Thanksgiving gratitude tradition

gratitudeWhat it is: A Thanksgiving tradition my mother-in-law always does. It’s a talking reflection activity, a great way to develop grateful hearts because it goes beyond the typical “Name one thing you’re grateful for this year.”

Best for: A group of people, any size, at a Thanksgiving dinner.

What you need: You’ll need slips of paper with different items you can be grateful for written down on them. I provide a free printable below. When my mother-in-law does it, they’re always cute crafty papers punched out the shape of leaves or shaped to look like little pilgrim boats or something. Mine are a kind of cheap imitation, but if you print them on cardstock and cut them out I think they might look okay. :) Feel free to use some of my word ideas and make your own cards as cute or as plain as you would like them to be.

How to play: The tradition is pretty simple. At Thanksgiving dinner, each guest will be given one card with different items you can be grateful for written on them. These can include things like familyhomefoodsunshine and some that are more specific (like a random act of kindness). After everyone has eaten, go around the table and have each guest tell a story or explain the time they were most grateful for the item on their card.

My mother-in-law usually preassigns the cards by setting them at place settings. You could also have guests randomly draw a card. But I like having them at the place setting at the beginning of the meal because it gives everyone a chance to think (this is one of those things that you need to think about). One thing to be aware of, some of the topics could be sensitive or difficult for some guests, so allowing trading is always a fine idea.

The stories can be longer or shorter; they might just be a few words. But I’ve found that it’s really a great activity that leaves everyone feeling grateful for the blessings we do have, because a lot of times the time when we were most grateful for something is the time we didn’t have it. There’s something about hearing others’ stories or grateful experiences that is very powerful. I love Thanksgiving at my in-law’s because we do this each time.

If you want an example, say I were given the card food. I might tell about the time when I had finished labor and delivery with my first child, and I was amazed and happy and exhausted and I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours. And then my new son and I made it to our recovery room and he was all swaddled and clean and my husband was there, and I got to order lunch! And the hospital food tasted so good, and I don’t think I had ever been more grateful just to have food to eat. The experiences can be as simple as that.

Printables: Here is the printable I made! I’d recommend printing on cardstock. Feel free to pick and choose. The items should be pretty universal, except for the last three pages. Those pages are specific to the Latter-day Saint or Mormon culture (the church I belong to). Feel free to use or not use those pages as you see fit.

Thanksgiving gratitude talking

Musical pictionary

music-pictionaryWhat it is: A version of pictionary where you draw and get other players to guess song titles instead of just regular terms.

Best for: Any group of people, from 2 to more than 20. Pictionary is very adaptable.

What you need: You’ll need a drawing surface, like a whiteboard and dry erase marker, or a chalkboard, or a big pad of paper and marker.

How to play: You basically play just like pictionary (visit that post for in-depth instructions) but with song titles! So how does this change the game? First of all, they might be harder to draw than regular Pictionary terms. Let’s take an example. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from The Lion King. How would you draw that song title so that your friends would guess it? You could draw a singing lion cub with a speech bubble and a king’s crown inside it. You could draw a bunch of African animals all dancing around like in the scene from the movie. You could draw a clock with a slash through it (for “can’t wait”) and a king’s crown. However you want to! Possibilities are endless. The point is, it might be a little more involved than regular pictionary, and that’s all part of the fun.

Because phrases might be harder, it’s nice to allow a longer time limit, maybe a couple of minutes. Or maybe don’t play competitively and don’t have a time limit at all!

And then I think you should totally assign bonus points to someone who can not only guess the song, but starts singing it as well. :)

Variations: I have a free printable word list below with Disney song titles. But you could play any number of variations. 90’s music, oldies, country, musicals…there are all sorts of categories of music out there! You don’t need a list to play, either. Just have players think up their own song titles to illustrate.

As for variations on pictionary, there’s pictionary telephone and pictionary charades. You can also play pictionary with any group of words. It’s a great game for holidays. On my printables page, I have free printable word lists in all sorts of categories, including for most major holidays.

Printables: And here’s the list of Disney songs! I won’t say it’s comprehensive, but it’s pretty long. There are some obscure ones on there. So if you’re not a Disney song know-it-all, just skip the ones you don’t know. Enjoy!

Printable-markerDisney Songs List


Hot lava

hot-lavaWhat it is: The wonderful game every child thinks he or she invented.

Best for: A small group, or a group to fit however big your playing area is.

What you need: You’ll need a place to play. For me and my siblings and cousins, this was always an indoor game, played in a large living room or bedroom (much to our parents’ chagrin). You could easily play outside as well. A playground would be ideal.

How to play: There’s one rule. THE FLOOR IS LAVA! Don’t touch it!

Ah, this is such a fun game. Kids just love to climb and jump, and pretending the floor is hot lava gives you an excellent excuse to do so. So jump from couch to couch, throw down couch pillows to use as stepping stones, step on the coffee table, just don’t touch the floor!

If you play outside, you can make the grass lava, or the concrete, or whatever you want. You can have some spots of ground be safe spots.

