiday gift exchanges like Secret Santa’s, a Pollyanna Gift Exchange (popular in southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey), or White Elephant Exchange. Everyone draws names, keeps the name they pulled secret, and purchases a light-hearted or wacky gift to exchange around the holidays.  

In memoriam. The holidays can be especially difficult for those grieving loved ones. Look through family photographs together, watch old home videos or take time to tell stories about your special someone. Once Thanksgiving dinner is packed away, Mindy Foral, mom of two, says one of her favorite traditions each year on Thanksgiving night is for her and her children to listen to a recording her mother made before she died of The Night Before Christmas in a Hallmark recordable book. “It’s such an incredible treasure. There is something about hearing the voice of your loved one…especially someone who loved spending the holidays with her grandkids,” Foral says.

Remember those on deployment. If your spouse is deployed for military duty over the Thanksgiving holiday, he or she will definitely be on top of you and your family’s mind. After dinner, invite your family and friends to circle around the table to make cards and write letters to your absent loved one. Mail everything in a package. Even though your honey will receive it after the holiday, they’ll know that they were still an important part of your day.