Let me tell you about my friend Christine. She and her husband, José, are find-a-way people. They’re resourceful and thoughtful (and surprisingly good at ceramics). When life hands them lemons, they make limoncello. Like the rest of us, they occasionally get sad or discouraged, but they always fashion a way to make do.
So, I wasn’t remotely surprised when they mentioned their pandemic Thanksgiving plans: Zoom bingo (prizes included). Coronavirus makes it near impossible to safely travel to see loved ones this year, but an online gathering, with a dash of competition, offers another way to connect. Added bonus: Pre-pandemic, they wouldn’t have had a holiday merging her family, which is spread across the United States, and his relatives, many of whom live in Puerto Rico. Zoom bingo gets everyone in the same “room.”
We asked Lily readers to share their plans. Dig into their responses below. And if you’re struggling to think of a safe way to celebrate, check out our low-risk recommendations. (Or ask Christine.)
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Christine Sulat, 73, Elmira, N.Y.
“My boyfriend and I usually go out with his 92-year-old father, but don’t plan to do that because of the virus. I’ll be home by myself and plan to buy a good pumpkin pie and half-gallon of Breyers vanilla ice cream and go to town. I may wash it down with some sparkly white wine. That’s a great way to spend any day, not just Thanksgiving.”
Denise Alden, 57, Eagan, Minn.
“This year my plan is to not celebrate Thanksgiving. I’ve come to this decision after a few years of learning more about this holiday — how it was fabricated, entrenched and commercialized so that the only meaning it has for me now is closer to an Indigenous Day of Mourning. I may have been blinded by my privilege for decades and enjoyed making the big meal, with its once-a-year specialties, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn and change. I am not celebrating, or acknowledging, this ‘holiday,’ and I’d invite others to investigate and learn more about its true nature.”
Rai Copeland-Keefe, 58, Deerfield, Ill.
“Going to celebrate with just my husband and three young adult kids this year, one of whom is still in college. But I am prepping and cooking for nine of my other family members who live locally. We are going to cook our turkeys and make the desserts and then prep all the sides, package them in foil and ready-to-heat containers, and then deliver all that to each family.”
Jessalyn Pinneo Randelman, 35, Seattle
“I just got married in September, and my husband and I are looking at the silver lining of not being able to travel this year as being a chance for us to start some family traditions of our own. We live in Seattle, my parents live in Arizona, and my in-laws live in the Bay Area; we usually travel to spend Thanksgiving with one set of parents. Since that doesn’t feel possible this year, we’re going to cook up our own Thanksgiving menu. We’ll make each of our favorites, and will combine some recipes from both sides of our family to create some new ones of our own. While I’m sad to miss out on time with family we don’t get to see all that often, I’m excited to have Thanksgiving as a time to continue our newlywed cocooning and start some new traditions just for us.”
Kate Calvert, 69, Portland, Ore.
“This will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve spent alone since moving to Portland. I’ll live with it but it’s going to feel lonely. I live alone with my rescue dog, Chloe. It’s going to be hard, as will each holiday. Sigh.”
Dana Cook Grossman, 69, Thetford, Vt.
“Our two daughters and their families live in Massachusetts and have always joined us in Vermont for Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful, joyous weekend — lively, filled with good food (especially pies, made with my beloved late mother-in-law’s crust recipe), fun and many traditions. But due to both age and underlying health conditions, my husband and I don’t feel safe hosting — or being with them in Massachusetts. So my husband and I will have a small turkey on our own. But before that, we will be making a bunch of pies, with his mom’s crust recipe, and dropping them off at a local residence that provides transitional housing for former prisoners. Our hope is to share the joy that Thanksgiving signifies for us with people who need their community’s embrace. I’m actually now wondering why we haven’t done this in years past — and we have every intention of continuing to do it in coming years, whatever the future brings.”
Lorna Patrick, 55, New Market, Md.