Too bad this game, when played indoors, always makes grown-ups so mad. It’s so fun! I remember playing with my siblings and cousins at my grandparents’ house all the time. We played in the upstairs kids’ room, a room with four sets of bunk beds and couches and a chair: a truly perfect setup for hot lava. But if we were too loud as we leapt from furniture to furniture, our parents would hear the banging downstairs and tell us to stop. Once I remember playing in college (you’re never too old for the classics) in our dorm common room, where we took off couch cushions and made paths across the floor, until a resident assistant told us to stop. So much fun!

Variations: Lava monsters are a great variation to have. Either start with one or two at the beginning of the game, or make any player who accidentally touches the lava become a lava monster. The goal of a lava monster is simple: drag other players into the lava, mua ha ha! (This can be literally dragging, or a simple one-hand tag will do.) When players are captured by the lava monster, they become lava monsters, too!

I know you played this as a child, so do you have any variations to share? Or favorite experiences playing? I’d love to hear; leave a comment!

Murder: Hand-squeezing version

What it is: A group game where one player, the murderer, squeezes people’s hands to “kill” them, trying to kill as many as he can before his identity is discovered. So, whereas the other murder game is all about your eyes, in this one you use your hands.


Best for: A group of about 10, though a little more or less is fine.

What you need: A way to pick a murderer: either a deck of cards or slips of blank paper (or something else you come up with).

How to play: This is another fun variation on the murder game theme (in time for Halloween!). To start, you need to choose a murderer. If you have a deck of cards, pull out one card for each player. Make them all non-face cards, except for one. Shuffle and have each player pick a card, face down. Whichever player draws the face card will be the Murderer. You can do the same thing with slips of paper. Just draw an X on one and fold them all up.

So now one player should be the Murderer, but only he or she knows. To everyone else it’s a secret. Now have all your players sit in a circle on the ground, cross-legged. Then players all hold hands to form a circle, but it’s important that players hide their hands, to the best of their ability, behind backs or under legs. You don’t want your hands just sitting on laps where everyone can see them.

Then announce the start of the game, at which point the Murderer can start in with the dirty work, mua-ha-ha.

The Murderer “kills” people by squeezing the hands of the players next to him. So let’s say Aaron is the Murderer. To his left is Kate, and to his right is Juliet. Aaron might start by squeezing Kate’s hand three times. Then Kate would “pass” the squeeze to the player on her other side by squeezing his hand two times. That player would pass it on by squeezing only one time. And the player who receives one squeeze…is dead.

Which brings us to: optional dramatic deaths. The game gets extra fun if, whenever you “die,” you die a dramatic death: fall on the floor, gasp, shout out your famous last words, etc. Adds in an element of humor and drama. :) At the minimum, just announce you’re dead and leave the circle.

That’s basically the only game play. The Murderer squeezes hands of the people next to him, both to his right and to his left, and the squeezes get passed around the circle, going both directions, and any player who receives only one hand squeeze dies and leaves the circle. So the circle keeps getting smaller and smaller. The Murderer can kill as quickly or as slowly as he wants.

As for the other players, their objective is to guess who the Murderer is before they all end up dead. Players do this with a simple accusation: “Kate, are you the Murderer?” Since Kate’s not the Murderer in this game, she shakes her head no, and then the player who made the false accusation has to leave the circle. Figuring out the Murderer is trickier than you might think, because players have no idea where the hand-squeezes originate from, and when you watch a player die on the other side of the circle, you might not even know from which direction the killing strike came.

The game ends when someone correctly accuses Aaron as the Murderer, or when Aaron kills everyone else. Whew!

Variations: Have you tried the winks version of murder? There’s also mafia, a game with a similar theme.


MafiaWhat it is: A group game best played late at night, often at sleepovers. Players try to discover the identity of a secret “mafia” amongst the group before they’re all eliminated.

Best for: Teens or older in a group of at least 8.

What you need: Traditionally you play with a deck of cards, though you could accomplish the same thing with some slips of paper and a pen. And that’s it!

How to play: This game is a little involved (though probably not the most complex game I’ve posted), so I’ll do my best to explain it.

First of all, choose one player to be the narrator. This player will volunteer to sit the game out and be the moderator, running the game so everyone else can play.

After you pick a narrator, you start by handing out parts. In this game, each player is given a role to play. Let’s run over the roles real quick.

  • Mafia member: A player who tries to kill all other players and eliminate them from the game before his or her identity is discovered.
  • Detective: A player who has a special skill in guessing who the mafia is and tries to protect the citizens.
  • Citizen: Anyone else; players who just play the game, hope not to die, and try to help discover who the mafia is.

Games with large groups will often have two detectives and two mafia members.

So at the beginning of the game, you’ll have players draw cards to determine who are mafia, who are the detectives, and who are the citizens. You can accomplish this by pulling out cards from your card deck. Assign the different roles to cards: so Kings could be detectives, Jacks would be mafia, and anything else would mark a citizen. If you have a smaller group, put one detective card and one mafia card in your deck. If you have a larger group, try two of each.

