3 Not-so-Traditional Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving

There's no law that says Thanksgiving must be celebrated with a food-coma-inducing meal or a football marathon. We’ve got some other worthwhile ideas.


A man stands at the bottom of the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. Photo © Getty / LightvisionLLC

Spend time with your (extended) family

Thanksgiving is typically a time to gather the clan together for a feast. Why not expand that table even more, and connect with relatives from afar? Instead of liking your cousin's Instagram posts, go meet his adorable kids and troublemaking cat in person.

Or maybe you’re curious about your broader genealogical history. Services like Ancestry.com or 23andMe mean it’s easier than ever to find out about your origins.

Did your DNA swab turn up ancestral roots in Italy? Were you amazed to learn you’re actually 1/16th Polynesian? Get in touch with your cultural heritage, and share a plate of pasta or poke with a long-lost cousin this Thanksgiving.

Put the “give” in Thanksgiving

Obviously, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks – but it can also be about giving back. If you’re grateful for all you have and want to help people (or animals) who aren’t as fortunate, opportunities to make a difference abound.

One way is through World Nomads’ Footprints program. When travelers buy our insurance, they can choose to make a micro-donation to community development projects around the world. From upgrading an elementary school in Kenya to rehabilitating macaws in Costa Rica, these carefully selected projects help travelers have a positive impact on the destinations they care about. So far, the Footprints network has funded more than 260 projects, and new ones are added regularly.

Another way to give back is to join a voluntourism project and donate your time and talents directly – maybe to a community or a region that's suffering the effects of climate change or recovering from a natural disaster (once it's safe to do so).

Working with local communities in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo credit: Brian Rapsey

Here are some tips for making sure the project you choose is reputable, and that the help you’re giving is needed and productive: 

  • Avoid short-term volunteering projects – organizations can become dependent on the money they bring, which can lead to the manufacture of projects that address the wrong needs.
  • Make sure the volunteering project brings real benefit to the community and that the help being offered is in collaboration with local people rather being imposed on them.
  • Seek out projects that empower the community to take ownership of the project and manage it going forward for their own benefit.
  • Look for projects that have long-term goals for continued support, and only volunteer to do work you are skilled to do. Make sure the projects you work on aren’t taking jobs from local people.

Give thanks for America's natural wonders

The world is an extraordinary place, but you don’t need to travel beyond US borders to find astounding natural beauty. The long Thanksgiving weekend is an ideal opportunity to get outside and be grateful for river-carved canyons, snowy peaks, unspoiled valleys, and sandy shores.

Avoid holiday crowds by heading to lesser-known parks like Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado – November sees mild temperatures and an increase in wildlife. Or go hiking and stargazing in little-visited Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California’s largest), a vast expanse of ragged badlands and soaring peaks.

Even a world-famous park like Yellowstone sees far fewer visitors in the winter – all the better for spotting gray wolves, which are most active this time of year.

If you’d rather escape the winter cold, head to the tropics. Hawaii's islands of Molokai and Lanai offer a more authentic experience than the better-know islands, without the crowds. Or check out El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, the only tropical rainforest in the US Forest system.

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