a family seated around a thanksgiving table

15 Icebreakers For Thanksgiving Dinner

Because your family, whether over Zoom or in-person, is *awkward.* (And nobody wants to talk about the election recounts.)

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Kids, it's creeping closer. Thanksgiving 2020. And while some of us may be fretting about building plexiglass partitions around which to safely pass pie, there are others who are more concerned with how to get through the meal without a full-on family fight club. To help assist with some even-tempered, pleasant chit chat, I have 15 fun icebreaker ideas for Thanksgiving dinner.

Considering that the outcome of the election will likely only be decided right around Thanksgiving, well, the iciness at some family tables may feel big enough to topple another Titanic. But fear not! I swear these silly, structured activities can help to take some of the pressure off and steer you into safe waters. (On that note, if your dinners tend to run long, it might be a good idea to stock up on some goofy board games, too?)

Sadly, with the steep rise in Covid numbers around the country, many of us may be doing Thanksgiving via Zoom this year. In which case, should Uncle Jerry’s thoughts on QAnon prove too much to take, one could always do the ‘ol: “Oh no, Uncle Jer! My Wifi is blerf wjnbg wjbhgb….” and then quietly close the computer.

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Sometimes the hardest thing about Thanksgiving dinner is finding something to talk about, because what are you supposed to say to someone you haven't seen in a year? That's why I love TableTopics ($25, Amazon), a deck of cards with over 100 questions to get your dinner table conversation going. The questions are surprisingly probing, and you'll be shocked at how comfortable your guests get after answering a few. They even make a version that's specifically designed to get kids chatting, so you can even get the littles involved or get them a deck for their own table.


Who Am I?

Prepare a deck of cards with different celebrities and historical figures, and then have your guests attach a card to either their foreheads or their backs. Chaos and fun will ensue as everyone tries to figure out who they are. Word of warning: thinking carefully about your selections. (Think more “Dr. Jekyll” and less “Dr. Fauci.”) You can also play this game using HeadBanz ($12, Walmart) if you don't want to prepare the cards yourself. Though maybe sort through the cards first, and pull any names that might — eh — be problematic.


Camping Trip

I have a cousin who I play this with every year, and the game of patterns never gets old. Whoever is "it" will start the game by saying "I'm going on a camping trip and bringing... " and whatever item they bring will be part of a secret rule they came up with: It could be words that start with a certain letter, words that start with the player's initials, words with four letters, etc. It's up to the players to figure out what the rule is, and once you figure it out, you're on the camper's side. The game is over once everyone catches onto the pattern. Puzzling it out will keep kids and adults alike entertained for hours.


People Bingo

If you want to break the ice by getting to know your family members better, people bingo is perfect for you. All you need to provide your family members with is a people bingo sheet (I like this one from Icebreaker Ideas) and a pen or pencil, and then they'll be off to fill out the squares as quickly as possible while learning about their relatives in the process. Whoever gets bingo first wins. Pro-tip: make the bingo cards yourself to include family jokes and stories for extra fun.


Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is a fun option for anyone feeling ambitious in their icebreaker planning or for people who will have a ton of little ones they need to keep entertained at the party. Hide a series of clues around your house that will lead the players to an ultimate prize — perhaps their dessert or a surprise cocktail for the adults? Your guests will warm up to each other in no time as they scour the premises and try to figure out the solution to your clues.


Silly Superlatives

I did this with my friends every year in college, and it was hilarious. Give each of your guests a slip of paper with someone's name on it when they arrive, and have them come up with a superlative for whoever they picked and write it down on a piece of paper. At some point in the evening, host an awards ceremony to give them out, and let everyone guess who made their superlative. It's an easy way to remind everyone why they like each other, and it'll make the time pass more quickly.


Never Have I Ever

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My favorite adult icebreaker, Never Have I Ever's mix of absurd questions and ability to get people to reveal fun facts about themselves will dispel any family tension in seconds. Maybe keep this one PG if there are young kids around.


Tattoo Stories

No worries if you're not the most talented artist in the world (in fact, the more artistically-challenged you are, the funnier this game will be). Players take turns being the "customer" by picking cards to inspire their tattoos, then the other players ("tattoo artists") come up with a tattoo, draw it, and pitch the idea. Who knows? Somebody could end up getting one of the designs inked for real, post-party.


The Chameleon Board Game

A "social-bluffing" game, the aim of "The Chameleon" is to find the "guilty" player (or to make sure you don't get found if you *are* the guilty player). But the real point of playing is to see how your fast your friends can think under pressure... and how bad (or good, yikes) they are at lying.


Fact or Fiction?

You've probably seen a version of this played on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: Everybody gets an index card with their name on it, then writes down two true statements . about themselves... and one false statement. Read the person's name and statements out loud, then have everybody guess which one is false.


Toilet Paper Icebreaker

Some of you may know this one from “team building” exercises at work. It’s a little cheesy, but almost always generates some easy laughs. As people sit down, you pass around a roll of toilet paper and tell people to tear off as many squares as they like. Once everyone has their TP, you then have them count the number of squares they selected. However many squares a person has is how many “fun facts” about themselves they now must share with the table!


The Awkward Storyteller

I love the idea of this game. It requires people to use their imaginations and get creative, and is also suitable for kids as well as adults. Basically, one person starts with a story prompt card, that will say something like, “At the store I bought 300 hundreds limes.” The other players then ask questions about why the person did this, slowly building on each other’s questions, and together creating a goofball tale.


Kids Create Absurdity

This game is geared toward the kids, which is great, as sometimes the easiest way to find common, neutral ground is to keep it focused on little ones who have zero opinions on Supreme Court appointees. This game is sort of like Cards Against Humanity, but a much more PG version. Players fill in the blanks on things like: “My school bus driver smells like…” Possible answers are things like "rotten eggs, flip flops, exploding watermelons.” You get the gist. There are also goofy “random cards”, where you can hand someone a card that directs them to cluck like a chicken or something equally silly.



This game is basically a series of ridiculous challenges and sounds pretty hilarious. The challenges are things like: “It’s you versus the most responsible player in the room. Both of you must dance like dad for 30 seconds. Group votes on the winner.” There are also funny penalty cards, like: “Show the group the last thing you googled.” There are some cards that get mildly risque, and that you might not want to ask Great Aunt Helen to do. Like: “Bring all the boys to the yard with your milkshake.” But you could always cull any inappropriate cards from the deck before playing.


Bonfire Of The Insanities

This classic family game involves everyone writing their most fervent, diehard political beliefs down on parchment, then throwing them all into a massive bonfire, around which everyone dances whilst wearing flower crowns and eating canned cranberry sauce. Okay, I may have just made this one up. By why not give your Thanksgiving a little Midsommar vibe this year? After the year we’ve had, it might be just the thing?