Ideas for Outdoor Thanksgiving Decorations

Are You Ready to Get Creative?

A turkey pumpkin serving as outdoor Thanksgiving decoration, flanked by two dogs.
A turkey pumpkin is a relatively easy outdoor Thanksgiving decoration to make. Doxieone Photography/Getty Images

Outdoor Thanksgiving decorations aren't nearly as popular as those for Halloween and Christmas. Consequently, the stores carry fewer of them, and it's more difficult to get ideas merely by looking around to see what others are doing. Instead, you may have to get creative and make your own if you truly desire a knockout Thanksgiving display for your yard.

Reader, Gloria sent in a thoughtful comment regarding the challenge in decorating outdoors for this holiday:

"I would like other ideas besides wreaths which is already a standard decoration. Thanksgiving is a major American holiday. Yet because people go berserk over Halloween (which isn't even an actual holiday though people are acting as though it were) with yard decorations to rival the ever-growing trend of commercialized secular Christmas displays, Thanksgiving gets wedged in with nary a nod. If it weren't for the turkey dinner, I think this wonderful holiday with its valuable message of thanks (whether one is religious or not) and appreciation for our heritage of immigrants would be all but forgotten.

"I for one have begun putting a proper perspective on these observances and my few Halloween decorations (the 'message' of which is pretty lame after all) are going down November 1st and Thanksgiving decorations are going up. I just need ideas for good outdoor decorations that will display my pride in my American heritage and humble thankfulness to my Maker."

The Difficulty in Decorating for Thanksgiving

While many may disagree with Gloria over Halloween (outdoor Halloween decorations are second in popularity only to outdoor Christmas decorations), she's right: Thanksgiving decorations for outdoors are few and far between. Sure, you will see some Pilgrim and turkey inflatables.

But if you want to stay away from commercialism and craft your own decorations, Thanksgiving is tougher to decorate for than Halloween. For Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, it's "anything goes," but the signature figure for Thanksgiving, a Pilgrim, has to be done "just so" in order to look right.

An efficient way to handle this challenge is to exploit the continuity in decorating themes between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Yes, after Halloween, it's time to retire the ghosts and witches. But all your corn stalks, squash, Indian corn, pumpkins, wreaths, non-gruesome scarecrows and ornamental gourds will be just as suitable for outdoor Thanksgiving decorations as they were for Halloween displays, since they all celebrate the harvest. All such agriculture-oriented décor can double as elements of Thanksgiving decor, giving you the option of simply leaving them in place (from Labor Day to Thanksgiving if you wish -- a period of nearly three months). That's why the truly lazy will skip the ghoulish Halloween ornaments altogether and stick totally to fall decorations with a harvest theme.

The problem is, though, that none of this décor is oriented specifically to Thanksgiving. So a homeowner looking to decorate first for Halloween, then, separately, for Thanksgiving encounters a dilemma (besides, no active decorator wants to leave the same tired décor up for three months at a time). The symbolism for this holiday simply isn't as rich as it is for the celebration that immediately precedes it (Halloween) and the one that immediately succeeds it (Christmas), so there's less to draw on for inspiration. Halloween decorators can mine ideas from every horror film ever made. Christmas has not only the Santa Claus tradition (and the Grinch if you find an anti-Santa appealing), but also Nativity scenes, the snowman, and so much more. Equivalents are largely lacking for Thanksgiving.

So what is one to do? Below three ideas are presented that will at least get your creative juices running.

3 Ideas for Outdoor Thanksgiving Decorations

1. An easy craft project for the average person is making a turkey pumpkin. Making the turkey's feathers and head is the only work involved, since the torso is provided by the pumpkin. If you want to avoid wood cutting in crafting the feathers, you could use wooden paint stirrers (handle end pointing up). For added spice, paint a series of colorful bands across the upper halves of the feathers. Likewise, to avoid cutting wood for the head, you could use a dried gourd and paint on the facial features.

2. A step up in difficulty would be constructing a wooden cutout of a Pilgrim. All you would need is some paint, plywood, and a jigsaw. Once you have these supplies, draw the image onto the plywood and cut out the shape with your jigsaw. Then paint on the face and clothing. Even non-artists should be able to produce a Pilgrim image that is recognizable as such, because the hat makes the Pilgrim (and Pilgrim hats are mercifully easy to draw).

3. The turkey and the Pilgrim are two Thanksgiving symbols, but also symbolic of this holiday is the cornucopia (horn of plenty). The problem is, unless you're willing to custom-make one with your own hands, cornucopias generally don't make very good ornaments for use outside. An outdoor horn of plenty must be:

  1. Weather-resistant
  2. Large enough to be spotted easily from a distance

The best ideas around for making outdoor cornucopias use a tomato cage as a frame. You'll want the biggest one you can get your hands on so that it will show up readily. Some crafters cover the frame with burlap, others take a little extra trouble and weave twigs and/or woody vines between the openings of the tomato cage. Either way, the end result can be displayed on a porch step, deck or patio with colorful ornamental gourds spilling out of it.

By the way, it's not just outdoor Thanksgiving decorating that poses a challenge due to a paucity of artistic themes for the holiday. In the U.S., outdoor holiday decorating is substantial only for Christmas and Halloween; outdoor Easter decorations come in at a distant third. And forget about Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day.

With the exception of a few air-blown inflatables one sees intended for display on St. Patrick's Day, the stores carry hardly any décor geared to the late-winter holidays.You would be left to your own devices if you wished to display any ornaments in your yard in recognition of these events, especially for Valentine's Day. Likewise, you'd better be handy in the crafts department if you're seeking an ornament that specifically says “Thanksgiving,” unless one of the aforementioned inflatables is your cup of tea. Many people, however, despise inflatables, regardless of the holiday in question. And since Thanksgiving is, by its very nature, a tasteful celebration, one suspects that many of my readers would forgo ornaments altogether for their November festivities rather than stoop to buying an inflatable.

But what if you lack either the time or skill (or both) to craft your own Thanksgiving yard decorations? Well, you can always buy a suitable flag (banner) and hang it from your deck or porch. Turkey and/or Pilgrim flags are generally available at home improvement stores, such as Lowes.