Thanksgiving with the Family...and COVID

A new normal calls for new traditions. 

Here are some thoughts and safety tips when it comes to approaching Thanksgiving this year:


First Thing’s First: 

Make sure everyone is comfortable with this gathering.

Before you start prematurely preparing all the food dishes you know and love, be sure to ask your family: Do we want to get together for Thanksgiving this year? Really.  It’s a harder question than it may seem.  On the one hand, you want to see your family because it’s probably been a while since you’ve seen anyone outside your household. This family gathering could be the mental break you’ve been needing to keep you going.  But on the other hand, recognize that gatherings of any kind are a risk.  Do you really want to potentially expose yourself or anyone else to sickness? Particularly, your family members?  Is there someone in your family that could be a high-risk patient? Would you need to board an airplane to see your family?  These are conversations that need to be had, and it’s okay to admit they are hard. If you need to call the thanksgiving gathering off this year, that’s okay.  There are other ways to celebrate and give thanks this year (I’ll list a few below).  If you do feel comfortable with having a family/friend gathering, that’s alright too.  But please, don’t shame the few family members who might not be able to come to Thanksgiving this year because they don’t feel safe. It’s not because they don’t want to see you. There are so many other reasons why they may not be able to come: they don’t want to get sick, they work in a place with high exposure to people, they don’t want to transmit anything to your family, they’d have to board a plane to visit you, they’d lose their job if they got the virus, or perhaps they just work in an environment that deals with a lot of high-risk patients. There are a lot of valid reasons.  Don’t take it personally, call it an off year, and move onward. 


Thanksgiving is called off. What do we do now?

Here are some at home options: 

1. Have a virtual thanksgiving. 

No, it's not the same. But, you will get to see all your loved ones smiling back at you. Sit down with them, maybe eat a meal, and chat.

2. Prepare a new type of Thanksgiving feast at home. 

This could be a good time to practice your culinary skills.  Learn to make a new dish or recreate a classic at home.  Maybe this year you can try and make grandma’s famous cornbread. There’s no shame in trying to recreate the fun dishes you know and love at home. And if it fails, well, the whole family won’t be there to judge your mistake, and you can order take out.  No one will ever know. 

3. Write thankful notes to family members

I don’t know about you, but there is something about a handwritten or painted card that warms my heart. Sometimes, I have trouble expressing my thankfulness to a person when in person. It’s just hard to put the joking aside and tell someone that they are valuable to your life. Letters provide a perfect space to craft the thank you message that your family member or friend deserves to hear. Especially this year, tell people that you are thankful for them. We all need to hear that we are loved and appreciated sometimes.  This year more than ever is a great time to give it a try. 


We decided to have a Thanksgiving gathering. How do we make it safe? 

  1. Testing

The best first place to start has to be testing.  Start by asking family members if they’ve experienced any sickness symptoms. If so, you might want to ask them to get tested just in case before they come up to visit. If everyone in the family feels fine, great! But, don’t forget people can be asymptomatic for the virus.  If you want to be sure that everyone is COVID-free when coming to dinner, require all guests to have a negative covid test.  This may sound harsh when inviting grandpa joe from all the way across the nation. But truthfully, if you want to be sure, this is the best mechanism we’ve got. Look around your area and see what testing options your state has. Personally, I’d recommend taking two covid tests. One ten days before arriving on thanksgiving and one 5 days before arriving before thanksgiving. This is good for a few reasons: 1. It allows for both tests’ results to have plenty of time to come back to you. 2. It ensures that after the first test, you haven’t gotten it again. Ultimately it limits that exposure window from 10 days to five days.  3. Two tests lessen your likelihood for a false positive or false negative.  Yes, there is such a thing as a false positive and a false negative. This may make you ask: then why get tested at all? To that, I would respond: because this is the most scientifically accessible way for you to know whether or not you have the virus. It’s not perfect, but it is better than going in blind. But truthfully, even each person just having one negative covid test really does lessen your likelihood of spreading. 

  2. Take Temperatures 

Some families may opt to take temperatures before they let their guests enter for thanksgiving.  This is a good idea, but note that it does have its limitations. First, make sure you know what is a normal temperature.  For humans, a normal body temperature is 98.7.  Anything above 99.5 degrees F should be concerning or rechecked.  A high temperature is a symptom of the Corona Virus and should be a red flag.  If the temperature is unusual, let the person sit down for a bit to cool off just in case it's a false temperature reading. Secondly, understand that people can be asymptomatic. This means that they could be a carrier of the virus, and have a completely normal temperature.  Therefore, this method of testing isn’t 100% effective.  But again, it is better than nothing 

   3. Wear Masks

Although we haven't figured out a way to eat with a mask on, there are still plenty of times that a mask can be worn. When you go to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to prepare for Thanksgiving, wear a mask. You can ask your guests to wear a mask inside when not eating too.  That’s okay.  It’s not awkward to wear a mask inside.  You can even make it fun and purchase a trendy mask that is thanksgiving themed with leaves or turkeys on it.  There are so many patterns out there! 

 4. Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands before and after dinner.  Perhaps even ask guests to wash their hands upon entry to the house? This year, more than ever, it’s important to wash your hands regularly. When passing plates and dishes around the table, you can even have a small bottle of hand sanitizer beside you. You can even make hand cleaning a game. Like a drinking game: squirt a dab of hand sanitizer anytime: your uncle makes a weird comment, or your younger cousin’s dab like that’s still cool,  or anytime your grandfather starts a sentence with “In my days…”. Get creative!

 5. Social Distance 

It may feel counterintuitive to have a gathering, but with distance… but give it a try! Maybe your family can have thanksgiving outside this year on an open-aired patio?  Perhaps we can space the seats out a little more or expand the table?  This is a hard practice to keep, but remember 6ft is the appropriate social distance measurement between people. If you’re trying to imagine what 6ft of distance looks like: think about a yoga mat or 2 golden retrievers between you and the next person.  Some practical ideas I heard from families on providing guests space include having one long table for thanksgiving and seating individual families together rather than merging everyone. This way exposure stays within each individual family, rather than spreading to the entire extended family. Or, try having a picnic thanksgiving outside with each family on their own picnic blanket/ basket.



You may notice these are not new approaches to Covid safety. In fact, this is just the classic test, wear a mask, wash hands, and socially distance advice.  But it’s important to remember that they are still doable practices even during the holidays.  Don’t just pretend that for one day Covid isn’t a thing.  That’s not going to keep your family safe.  Be understanding of peoples’ safety precautions, be careful, and have a good time! Enjoy the love that radiates from your family and friends whether in person or virtually. This year, and THIS year, in particular, tell people how thankful you are for them.  Let them know how special they are and what they mean to you, as we all try to navigate this very trying time. 


Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!