Once players have picked their roles, it’s important they keep them a secret. No one should know who had what role. But tell players to hang onto their cards and keep them hidden; eventually during the game, everyone will end up revealing his or her card.

So now that you have your players and you have your roles, the game can start. The narrator starts the game, usually by telling a story, if you’re really into the game like that. The story is about the players and a scenario they’re in and might start out something like this:

“It was a dark and stormy night, and the members of the Jones family were gathered together on a camping trip. That night as everyone gathered around to roast hot dogs and tell ghost stories, the clouds gathered and lighting flashed ahead. Spirits were high around the campfire, though, but no one knew that someone in the party had evil intentions…”

Each round the story is different and it doesn’t really matter; it’s just part of setting the mood for this kind of creepy game. (That’s why it’s good to pick a narrator who can pull off this mood-setting story-telling role.)

So let’s set up a sample game. Say James is the narrator and is starting the game. He starts telling his story, setting the scene, and ends the first segment with the end of a day, saying something like

“…so everyone finished eating their hot dogs and returned to their tents to sleep.”

At that point, all of the players close their eyes and keep them closed until otherwise instructed by James, the narrator.

Then James will say something like:

“But late that night, two members of the mafia woke up with a dark and evil plan. Mafia members only, open your eyes and look at me.”

Then the two players who drew Mafia cards open their eyes and silently nod to James to show who they are. Let’s call the mafia Steve and Marco.

So Steve and Marco open their eyes. James will go on:

“Now the two mafia members will silently agree on one person to kill tonight.”

Then Steve and Marco point, shake their heads, and nod until they agree on one person to “kill.” Let’s call her Lara. After they have, James resumes narrating:

“Now mafia, close your eyes. Detectives only, open your eyes.”

The detectives open their eyes — we’ll call them Katie and Chloe. The detectives then silently point, shake their heads, and nod until they agree on one person to accuse as a member of the mafia. Say they point to Joe. Once they do, the narrator silently shakes his head, indicating that Joe is not a member of the mafia. Katie and Chloe close their eyes and James resumes narrating.

“The next day dawns cool and misty, and everyone wakes up and opens their eyes…”

(everyone opens their eyes)

“…to find that last night, there was a MURDER.” Duh-duh-duh.

Then James can explain that as everyone wakes up, they find that Lara has been murdered in the night. He can go into as much gruesome detail as he wants in describing the murder; it just depends on the narrator and how into the game he or she is. At the least, he needs to announce that Lara died. Lara can also dramatically act out the death if she so chooses.

At this point, all the players get a chance to discuss out loud who they think the mafia members might be. Then they can accuse one player of being a mafia member. If they’re right, that mafia member is eliminated and the citizens and detectives are one step closer to winning the game. If they’re wrong (say if they think Joe is a member of the mafia), Joe is eliminated and the mafia is one step closer.

The discussion period is where the bulk of the game takes place, and where things can get pretty heated. (Also, this often argumentative phase of the game is why I think many people either love or hate this game.)

So how does the discussion phase look? Anyone can talk, anyone can voice an opinion, and everyone must come to an agreement (or at least a majority vote) about who to accuse. The one rule is, no one is allowed to say what their role is. James, the narrator, plays the role of mediator, keeping people focused and reigning in any too-heated discussions.

As for the two mafia members, they’ll want to protect themselves, of course. The trick is, they don’t know who the detectives are, and if the detectives are onto them or not.

After everyone agrees on who to accuse, that person must reveal their card and their role and then exit the game. Then the narrator starts another nighttime phase of the game, where everyone closes his or her eyes, the Mafia gets another chance to kill someone, and the detectives get another guess at who the mafia are.

Say during the next round, the detectives guess that Steve is a member of the mafia. The narrator nods his head yes. Now the detectives are at an advantage: they know a member of the mafia. But during the next discussion round, they have to carefully use this knowledge. They can’t outright say they’re detectives, you see. They can’t state that they know Steve is a mafia member. But they can persuade and lead the discussion, hoping to sway the citizens their way.

If anyone speaks out too vocally against a member of the mafia during one round, the mafia always has the option of killing them during the next night phase of the game, so the detectives will want to be careful. But the mafia members can’t make the murder too obvious or everyone else will be onto them… See how it’s a game of mind tricks, deceptions, and secrets? It often evolves into backstabbing and throwing people under the bus, which is all part of the fun.

One last thing: what happens to the players who die? They become “ghosts” and can stay in the room, watch the game, and even keep their eyes open during the nighttime phase, but they’re not allowed to make a sound. If they don’t have that much will power, kick them out of the room. 😉

The game ends when either the mafia are both killed, or when they’ve killed both the detectives (or is it when they’ve killed everyone? Maybe you could play either way). What a creepy game for your Halloween party this year!

Variations: Along with the murder theme, there’s a murder: winks version game and a hand-squeezing version that are both a lot of fun.