Thanksgiving at a distance

Thanksgiving at a distance

Key tips to remember

  • Move your Thanksgiving gathering outdoors in order to maintain social distancing and reduce the risk.
  • Fire up the grill, skip the buffet and focus on single servings to keep mealtime safer.
  • If celebrating virtually, coordinate menus by sharing recipes or ordering from the same restaurant.
  • Keep the games and entertainment outdoors or play online via gaming apps.
  • Follow CDC guidelines and asking everyone to self-isolate a couple of weeks before the event.


Want to hear the good news? Not only is Thanksgiving not canceled, but when it comes to health, family and spending time with loved ones, the coronavirus pandemic has also made us focus more than ever on what we have to be thankful for. More good news: Although Thanksgiving will look different this year for most of us, at least you won’t be bumping elbows at the dinner table. There are many creative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving 2020 without serving up a side of COVID-19. Whether you’re getting together physically or virtually, here’s how to make your holiday both safe and special.

Move Thanksgiving outdoors

The new CDC guidelines recommend celebrating indoors only with friends and family who live in your household, so hosting your Thanksgiving gathering in the great outdoors is an excellent way to reduce your risk and enjoy the fall foliage while you’re at it. Granted, northern climates might be dealing with more than just sweater weather, but here are some tips to make this smart option fun and memorable.

Get your patio ready

Backyard, deck, patio, screened porch, local park — if you’ve got access to an outdoor space, dress it up for the season. In addition to the tables and chairs, add to the natural backdrop with some pumpkins, bouquets of flowers in an autumn palette, or create a vegetable centerpiece. If you’re in a cooler climate, put out cozy throws and invest in an outdoor heater or two to keep the chill off. Consider having a pop-up canopy on hand to keep Thanksgiving going, rain or shine. Don’t forget the fire pit for ambience and socially distanced after-meal chats.

Do brunch

Even if you don’t change up the menu to turkey and waffles (although that does sound tasty), shifting your Thanksgiving meal earlier to the late-morning/early-afternoon brunch time block will give you more hours of natural light and allow you to take advantage of the warmer weather before sunset. And, as a bonus, you can drink mimosas.

Plan some outdoor entertainment

Instead of sitting inside and watching TV, set up a socially distanced family tournament by playing lawn games, such as cornhole, badminton, volleyball or croquet. If you’ve got a nature park or conservation area nearby, go for a post-meal hike, or take a stroll around the neighborhood. And if you can’t do Thanksgiving without some screen time, try using a video projector to watch football or a Friends Thanksgiving marathon outside when it gets dark.

Offer hot beverages

A hot drink is just the ticket to keep the festivities going after the sun goes down or if you live up north and the high hasn’t crested 50 degrees. Slow cookers and thermoses are great ways to heat and serve cocoa, mulled cider or wine and hot water for tea. Offer a “build your own drink” bar with add-ins like cinnamon sticks, marshmallows and whipped cream so your guests can get creative with their coffee or cocoa. Just don’t forget to put out the rum and bourbon too, and make it a real bar. We could all use a stiff drink this year.

Get creative with the menu

In these unprecedented circumstances, the Thanksgiving tradition of everyone huddled in the kitchen cooking together and passing family-style portions around the table is best put on pause for the time being. But don’t fret — by thinking outside the box, you can implement any of these ideas to pull off a successful and safe Thanksgiving menu.

Fire up the grill

If you’ll be throwing a backyard bash for Thanksgiving, why not give your oven the day off and keep your cooking outdoors too? The once-unconventional methods of grilling, smoking or frying the Thanksgiving turkey have proven so delicious, they’re practically mainstream at this point. The grill is also perfect for traditional sides like sweet potatoes and corn, and slow cookers make easy work of recipes for potatoes au gratin and cornbread dressing. A hot grill will even help warm up the yard if it’s feeling chilly outside.

Go with single servings

Rather than stick to the classic vat of potatoes and a 15-pound turkey that everyone digs into buffet-style, think about preparing dishes that lend themselves to single servings, such as bowls of butternut squash soup, smaller birds (like Cornish hens) or even individual turkey pot pies. You can even make apple or cherry hand pies for dessert. If you still prefer to bake in bulk, pick a designated head chef or server to dole out each individual plate in order to reduce the number of hands and germs near the food.

Order Thanksgiving to go

Whether your family’s designated chef won’t be able to host this year or you want to skip the stress of preparing a full-blown dinner at home, many of your favorite local restaurants and chains now offer family-style meals to go, including a Thanksgiving takeout meal with turkey and all the fixings. This is a great way to support the restaurant community; just make sure to reserve your order in advance.

Make your own delivery

You can show thanks this year by making your favorite Thanksgiving recipes and then delivering them to friends and family via contact-free drop-offs — especially to those at higher risk of illness from COVID-19, who aren’t able to celebrate with you or others outside their household. This way, even if you can’t be there physically, it will still taste like you were.

Host a virtual Thanksgiving

Many events have gone virtual this year, and Thanksgiving is no exception. If the weather seems like it won’t cooperate for you to be outside, or if traveling to visit friends and family is off the table due to COVID-19 logistics, here are some ways to make it feel like you’re together no matter how many miles separate you.

Coordinate your menu

It may seem corporate to have a Zoom call or email chain about Thanksgiving, but it’s a great way to get multiple households on the same page so you can share recipes and plan a unified menu. That way, when you sit down to eat, you’ll all be enjoying the same stuffing or pumpkin pie. However, there are those dishes that, even when you follow the exact recipe, only taste as good when that one person makes them. If you’re fortunate to live close to each other, you can assign each dish to one person to make, which they can drop off to everyone else. If you want to keep it low maintenance, just order from the same restaurant.

Order a taste of home

Speaking of ordering from restaurants, if you can’t make it to your home state or city for Thanksgiving, many iconic restaurants across the country can ship a taste of home directly to your doorstep. Websites such as Goldbelly allow you to browse comfort classics from local restaurants and food shops throughout the United States all in one online marketplace. It’s amazing how a familiar meal can remind you there’s no place like home.

Create a decorating scheme

In addition to coordinating the menu, you can make it look like you’re in the same place through the decor. Try making the same centerpiece or ordering the same flower arrangement. You can even buy matching tablecloths and plates so it feels like you’re sitting at the table together, or rent an entire matching fun tablescape from a website like Social Studies, which you return the next day.

Get techy with traditions

If your family always watches football or the Macy’s parade together, gather around your TVs and have a group video chat this year. If board games are more your speed, the Houseparty app offers a lot of fun online gaming options, and classic games like Scrabble, Monopoly and the adult-favorite Cards Against Humanity also offer virtual versions.

Keep safety a priority

It’s hard being apart from our family and friends — particularly around the holidays — but we can gather safely if we follow suggested guidelines and remember that safety comes first. In addition to washing your hands and continuing to practice social distancing, keep these points in mind as Thanksgiving approaches.

Measure and invite accordingly

One thing all the experts agree on is that large gatherings are a no-go. To determine a safe number of people to invite to Thanksgiving this year, get out a measuring tape and do a little math. No more than 10 people is ideal, but it’s really about making sure everyone can comfortably maintain that 6 feet of space. If your gathering is larger, instead of one big, long table, break up the seating into smaller parties based on households to make mealtime safer.

Take proper precautions

There’s nothing wrong with asking your family and guests to self-isolate as much as possible for at least two weeks before you get together. This minimizes the chances of someone bringing the virus to Thanksgiving with them. If you’re really nervous, ask all who plan to join to get tested a few days before the gathering to confirm that they’re virus-free.

Your home protection is ready and waiting!