My husband likes to joke about how much I love the holidays and how I’m always adding new traditions. What can I say? I do love the holidays and all the traditions! But more than anything, I love the special moments of connection that the holidays uniquely offer.
So rather than creating a new tradition for us this year, I thought I’d share two of our favorite (non-food related!) Thanksgiving traditions. They are both screen-free games, because if you know me, you know I am on a global mission to inspire people of all ages to live more playful, vibrant and fulfilling lives. You will find more activities and games in my new book Play Together. So, without further ado, let’s play!
Game #1: Smile Contest
Duration: 5+ minutes
A couple years ago, a lot of people were just starting to get together again in person for the holidays. That got me thinking… How could I create a fun way to help others spark those special holiday moments that I love so much? How could I help others connect, or maybe even re-connect, as many had been a little out of practice. And, amidst all the holiday hoopla, how could I make it easy since there’s already so much going on? I couldn’t think of an easier way than smiling.
How to Play: Have two players stand face to face. Then on the count of three, have each player smile at each other and look into each other’s eyes. The first person to laugh, look away or stop smiling is out. You can play your Smile Contest as a one-time challenge or a mini tournament. You can play it last man standing style or, as always, you can set it up however you’d like. Whatever way you choose, I do recommend that you keep the focus centered around smiling, laughing and connecting (rather than on competing).
In addition to smiling, I also like how this game gets people to look directly at each other. Like smiling, eye contact is another great skill that people of all ages can use to build connection and rapport. And with all the distractions these days, I love creating fun games where players can practice and build these valuable skills, often without even noticing it, as they play.
Did You Know? Over 30% of people smile more than 20 times a day and under 14% smile less than 5 times a day. But guess who holds the smiling superpower? Kids of course! Kids smile as many as 400 times per day! One British study found that one smile provides the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars. So maybe play a few rounds before dessert and you won’t need that second piece of pumpkin pie.
Game #2: Thanksgiving Journal
Duration: 10+ minutes
This activity has been a family favorite since before my boys could even write. I love how it is an annual record of all the things we are most grateful for. Not only does it get everyone thinking about what they are currently grateful for, it also becomes fun to look back on old entries.
How to Play: Get a new journal (or some paper) and invite each person at your gathering to write down one or more things they’ve been grateful for over the past year. To keep it playful, people can write (and read) as little or as much as they’d like. You can also use it as a way to open up conversations on gratitude. Ideally, I recommend dedicating a new journal as your annual Thanksgiving Journal. Of course, feel free to use whatever you’ve got. For example, if you don’t have a journal, you can use paper and save them in a folder, or you can each write on small slips of paper and store them in a mason jar. The key is to look for things that you are grateful for, write them down and share about it together.
On Thanksgiving Day, I place our Thanksgiving Journal on the coffee table. Since we’ve been doing it for years, everyone leisurely fills in their entries throughout the day. When the kids were younger though, I would ask them what they were grateful for and then I’d fill it in for them. They could also draw in their own pictures. Once the holiday is over, I store our journal with our decorations as it’s a handy way to keep track of it and it helps me remember to pull it out in time each year.
Looking Back! The actual journal itself then becomes a precious keepsake, as it documents a slice of your family’s history, hand-written by each person. Now everyone thinks it’s a kick to go back and look at their funny drawings and see how their handwriting changed over the years! It has also become a kind of a Thanksgiving guest book as well for anyone who joins our holiday festivities over the years. We’ve had my uncles who live across the country and a variety of friends join us and share in our tradition. I love how our Thanksgiving Journal has become a living family heirloom and yours can be as well.
Wishing you and yours a playful and smile-filled holiday season!
Interested in more fun activities and games for your family this holiday season? Check out my new book, Play Together: Games & Activities for the Whole Family to Boost Creativity, Connection & Mindfulness, for over 60 screen-free, entertaining and educational games.
Laura Haver is a play, happiness and communication expert, author, speaker and life design coach. She has helped hundreds of individuals and families to experience more play, growth and inspiration in their lives. Laura is the founder of Author Moms (a community that connects, supports and inspires fellow writing moms) and Alchemy of Fun (a community for busy women who want to bring more fun, fulfillment and magic into their lives). She has been featured on the Today Show, CBS, Fox and more. She has over 25 years coaching experience in leadership, life design and tennis (for both children and adults). Laura lives in San Diego with her husband and two sons. Visit laurahaver.com for more information.