Thanksgiving is going to feel different this year. It has to. Despite an entire world willing 2020 to take a much-needed detour away from Dumpster-fire-ville, she is proving to be relentless. She is forging ahead in spite of the holiday season approaching. It feels rather defeating. Our time honored and sacred American tradition of gathering with our families in one small room around a big bowl of green bean casserole and mashed potatoes is simply too risky. What we have enjoyed year after year is no longer safe, so we must adapt.
The CDC has outlined specific ways to still celebrate Thanksgiving, ranked by level of risk. We may have to ditch our old traditions to form new ones, but perhaps there’s something a little refreshing that comes with that approach. Maybe we will find a simpler way to enjoy each other without the pressure, without the fuss. Let’s think more about the people, and less about the obligation!
Here are some ways to creatively celebrate one another this Thanksgiving even when it feels like there might not be much to toast.
Take it Outside
- November weather can be dicey, especially in the Midwest, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying! Ask guests to bring a lawn chair and to dress for chilly weather. Order a boxed Thankgiving dinner from a local restaurant (bonus: less work on your part, that also funnels support to a struggling business in your neighborhood) and invite everyone to enjoy a holiday picnic, spaced accordingly. Use paper plates and disposable flatware to even eliminate the cleanup. Pass out hand warmers as favors. Remember to limit your gathering to fewer than 10 people!
- Set up a Thanksgiving tailgate. Football is a huge part of the holiday for die-hard fans. There’s no need to let it be any different this year. Grill chicken wings, warm chili in a crockpot, and cheer on your team over the radio. If you have the capability to watch it on TV at the tailgate, well even better. Play catch with the kids and hold a cornhole tournament during commercial breaks. And masks, whatever you plan, don’t forget the masks!
- Watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving under the stars. Invest in a projector and screen to be used year-round or throw up a white sheet against a big wall of your house. Encourage attendees to bring a sleeping bag to keep warm. Serve popcorn and hot chocolate. Roast s’mores afterward over a bonfire or a grill. It does not have to be fancy to be fun.
- Take a cue from all of the cute birthday parades and organize a Thanksgiving walk to visit someone who might be feeling lonely. Kids can make signs or miniature Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade lookalikes. Blast fun music and make everyone look like a fool, the sillier the better. Deliver a boxed dinner if you feel so inclined. Sharing food would add a special touch.
Host a Virtual Event
- Although less than ideal, a virtual holiday may be the viable option for those who are particularly vulnerable or separated by many miles. Plan to serve the same dishes and broadcast the streaming over a TV rather than a phone or computer screen so everyone can see and be seen. Instead of asking loved ones to say what they are thankful for, have them acknowledge what this year has meant and what they look forward to for next year’s event when we can hopefully safely be together again.
- What would Thanksgiving be without a little yelling and foot stomping?!? So host a virtual game night for some friendly competition and to keep the political and religious conversations at bay for another year. Jackbox Games is a great site that takes out all of the hard work and provides family friendly and teen modes so everyone can participate. It allows for up to eight devices to play at once and can be broadcasted on a television.
Get the Kids Involved
- Arrange a cook off of a favorite family recipe and have the kids execute. Watch a few episodes of Netflix’s Nailed It beforehand to encourage extra effort and fun. Deliver to a non-partial judge (i.e. an aunt or grandparent) and stream the results. Winner receives a large package of toilet paper as a prize!
- Kick off the holiday season by doing a homemade ornament exchange. 2020 is a year to remember, so perhaps use humor as a theme in which to spur the creativity.
- Clip branches from a tree, cut out paper leaves, and write special messages on each piece. Hang from the branches, arrange in a vase and deliver to a few deserving people in your life. It will be something they treasure.
- Volunteer together. If there was ever a year where giving back and paying forward was needed, it is this one. Use the holiday as a way to spread cheer to those who undeniably need it. Sort cans for Harvesters, check in on elderly neighbors, or pick up trash at a favorite hiking trail. Due to COVID-19, you’ll want to make sure to follow any safety protocols and to check on how various volunteer experiences have changed in the pandemic.
We can still make the approaching holiday season fulfilling and meaningful. Different is not bad. 2020 has really put us all through the wringer, but it shouldn’t overshadow the people we are thankful for. In fact, this year, the sentiment of the holiday hits home more than ever before.