Head out of the house after Thanksgiving meal

The turkey has been carved and eaten, the dishes cleared and stacked. Mothers-in-law are fidgeting and cousins are anxiously awaiting to be entertained. It's post-meal on Thanksgiving and, with most stores closed, it seems there's nothing to do.

Take heart, as plenty of area activities can help fill the lags on the day of turkey.

Bundle the children in scarves and gloves for an evening in Gwinnett's county seat. To usher in the holiday season, the 19th annual tree lighting will commence in Lawrenceville at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse. Decorated in its holiday finest, the courthouse will be open for self-guided tours, and live entertainment will be offered in the gazebo. Couples can snuggle under blankets on a carriage ride around the Square, while little tykes visit Santa.

"Every year, we have lots of people come out, even when it's raining," said Kim Jones, parks and recreation coordinator for Gwinnett County. "It's a fun family tradition and it really is a nice way to kick off the season."

The ceremony will begin at 5 p.m., with the tree lighting at 6 p.m. Santa Claus arrives at 6:45 p.m.

Take a step back in time and let the serfs at Medieval Times serve the family. Celebrating the holiday with an "Everybody's a Kid" event, the period-themed restaurant at Discover Mills Mall will price all tickets at $39.95 - the regular cost for children's admission. Watch as knights fight on horseback while dining on a four-course meal, served medieval style - without silverware.

For more information, visit www.medievaltimes.com or call 1-888-WE-JOUST.

This year, give back while giving thanks, and lend a hand at the Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless event in Atlanta. Now in its 37th year, the event draws more than 200 volunteers to Turner Field, where they provide holiday meals to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King Day and Easter.

Families can come before eating their own meals to help serve food, or come by after eating to help clean up. It's a great activity to help bring families closer together, said Shealeta Murden, executive assistant with Hosea Feed the Hungry.

"This is an important activity for families to see how other people in their community live, and a good way to appreciate your own holiday season," Murden said.

Volunteers should register at least two days prior to the event; visit www.hoseafeedthehungry.com or call 404-755-3353.

When the sun has set, take a night drive through Lake Lanier Islands Resort's Magical Nights of Lights. More than six miles of glittering holiday lights line the route, which ends in the park's Holiday Village. There, get a head start on Christmas shopping at the Santa Shop, gather around a glowing fire to roast marshmallows or try out the new ice skating rink.

"After you eat all that turkey, cram your family in the car and come out for fun and lights. Thanksgiving is one of our most popular nights," said Katy McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Lake Lanier Islands Resort. "It's really a wonderful way to get the holiday season started with family."

The lights display is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $30 per carload, and can be purchased by calling 770-932-7200 or visiting www.lakelanierislands.com/mnol.

Thanksgiving has a long-standing tradition as a day devoted to football, but once pigskin fans have their fill, head out to the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Gladiators, Gwinnett's hockey team, will take to the ice to play against the Charlotte Checkers. The game starts at 7:05 p.m. at the arena, located at 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.

Tickets are $10-$19, and can be purchased by calling 770-497-5100 or online at www.gwinnettgladiators.com.