Family, football, parades, and lots of turkey and pumpkin pie have become synonymous with Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November every year. Thanksgiving Day is special for many senior adults who savor memories of family gatherings around a large dinner table, brimming with food. In addition to the annual Thanksgiving feast, other traditions – new and old – make the day festive.  Here are activities to help your group rekindle memories of good times from Thanksgiving past.

  • Show a print of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” (also known as “Thanksgiving Dinner”). Ask: How did your family celebrate Thanksgiving? Did you spend the day with extended family? How many generations gathered to celebrate the holiday? What special traditions did you enjoy together? How has the holiday changed over the years?
  • Read the old poem titled “Over the River and Through the Wood” (originally published as “The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day” by Lydia Maria Child). Display props such as an old lace tablecloth, vintage turkey platter, colorful Thanksgiving apron, family recipe cards. Ask your group to share childhood memories of cooking dinner at Grandma’s house. List favorite dishes for an old-fashioned Thanksgiving feast. Tell a funny story about ruined food!
  • Learn the history of the horn of plenty. Assemble a fall cornucopia using nuts and acorns, berries, small gourds and pumpkins, fruits, Indian corn, grain, and flowers. Share recollections of harvest season on the farm, using words such as chop, gather, dig, mow, grind, reap, or cut.
  • Read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s short Prayer of Thanksgiving that begins with “For each new morning with its light.” Ask your group to add their own expressions of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives.  Read and reflect on Psalm 100 – A Psalm of Thanksgiving – in the Bible.
  • Engage your group in a creative project:  Craft a whimsical turkey – for example, a Clay Pot Turkey. Also popular: pinecone turkeys. Ask group members about the biggest turkey they ever cooked. Listen to the old folk song “Turkey in the Straw.”
  • Complete the following sentence: Thanksgiving smells like . . . Pass around samples of traditional holiday spices, herbs, and seasonings for the group to identify.  Ask participants to describe a dish/dessert that uses each one (ex: spiced cranberry relish, sage stuffing, giblet gravy, candied yams, gingerbread). Enjoy a cup of mulled cider.
  • Watch the 1947 classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, which kick offs the holiday season. The film shows scenes of the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Show old photos of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began in 1924. Ask: Have you ever attended the parade in New York City? What do you enjoy the most about the parade? Which giant balloon characters do you remember? Do you look forward to the arrival of Santa at the end of the parade? Find out the first character balloon to appear in the parade in 1927. Hang Snoopy balloons, a parade favorite.
  • Share recollections of a memorable Thanksgiving, November 1945. Use the following to enhance your discussion of the first Thanksgiving after World War II: old LIFE and Saturday Evening Post magazines, Truman’s presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamation, Norman Rockwell’s print titled “Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes,” newspaper headlines about the return of the Macy’s Day Parade and NFL football after the war.
  • Intergenerational: Invite a group of children to perform a play about the first Thanksgiving, complete with handmade Pilgrim and Native American costumes. Hang a turkey piñata for more group fun.
  • Add some humor to the menu: Listen to some funny episodes of old-time radio shows with Thanksgiving themes. (Suggestions: Jack Benny or Burns and Allen)
  • Sing familiar Thanksgiving hymns such as “We Gather Together,”  “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “Faith of Our Fathers.” Ask your group about how the church celebrates Thanksgiving (ex: special service, community meal, canned food drive).
  • Read and discuss the poem “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier.  Share fun facts about the pumpkin. Sample yummy pumpkin treats – pie, bread, muffins, cookies. Find out the size of the largest pumpkin pie ever baked. Toast pumpkin seeds and feed the birds.
  • Pass around copies of old Ideals Thanksgiving magazines, full of holiday stories, poems, photos, and artwork. Display vintage Thanksgiving postcards.
  • Some members of your group may remember the Great Depression, when money was tight, or World War 2 when food shortages were common. Discuss ways to make food stretch in lean times. Talk about ways that people helped each other. Brainstorm ways that the group could help relieve hunger today (fund-raiser for a food bank, canned food drive).
  • Reflect on the following quote by Cicero: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all virtues.”


1. What is a male turkey called? Tom

2. What is the name for a female turkey? Hen

3. What is the noise made by a tom turkey? Gobble

4. What is the name of the long, wrinkled skin that hangs down from the turkey’s neck? Wattle

5. Finish the title of this old folk song: “Turkey in the…” Straw

6. How do you brine a turkey? Soak it in salt water overnight

7. What does the expression “stop cold turkey” mean? Stop immediately

8. Which part of the Thanksgiving turkey is used to make a secret wish? Wishbone

9. What is the Turkey Trot? Old ballroom dance, or a fun run or footrace held near Thanksgiving

10. What happens to the National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House? The president “pardons” the turkey.


“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” ~ William Blake

“THANKSGIVING MEMORIES” written by Sue Hansen. © 2011 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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