A highly contagious virus has changed our world forever. The problem is we don't really understand all the ways our lives have changed and Thanksgiving is one more example. How will one of America's favorite holidays change this year? Here we explore what Thanksgiving during a pandemic can and should be.
What Thanksgiving During a Pandemic Means
Thanksgiving in the US has traditionally represented a time when family and friends gather and eat our favorite foods. It's one of Americans most popular holidays but this year, it's a lot more challenging. Here's why:
- We don't have a vaccine yet and it's impossible to eat wearing face masks.
- Thanksgiving dinner is usually indoors so there's little chance of social distancing, the next best protection after wearing a face mask.
- COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms. With 10 or more people at the table, the odds that someone is infected is pretty high (see map).
- Traveling during the pandemic is risky, especially if you fly. Some state/local governments require testing and/or 14 days of quarantine after arrival.
Thanksgiving During a Pandemic is Personal
Changing your plans at the last minute won't be easy but it's doable. In September I organized a family trip to drive to Key West for Thanksgiving, as that's where my younger son is working. Last weekend I decided it wasn't practical for myself, or fair to health care workers to make this trip. Instead there will be just three of us for Thanksgiving and it was hard to say no to other family members who aren't part of my day-to-day bubble.
Here are tips from CNN on saying no to Thanksgiving celebrations.
Sharing is a Thanksgiving Tradition
Thanksgiving celebrates American history. Many versions of the story exist (What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving) with the common theme being a meal shared by Pilgrims and Indians following a harvest. In a way this represents the current environment in the US, where Thanksgiving is meant to bring us together.
To celebrate safely and embrace what Thanksgiving during a pandemic really means:
- Celebrate without endangering your health or that of your family by spending the day with those that are part of your day-to-day life.
- Help a family or non-profit like Feeding America, with a donation and/or volunteering. You can sort food, cook/serve meals or deliver them to the elderly.
Americans can no longer ignore the food insecurity because it's in our backyard now. It's much more visible in other parts of the world as I learned first hand on a trip to Africa (read: Kitchen Pantry Full or Empty?)
Creative Ideas to Celebrate Thanksgiving During a Pandemic
- Organize a meal exchange with several nearby friends. Decide on a menu and have everyone sign up to make one or two dishes to share. Pick a time on Thanksgiving morning for everyone to drop their food off outside everyone's front door.
- Plan a remote recipe exchange where you plan a menu together. Have each participant share one or two recipes on the menu. Pick a time for Thanksgiving dinner and connect with everyone online, to enjoy your meal together.
- Order your Thanksgiving feast online or even better, support a local restaurant that's working hard to survive the pandemic. Have fun picking out something edible to send to family members you usually celebrate with. My sisters are getting buckets of popcorn this year.
- Help someone elderly or at high risk in your neighborhood. When shopping and preparing your Thanksgiving meal, do the same for them.
- Volunteer to cook or serve Thanksgiving meals at a soup kitchen. Our family did this when visiting our son who was going to the University of Washington in Seattle. Here's a site that will help you find volunteer opportunities, called WheelsforWhishes.org.
Here are resources to find something you can do to give back to your community:
- Food Charities You Can Donate to for Thanksgiving … and year round to.
- Where and How To Volunteer for Thanksgiving, wherever you live.
More Pandemic Resources
- There's a Back-to-Normal index that shows how state economies are recovering.
- Map showing how widespread food insecurity is across the US.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment map showing September 2020 rates (mouse over to compare to September 2019).
- Bar chart (updated daily) showing the number of new Covid-19 cases.
- Thanksgiving tips for parents from HealthyChildren.org.