Although Halloween is fun and Christmas is magical, Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite holiday. I mean, what’s not to love about a day centered completely on food (and, okay, being thankful)? For many, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends, and some people travel hundreds of miles to be together. For some, it’s the only time they’re able to see their far-away loved ones. But this year, Covid-19 has thrown a wrench in pretty much everything, and, unfortunately, Thanksgiving will not be immune to its effects.
If you’re one of those whose perfect turkey day involves a dining room filled with family and friends, you’re probably wondering how on earth you’ll be able to have a meaningful Thanksgiving under these difficult and unprecedented circumstances. Inviting a bunch of non-immediate family members into your home also invites the possibility of infection. If your loved ones live far away, the realities of travel add another layer of risk. And, of course, if you’re the one who does the traveling or attends dinner at another family’s house, the problems are the same.
While some people feel comfortable risking exposure to the virus for special occasions, others–particularly the elderly, those with health-related risk factors, and pregnant women–are encouraged to avoid all unnecessary risk. So depending on the individual situations of your usual crew, you may be looking at a fairly normal Thanksgiving, a completely different Thanksgiving, or any number of possibilities in between.
Make sure to check out Coronavirus guidelines for your state before you plan your Thanksgiving activities.
However you plan to celebrate this year, with everything that’s going on in the world right now it may be hard for you and your family to get into the holiday spirit. If that’s the case, perhaps a few Thanksgiving-focused activities before the big day arrives can help remind everyone what this holiday is really about–being grateful for all we have.
One way to remind ourselves of our blessings is to count them. On November 1st, set out a bowl or other container (preferably plastic if you have young kids, because someone will knock it over at least once) and encourage everyone to write down something they’re thankful for each day and put the papers in the container. Then, on Thanksgiving–perhaps between dinner and dessert–take turns removing papers from the bowl and reading them aloud so everyone can be reminded of all that is good in their lives.
A similar activity is to cut out a turkey body shape from cardstock. Draw on eyes, a beak, and a wattle (or make them from construction paper). Cut out turkey feathers from colored paper. Have family members write down one thing they are thankful for (one per feather) each day of November. Tape the feathers behind the turkey body and watch how the turkey grows through the month!
Many of the things we have to be grateful for are tied to people–family, friends, teachers, counselors, and more–and they ought to know how we feel. So to get yourself and others in the Thanksgiving mood, consider calling or writing notes to the important people in your life. And have your children do the same! We always talk about spreading Christmas cheer, but I think we need to do more to spread Thanksgiving gratitude this year. To that end, have your kids help you create signs for your front yard thanking local police officers, healthcare workers, teachers and administrators, sanitation workers, city landscapers, street cleaners, whatever! You’ll be amazed at how such a small thing can create such a big impact on how you and others feel during this difficult time.
Serving others is another way to invite the spirit of Thanksgiving into your home. While traditional methods may not be possible due to social distancing, there are still some great ways to show love and kindness to others.
Drop off Goodies or Notes
You can bring pre-made treats and notes to neighbors or offer to bring meals to any sick or elderly people you know. Find ways to provide service and give back to the community. There is no better way to realize how blessed you are than to help those who are really in need.
Clean up Trash
Improving your neighborhood is a great way to be good citizens. Grab some gloves and trash bags and set out to clean up your neighborhood. Be sure to set some ground rules to keep little ones safe (no picking up glass, cigarette butts, etc.). You can even make it into a contest to see who can pick up the most trash.
Hold a Food Drive
Ask your neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family to donate food. Place a box or bin on your front porch and have people drop off their donations. Or you could offer to pick up donations. Arrange to deliver the food to your local food bank or food pantry.
A Low-Risk Thanksgiving Celebration
It probably goes without saying that the safest way to celebrate this year is by having a smaller meal with just the members of your household. If you do this and your family isn’t good about eating leftovers, you may want to scale down your portions. This will mean making smaller batches of everything or cutting out a few of your less-loved side dishes.
