How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in the Time of Social Distancing

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in the Time of Social Distancing

Does your family have a big, traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with extended family and tons of togetherness? Some families do! But this year, you may be counting up your in-laws and cousins and thinking an indoor feast for 30 is just not in the cards. Many chosen families put together a big “Friendsgiving” to celebrate and show gratitude for their connections, and that is a major support-system touchstone for the year. However, lots of friend groups are reconsidering if packing 18 people into an apartment for a potluck is safe right now. Perhaps you usually spend Thanksgiving in service of others, dishing up community dinners. But right now, you want to avoid crowds and don’t know what to do on the day of Thanksgiving.

You may feel frustrated, or sad, or even guilty for secretly being relieved that you don’t have to go to a big loud party. Let your feelings come to you, and know that you are not alone. Many, many people are dealing with these precise issues, and we are here to give you some ideas for celebrating Thanksgiving in the time of social distance. This Thanksgiving will definitely look and feel different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a beautiful, joyful celebration of gratitude and generosity.

Social Distance vs. Physical Distance

The phrase “social distancing” may conjure feelings of isolation or loneliness, while the equally descriptive phrase “physical distancing” doesn’t, mentally or emotionally speaking, hinder your social life so drastically. Remember the importance of your social and emotional connections this Thanksgiving, and instead focus on everyone’s need for enhanced personal space. Concentrating on keeping each other safe physically is much easier than thinking about curbing the human interaction we all need. So, work on re-framing “social distancing” into “physical distancing” to reduce anxiety and dissatisfaction regarding your Thanksgiving plans.

Making Dinner Different

No giant get-together this year? Well, who do you see? Have you formed a pod or cohort out of necessity? Because those people could be your feasting friends! Re-think exactly whom you will spend Thanksgiving Day with because anyone you love or whose company you enjoy is fair game. Maybe this is the year that your work friends will finally do a pot-luck. Perhaps the two families you share a nanny with are your best choice for dining companions. It could be that your best option is to eat dinner as a nuclear family and join a big Zoom party with the whole family later in the day. The food part of a traditional American Thanksgiving celebration will most likely alter for many families, but that doesn’t have to be a sad development. Make all the foods you love even if you’re cooking for one, and remember that alternatives to the traditional meal abound.

Sharing Thanksgiving

What are some ways to share the joy and gratitude of Thanksgiving in a physically-distanced community? We have several ideas:

  • If you live in a place with relatively mild weather (relative to Wisconsin, USA, at least!), you can have an outdoor gathering. Build a fire, cover your outdoor furniture in cozy throws, provide some single-serving snacks and drinks that can be carried away from the group to enjoy, and you can still have a bit of a party. Being outdoors mitigates the risks of gathering as long as you’re careful, use protective face coverings, and keep the group on the small side. Even if it is chilly, it might be more than worth it to see your loved ones in a safer manner. Don’t forget to pack a couple of fleece throw blankets!
  • Take made-up plates of Thanksgiving dinner to others. Think of it as an unconventional way to share a meal! As you’re packing up your leftovers, make generous plates of Thanksgiving food—remember the pie!—to take to loved ones who can’t be with you. You can leave the plate at the door and practice perfect physical distancing as you make sure there is no social distance at all between you and those closest to your heart.
  • If serving others is your Thanksgiving priority, take plates to people in need. My community has a matching plan for Thanksgiving plates; a family can sponsor a whole meal, or commit to sharing X number of plates, and are paired with families or individuals who need help to have a traditional holiday meal. This is a no-physical-contact way to share your blessings and feed others on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Make surprise drop-offs so that your loved ones know you’re thinking about them. A basket of apples, a package of homemade cookies, a book you think they will enjoy, a warm winter hat, or a piece of children’s artwork would brighten almost anyone’s day. If you are keeping your Thanksgiving celebration small, send a note to those whom you won’t see so they know they are in your thoughts. There are many, many ways to reach out to the people you miss besides sharing a meal.
  • Schedule an outdoor activity that promotes togetherness but enforces physical distance. Depending on the climate where you live, you might try snowmobiling, horse riding or kayaking. These are fun activities to do in a group, but keep bodies apart. That’s good physical distancing that doesn’t require social distancing! Just be sure that everyone has enough on to keep them warm the whole time. Try layering on flannel shirts or a comfy hoodie to keep heat in without your clothes slowing you down.

By re-framing our thinking and getting creative, we can celebrate Thanksgiving in the time of social distancing beautifully, joyously, and with generous hearts.

Related Articles