This year, due to the global pandemic, Thanksgiving will be unlike any we’ve had before. We’ve already seen annual traditions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade go television-only. Some of your family might not feel comfortable flying home this year and the “all are welcome” feast might become limited by safety protocols. But feeling connected to our family and friends is more important now than ever. Instead of getting discouraged, think of this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to bring everyone together in creative ways, offering the much-needed feelings of community and gratitude. With a little forethought, you can make this Thanksgiving one to remember.
By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego
Communication on Thanksgiving Safety Protocols
The most important factor in a successful Thanksgiving this year is communicating with all those you might be bringing together about your safety protocols and expectations. In addition to assessing your guests’ exposure prior to Thanksgiving, also lay out your ground rules for the dinner itself prior to the event. Be clear on whether or not your guests are allowed to bring “plus ones,” if you’ll be hosting inside or outside, and what your plan is for food sharing. If you are sharing Thanksgiving only with your immediate household, the process is much simpler! But if you’re opening up the dinner to a larger crowd, communicate thoroughly before the event so you won’t end up with any uncomfortable surprises.
Food Sharing at the Thanksgiving Table
According to the CDC, “there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.” However, there is some concern around sharing food at the Thanksgiving table because of shared utensils. One idea to reduce this risk can also be adorable – individual servings of your delicious dishes. Start with small bowls of soup, create stuffed turkey breasts instead of a whole bird, and fill mini casserole dishes with single servings of sides.
Outdoor Thanksgiving Tables
The most exciting trend that has come out of recent safety precautions is outdoor picnics and social distance get-togethers. Try cooking up Thanksgiving dinner on the grill for a fun twist on Turkey Day, creating a more casual vibe that will be appreciated both by adults and kids. Bring out your farmhouse place settings and Thanksgiving table décor for a rustic-chic look, or make it easy with disposable plates and cutlery! When you are dining in the beauty of nature, you can let the outdoors shine with simple decor.
Another beautiful outdoor Thanksgiving table idea is to host a boho-chic picnic. Either make your picnic a potluck or order from one of the restaurants in your area offering pre-made meals. Set up a wooden picnic table with copper accessories and small arrangements of blooms with fall gourds. Keep the temperature in mind and if your dinner might last into the evening chill, bring plush throw blankets.
Put Aside Divisive Topics
This Thanksgiving is not only in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, but also is immediately following a Presidential election. Once the wine starts pouring, controversial opinions might start being shared as well, leading to a tense and argumentative Thanksgiving table. Whether or not a lively debate sounds like a great accompaniment to your meal, a tool that can help either create or diffuse divisive topics are conversation cards. You can purchase some pre-made cards or create your own, with questions designed to get shy members of your family talking and steer the conversation to topics of your choosing.
Virtual Guests for Thanksgiving
If travel restrictions or safety concerns are keeping your loved ones away during Thanksgiving dinner, have a virtual celebration using Zoom or another video call platform. You can set up your device to give them a place at the Thanksgiving table, or broadcast your screen onto your TV to give your guest a bigger presence. Dinner conversation can be difficult while mixing virtual and in-person guests, so you can also consider Thanksgiving activities that are purpose-built for virtual bonding. Video call platform Houseparty has a collection of fun and interactive games like Heads Up, or you can simply share what you are grateful for this year.
To make your virtual guests feel more connected, send a gift basket to your loved ones so they have treats there to enjoy. Or, for friends in the same city who are social distancing, you can create a meal exchange among one or a few households. Each household signs up for a dish and then drops off portions to participating households on Thanksgiving morning. Once the no-contact drop off is finished, you can enjoy your meals together virtually.
Scaled Back Thanksgiving Table
Since you’ll likely be hosting fewer guests than you usually do, take this year as an opportunity to scale back on anything about your Thanksgiving table that doesn’t bring you joy. If you cook out of obligation, consider ordering some or all of your Thanksgiving dinner from local restaurants and markets. Or, if you aren’t a fan of turkey and would rather cook up some steaks – do it! Thanksgiving 2020 is the year to break the rules. Or, if tradition brings you comfort, opt for a smaller version of your classic Thanksgiving feast that still provides you with all of your favorites.
A Giving Thanksgiving
Many families have fallen on hard times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so consider how you can give back to those in need this Thanksgiving. If you’d like to donate money that would have gone to purchasing a large feast, consider your local food bank. Or, volunteer your time by checking in on the elderly or infirm in your community. If you love to cook and are going to miss whipping up a huge Thanksgiving dinner, prepare individual meals for neighbors who are in quarantine and can’t be with their families this Thanksgiving.
Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based blogger and freelance writer who writes about travel, food, cannabis, and relationships. Follow her @discovermichelle or visit https://www.eatdrinkbesd.com/. Her work has appeared in national magazines like Marie Claire, Forbes, Cosmo, Reader’s Digest, and Bustle.