Because Thanksgiving celebrations are often big affairs–which require more food than one person or couple should have to make–larger groups usually divide up the work by making the feast a potluck of sorts. So if you’re going the route of immediate family only, you may want to think of outsourcing parts of your meal. There are several ways to do this. If you have local extended family members or good friends nearby, you could set up a trade. Each family could make a big portion of a dish or two, keep some for themselves, and pack the rest up in disposable pans to drop off for everyone else in the group. Just make sure to agree on a dinner time so that everyone can get their dishes dropped off at the appropriate time.
If all of that is too much work, you could always check out the prepackaged foods section in your local grocery store. Or, better yet, you could reach out to a local restaurants for takeout. Mashed potatoes, rolls or biscuits, vegetables, and salad are all great options that would be easy to find. And as an added bonus, you’d be supporting local businesses during a difficult economic time! Win-win.
Virtual Thanksgiving Celebration
It’s hard not to see loved ones during the holidays, but we’re lucky enough to live in a time when technology makes everyone feel close even when they’re far away. So although it isn’t an ideal situation, your family can still virtually see your loved ones this Thanksgiving during Coronavirus. There are several free platforms that allow for multiple households to do a group video chat, such as Google Duo, Google Meets, Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime, and Skype. By using one of these or a similar program, everyone who would have gotten together in one place can see each other and hang out as food is prepared and kids run around playing.
Tips for Improving Your Covid Thanksgiving Video Chat
If you’ve ever done a video chat over the phone or tablet, you know that the size of the screen can be a tad underwhelming. These devices also don’t have the highest sound capability. That’s why you should look into using your television as your screen instead. There are a few ways to do this, such as connecting your computer to the television using an HDMI cable or using a Chromecast to display your phone’s screen on the TV. A larger screen makes the people you’re chatting with large as life, just like they’re actually in the room. Your video call can last as long as you want, even through dinner time so you can eat your meal “together.”
Virtual Thanksgiving Party Games
Some board games could even be played across the screen as long as every household that wants to participate has the game. Another great option is free virtual games that can be played by multiple people in many locations. Get the free app “Psych” and play trivia games together on personal devices. You can play while video chatting, which is even more fun. You can also play the game Codenames free online here.
A Moderate-Risk Thanksgiving Gathering
If your group doesn’t include any high-risk people, or if everyone is comfortable assuming a little more risk, there are ways you can all get together for Thanksgiving during Covid-19 while still being cautious. If you live in a place that doesn’t get too cold in November, an outdoor party could be the perfect solution. (And even if you do live in a cold place, you could always bundle up, bring blankets, and rent patio heating lamps to keep everyone comfy!) The gazebo of a local park or a spacious backyard could easily accommodate a moderate size group while still allowing for social distancing. Everyone could bring their signature dishes, which could all be placed on a single buffet table. Then the different households could take turns going up and getting their food. Just be sure to keep hand sanitizer at the head of the table and encourage everyone to use it before they serve themselves.
An outdoor gathering of this kind allows people to converse and spend time in a way that a virtual party doesn’t. And if everyone participating wears masks (when they aren’t eating, of course) and keeps their distance, it’s a relatively safe way to celebrate the holiday together. To ensure that the food stays warm so everyone can go back for seconds (and, if you’re like me, thirds), buy a warming buffet kit and hand out the disposable pans ahead of time to everyone bringing food. Then, when everyone arrives, they can place their dishes over the heating elements and walk away, easy peasy. If you’d rather not buy your own buffet set, look into renting chafing dishes from a local party rental company. Whichever way you do it, just be sure to bring disposable tablecloths, napkins, plates, and silverware to make cleanup a breeze when you’re done feasting.
Keep It in Perspective
Whatever your Thanksgiving looks like this year, it probably won’t be exactly what you wanted. But that’s okay! We’re all in the same (gravy) boat–doing the best we can, adapting to our continually changing circumstances, and hoping for better times ahead. But we always have things to be grateful for, so remember those things as you stuff your face with stuffing (or dressing, if you’re wrong and prefer yours cooked outside the bird). Happy Thanksgiving! It’s a great time to celebrate, whether it’s a virtual holiday celebration or an in-person party.