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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, over Christmas, birthdays and all the summer holidays combined.
Why? Because it is the one holiday when everyone, on all sides of our family, comes home. Our dinner table is full with 20–25 people all laughing, joking, playing games, watching football and, yes, eating.
The meal always includes the normal dishes like turkey, dressing, ham, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, string beans and greens. But because I’ve been blessed with THE best family ever, our menu is fairly extensive with everyone bringing something (or two or three somethings). So our Thanksgiving feast also includes salmon, rib roast, leg of lamb, mashed potatoes, collard greens, stewed tomatoes, corn pudding and maybe a few things I’m forgetting. And the dessert table always has at least half a dozen of the season’s favorites.
But not this year.
With guests ranging in age from two to 82, gathering everyone together could have dire consequences and the thought of anyone being or getting ill would be hard to bear. You can read the CDC’s 2020 Thanksgiving guidelines here.
So what is a family like mine (and yours) to do when Thanksgiving is your favorite holiday and you can’t celebrate in the traditional style?
Here are a few suggestions for what Thanksgiving 2020 can look like.
If you'd still like to bring loved ones around your table, start by checking the latest community restrictions regarding the size of indoor gatherings. In some places experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, it may be a maximum of 10 people from two households. It's important to be aware that small, private social gatherings are what's driving the current surge in cases.
Experts interviewed for an article in Better Homes & Gardens recommend asking everyone to take proper precautions for at least two weeks before Thanksgiving. “If possible, it would be a good idea for family members to self-isolate as much as possible the weeks before everyone is together,” says Natalie Seymour, a food safety extension associate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. By now hopefully we're comfortable having these conversations and it is absolutely acceptable to ask your guests to quarantine before a gathering of any kind, including over the holidays.
This strategy would help prevent someone from picking up the virus and bringing it to the celebration — especially important if someone who is at high risk really wants to attend. You might also ask all who plan to join to get tested a few days before the gathering to confirm that they’re virus-free.
On the day itself, reduce risk by using the largest room available and ventilate the space well with open windows. Consider shortening the time you spend together (two hours would be better than four) and wear face coverings when not eating and drinking.
Learn more about the effectiveness of cloth masks in limiting spread of COVID-19 here, and find additional tips for socializing safely indoors here.
Consider starting a new tradition with a virtual Thanksgiving dinner or dessert. Plan a theme, menu and time and then log on.
The chat would be a great place to share recipes, have everyone express what they are grateful for, and end the call with a virtual game. On realsimple.com, Lisa Milbrand says, “If your family’s into board games, look for some of the online game options like Jackbox, Cards Against Humanity, or the various games on the app Houseparty.”
If you're fortunate to live in a mild climate, or you can see that you'll have a stretch of good weather over Thanksgiving, consider hosting an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner or brunch! On nytimes.com, Micheal Sullivan offers tips for celebrating al fresco. “It’s easier for multiple families to gather at a safe distance outside, whether it’s a park or your own backyard. A potluck with a designated food station allows each household to take turns dishing up their plates. Alternatively, you can portion the food in advance in separate containers and distribute it at the gathering.”
If you decide to stick to your own household, you certainly won't be the only ones. Check in with local friends and neighbors, especially people who live alone, and suggest timing your meals so that you can all meet either in the morning (before putting your turkeys in the oven) or in between turkey and pie for a socially distanced group walk in a nearby park.
Adventurous types might consider starting a new tradition and traveling for the holiday. If you’re not quite ready to fly, perhaps drive to your destination of choice. This year some families are using Airbnb and similar sites to rent homes large enough to social distance with another family or friends while bringing all the groceries and supplies needed to prepare the holiday meal and experience a new way to be thankful.
No one bakes apple pie like grandma, and the best mac and cheese is always made by Auntie. Consider packing up the dish you make that your family loves and arrange for a socially distanced pick up. This allows everyone to still enjoy their favorite dish by the one who makes it best. Share photos or videos of everyone savoring their feast.
There are so many new normals and it looks like the 2020 holidays are joining that list. However you and your family choose to celebrate, be sure to remind each other that we still have many things to be grateful for. Give voice to those things this year.