By now we should’ve all come to terms that it’s just not safe to attend a 20-person Thanksgiving dinner party this year.
But just because the drop-bys and drop-ins aren’t happening, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate together with our loved ones. There are several ways we can virtually interact from saying a prayer together over FaceTime or having a Zoom holiday cookie bake-off.
We just have to be a little creative. And most importantly, we have to plan.
Looking for ways to create a sense of togetherness while maintaining a healthy distance this Thanksgiving? Read on:
Connect with music
Ask the deejay in your family — there’s always one — to make a playlist of your clan’s favorite tunes. (For my family that would be a compilation of Motown, ’90s hip-hop, and anything by Dua Lipa.) Upload it to a music sharing service and have it playing in the background as you bake cookies or do art projects together, suggested Dawn Burke Sena, co-owner of the Old City restaurant Panorama and an etiquette expert. “Music doesn’t just unite us, it lifts our moods and reminds us of all the shared experiences we had with each other as family,” Sena said.
Host a virtual cookie bake-off
Choose a cookie recipe and send it to the folks you’d usually be spending Thanksgiving with in person. Pick a time to bake, and of course, decorate the sweets together virtually. If your holiday crew lives in the same city, you can even buy the ingredients, measure them out, and prepare a care package that you can safely drop off. If your family lives further away, start planning for the Christmas holidays and get a cookie-baking care package in the mail to them now.
Prepare your Bloody Mary’s or Shirley Temples together virtually and offer up a gratitude toast. Feeling fancy? Many specialty bottle shops — like Old City’s Art in the Age — offer cocktail-making kits with everything you need to make a perfect martini or an old fashioned. Kits come with glasses, bitters, and the preferred alcohol. Order for curbside pickup and deliver it to family members, or order in advance for Christmas and your spirits can be shipped statewide. If you want a simpler (or cheaper) approach, make up a kit yourself or just share a YouTube video so everyone can try following the same instructions.
Set the same table
Picture it: Your parents, your siblings, and their crew, a few cousins and yes, you are sitting at dinner tables with similar touches. “You won’t help but feel connected,” said Hallee Adelman, an elementary school teacher and author of Way Past Mad, a children’s book that helps little ones deal with big feelings. “And it’s a good way to get kids involved in a creative project.” There are many ways to introduce festive elements. Perhaps everyone makes a cornucopia for a centerpiece, or agrees on the same deep burgundy or pumpkin orange hues for the table. Maybe in a pre-dinner art session, members make themed placemats. “They don’t have to all look exactly alike, but there is a nice continuity of expression,” Adelman said. “And that helps emphasize the familial bond.”
Say grace together
If there is any year to pray together, it’s 2020. Ask someone to lead the family in saying grace at the beginning of dinner. Then go across the table or the screen and ask each participant to share what they are grateful for. “In a year that we have lost so much, we should try to express gratitude at the very least for being alive and together, no matter how far apart we are, said University of Pennsylvania chaplain, the Rev. Charles Howard. It’s also a nice touch, Howard said, to thank people you love just for being who they are.
Enjoy the same meal
We may not be able to sit at the same table, but there is no rule that says we can’t enjoy the same meal. This is the perfect holiday to share classic family recipes. Maybe everyone makes the turkey exactly how mom does, and replicates nana’s macaroni and cheese and Aunt Bev’s sweet potato casserole. Or maybe we can make and drop off the sides ourselves for a sort of food swap (just be sure to take all safety precautions: No visiting!). If that sounds too daunting, many restaurants and catering services like Swedesboro-based Rastelli Foods Groups will deliver meals to each family member’s door.
The after-dinner hours are a great time to bond. Set time aside to play virtual charades or rock out with trivia. Or do a craft project like decorating Christmas stockings, making Christmas tree decorations, designing an Advent calendar or working on a group vision board. Send a list of instructions and supplies to folks a few days before Thanksgiving. If you hurry, you still may time to drop off care packages to family and friends who live in your town. And if you start planning now, you will have more than enough time to get put care packages in the mail for Christmas. We have six weeks to bond this holiday season and a lot of time at home to do it.