“We’ve spent the summer and fall visiting my 75-year-old mom on her covered patio in Damascus. We’ve eaten two or three meals there a week. For Thanksgiving, we are hoping for mild weather. If not, we have a propane fire pit and patio heater to huddle around — but not too close! To keep it simple and cut down on trips into the house, we’ve been looking at the menu from a nearby Chinese restaurant for food.”
Heidi Schmidt, 37, Pasadena, Md.
“We usually travel up north to see our families, but this year we’ll be staying home, ordering in a Thanksgiving spread from our favorite local restaurant (why cook a huge meal for two, since our son is a hugely picky eater and would prefer nuggets and mac and cheese?). It’ll be just the three of us and I have no interest in spending the day cooking for two in a tiny kitchen. It’ll be glorious, with delicious food, flowing wine and all the planning for the holidays.”
Taryn Haas, 30, Barre, Vt.
“Normally, we’d be traveling to my husband’s parents in New York or my parents in Pennsylvania, but this year has flipped things for sure. Instead of driving seven-plus hours each way, we rented a house an hour away for Thanksgiving week. We plan on doing a lot of lounging, reading and hiking with our three dogs. It’s a weird situation because, on one hand, it feels odd to not be with family but, on the other, I came out as non-binary two months ago to my parents and it didn’t go well. Normally I’d feel pressured to make sure everything is okay with them before I go home, but coronavirus gives me an excuse to leave the ball in their court and wait for them to (hopefully) come around.”
Sara Carracher, 37, Washington, D.C.
“This year we are moving from Washington, D.C., to Cleveland over the week of Thanksgiving. Covid-19 and flexible work-from-home options pushed up our plans to eventually move back to our home state. While we are moving closer to family, we still won’t see them over Thanksgiving. It would be selfish of us to spend time with them after we spent time in hotels, with movers, etc. Since we will be in the process of quarantining on Thanksgiving, Zoom and FaceTime will certainly play a huge role in our celebration this year.”
Hillary Snider, 30, Arlington, Tex.
“Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, period. I’ve only ever missed two celebrations with my family, but this year it just isn’t going to happen. I’m truly heartbroken about that. My husband and I will spend two days cooking a feast of epic proportions, eat ourselves into a coma, then hope to make drop-offs to friends in the area. It will be different to not have a house full of shouting, laughter and food, but I have to keep hoping that this is only temporary. Wear your damn masks and stay at home so we can get back to a normal Thanksgiving next year.”
We whipped up a few celebration ideas for a variety of circumstances. This is by no means a comprehensive list of scenarios, but it’s a start.
Hate Zoom but want to connect with faraway family? Mail letters to your loved ones ahead of the holiday and ask them to send letters to you. Open the letters on Thanksgiving morning.
Spending the holiday alone? Schedule calls or Zoom gatherings with family or friends throughout the day. Consider planning the conversations around meals so you feel like you’re breaking bread together (for instance, try a breakfast chat, afternoon snack and dinner or dessert date).
Missing someone you’d typically spend the holiday with who recently passed away? Do something to honor your loved one: prepare one of that person’s favorite dishes, send a donation to a cause that person would have supported or start writing down your most treasured memories together in a journal.
Don’t feel like cooking? Order from your favorite restaurant, or try a Thanksgiving meal delivery service.
Desperately missing Friendsgiving? Plan creative ways to connect with friends and put them on your calendar. You could slip in headphones, call a pal and go for a walk together, or pop some popcorn and watch a movie together on Zoom.
Live near family but decided not to gather? Drop off a holiday care package on relatives’ doorsteps. You could include wine, champagne or a festive nonalcoholic drink along with dessert or a to-go version of a signature dish you typically bring to family gatherings.
Not inclined to travel far but craving a new setting? Plan a short getaway, either solo or with those in your household, and pack your own sanitizing supplies to be safe. Book an Airbnb an hour or two away for a couple of days, or give yourself the gift of a night alone in a nearby hotel if you need a break.