Consider these fun, delicious, tried-and-true ideas to put a fresh spin on your holiday.

By Real Simple
Updated October 22, 2015
Roland Bello
Roland Bello

Southern-Style Rolls

“There is a line of simple (but amazing) yeast rolls called Sister Schubert’s that are very common in the South. My grandmother used to make rolls from scratch, as did a lot of grandmothers I know, and Sister Schubert essentially took that classic grandmother recipe and made a killing off of it—because we all just buy hers now. To me, any holiday meal—especially Thanksgiving—requires a Sister Schubert roll on the edge of the plate. I order them online or have my mom bring them in her carry-on luggage. They are delicious stuffed with ham for breakfast, too.”
—Elizabeth Passarella, contributing editor

Personalized Table Settings

“Each year, my aunt Sue hosts Thanksgiving and always does a beautiful tablescape using creative place cards. Last year, she rounded up childhood photos of all of the guests and attached them to the cards. It’s fun seeing your parents and aunts/uncles/grandparents as little kids, and it makes for a special post-holiday keepsake.”
—Heather Muir, beauty director

An All-Day Indulgence

“I’ve heard that many families go easy on breakfast and lunch in anticipation of the big Thanksgiving meal. My family never played by those rules. Our tradition is to truly eat ALL DAY! We start with a hearty breakfast—sausage, gravy, and biscuits or maybe eggs Benedict. Then we have a parade of 'appetizers,' which most families would consider a full meal: spanakopita (a tradition from my Greek side), grilled wings or oysters, cheeses, meats, dips. And THEN the actual meal comes late afternoon. It truly is ridiculous.”
—Casey Stenger, photo director

Crowd-Pleaser Games

“After dinner, we have rowdy games of Apples to Apples and Pit. It’s silly and I don’t remember how it started, but this tradition has happened annually at our Thanksgiving table for the last 10-plus years.”
—Kaitlyn Pirie, reporter/researcher

Family Outing

“Growing up, my dad always took the four of us to the Y the morning of Thanksgiving to play basketball or just goof around. It got us out from underfoot while my mom and grandma cooked all morning, and we always said we were earning a second piece of pie. We fell out of the habit as grown ups—traveling home with babies and young kids (we all needed to sleep in!), but we recently started joining in our hometown Turkey Trot, a short Thanksgiving morning race around our favorite local park. It doesn’t matter that half of us aren’t runners. It gets us up and moving early, we all have a few good laughs, then come home and divide and conquer the Thanksgiving meal prep. And of course, it definitely earns us that second piece of pie.”
—Sarah Copeland, food director

Grilling Time

“My entire family loves to cook, so somehow—even with a double oven—we always manage to run out of oven space. Last year, we decided to grill the turkey outside, leaving infinitely more room in the oven for the sweet potatoes, the stuffing, roasted veggies, and of course, an assortment of baked desserts. It was a big success, and we’ll be firing up the grill again this year!”
—Grace Elkus, editorial assistant,

Mini Reunion

“I go back to my hometown for Thanksgiving every year, and one of my best friends from high school still lives in the area. We meet early on Thanksgiving morning, before we’ve started cooking, prepping, or even showering—and take a long walk through the neighborhood we grew up in. We catch up in person (the rest of year we communicate via text), we reminisce about old classmates and friends as we stroll by their former homes, and we get some fresh air and exercise before the madness of the day begins.”
—Lori Leibovich, editor,

Movie Marathon

“My family has a movie marathon every Thanksgiving: The Wedding Singer, Back to the Future (the first one), and The Wiz, usually in that order. I don’t really know why, but we love it, and each movie is good for all ages.”
—Jacklyn Monk, deputy managing editor

Conversation Piece

“My family puts together a ‘thankful tree.’ We trim a branch with many limbs and secure it in a jar with marbles at the bottom. As guests arrive, they write what they’re most thankful for on an autumn-leaf colored label and hang it on the tree. While eating dessert, the labels are gathered and passed out randomly. Each person reads a label aloud and guesses who wrote it. It functions as decor and as an activity for dinner guests. Just be sure to have tissues nearby when the reading begins!”
—Brandi Broxson, associate editor

Selective Side Dishes

“Chill-giving is our mantra: Thanksgiving is one day. We cook what excites us instead of being dutiful to every dish that should be on the table. One year, we might just focus on making fab mashed potatoes and stuffing because that’s what everyone really wants.”
—Heath Goldman, associate food editor

Music Making

“We have a singalong after Thanksgiving dinner. Everything from folk songs to new pop hits, with a few family members playing guitar. Lots of relatives get into it! I find it takes the edge off holiday stresses.”
—Pamela Grossman, contributing copy editor