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

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.

Murder: Winks Version

What it is: A group game where you try to eliminate other players by winking at them. So, despite its spooky title, really it’s just a game that’s all about your eyes.


Best for: Anywhere from a small to a large group. Ten or more would probably be ideal.

What you need: Just players and a way to randomly select one player to be the Murderer. This can be slips of blank paper, a deck of cards, anything as long as the identity of the Murderer can be a secret.

How to play: First, set up your playing area by sitting everyone in a circle. This can be cross-legged on the ground or in chairs/on couches. Everyone just needs to be able to see every other player.

Then, choose one player to be the 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.

When you pick the Murderer, only the Murderer should know their identity. It should be a secret to everyone else.

So once the Murderer is established, have everyone sit in a circle and announce the start of the game.

For the Murderer, the objective is to murder (i.e. wink at) as many people as possible before being caught. The Murderer can wink at whoever they want whenever they want as often as they want.

For everyone else, the objective is to not die and to catch the Murderer as quickly as possible, thus saving as many lives as possible. You catch the Murderer by calling him or her out.

So let’s set up a sample game. Bobby is the Murderer, and only he knows that. Close after the start of the game, Bobby winks at Monica, who lets out a scream and falls on the floor.

That reminds me: 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 somehow and leave the circle.

After Monica dies, another player, Alex, was watching and thinks he saw a fourth player named Lindsay wink at Monica. So Alex says, “Lindsay, are you the Murderer?” To which Lindsay has to say, no, she’s not. At that point, Alex dies from his false accusation, so now two players are out. Bobby goes on winking at players when he can catch their eye contact, killing as quickly or as slowly as he wants. Both lead to a different game dynamic.

The game ends when someone says, “Bobby, are you the Murderer?” Or, in rare cases, when Bobby kills absolutely everyone else. Then Bobby wins.

It’s a kind of balancing game: for Bobby, he doesn’t want to necessarily kill too fast or too obviously. But if he doesn’t go fast enough, it gives players more time to discover him. For everyone else, they don’t want to spend too much time making eye contact with anyone just in case it’s the Murderer. But the game involves looking in eyes to try and figure out who is winking at whom. I like this game a lot; it’s suspenseful and fun.

To start another round, draw cards again to pick a new Murderer and go!

Variations: There’s another version of this game that’s a lot of fun. And along the murder theme, you can always try mafia!

Pictionades (pictionary meets charades): Star Wars version

What it is: A game I kind of made up that involves drawing (like pictionary) and acting (like charades). And in this version, Star Wars, in honor of my family’s Halloween costumes this year.

Best for: A big group, probably around 10.

What you need: A wipe-off board, the small-ish kinds you can hold in your hands. You’ll also need a dry erase marker and eraser and a specialized list of Star Wars actions to act out. I provide one below. :)

How to play: First divide your players into two teams. Like in a regular game of pictionary or charades, each team takes turns drawing/acting for their team members only to guess.

So let’s say team 1 is up: the Rebels (who are of course playing against the Empire). Unlike regular pictionary, the Rebels will send up two players, Han and Chewie (I’m sorry, I can’t resist). One player will hold the wipe-off board and marker (Han, since Chewie’s hands are too furry). Chewie will stand next to Han and be prepared to act.

A pretty intimidating duo to face, pictionary or no.
A pretty intimidating duo to face, even in pictionary.

Like pictionary and charades, no talking is allowed during the turn. At  the start of a timer, Han and Chewie pull a slip of paper with their first action to act out. It might be using the Force to lift an X-wing.

At “Go!” Han and Chewie start. They work together as a team, with Han drawing and Chewie (and also Han) acting to get their team members to guess the word.

So Han might draw an X-wing on the wipe-off board, then hold the board down low to the ground. Meanwhile, Chewie would hold out his hands, pretending to use the Force, and Han would slowly raise the drawing of the X-wing up off the ground. Get it? It’s a combination of acting and drawing that does it.

When your team members guess, try to be pretty literal with the answer matching the phrase on the card (for example, just saying “X-wing!” for the above example wouldn’t cut it). You want your team members to say the whole phrase.

When Han and Chewie finish their first phrase, they draw and act another, and keep going until the timer runs out. Oh, another rule: Han and Chewie also can’t talk with each other. So they can’t prepare or plan in advance. It’s about thinking fast and acting together as a team.

The Rebels get a point for every phrase they successfully guess during Han and Chewie’s turn. Then it would be the Empire’s turn. At the end of the game, whichever team has the most points wins.

It’s up to each team which combination of players they want to send up in groups of two. You can change the pairs of two each round, or keep them the same. Just make sure to give everyone an equal opportunity to go up.

Are there any rules I’m forgetting? Oh, I would suggest a longer time limit for the rounds for this game: maybe 2 to 3 minutes. Since the phrases are more complex, it’s nice to allow time to draw something good or act out multiple parts to a complex phrase.

Printables: And finally, the phrases! These were fun to compile. I did lots of research (involving a Star Wars marathon and a lot of spell-checking on Wookieepedia). I hope you enjoy them!

Printable-markerStar Wars Actions