No matter who you are, or what your life normally looks like, there's a good chance this year's Thanksgiving holiday is going to look different.
And there will likely be feelings about this. So. Many. Feelings. Sadness, frustration, anger, impatience, apathy... but likely not 'rejoicing'.
But the thing is, while there are many families who will be giving up long-standing traditions that they can count on year after year, there are other families for which this will not be new. Whether separated because of military deployments, far away distances, financial struggles, disagreements and feuds, illness...
In my own family's history, we have had years that looked like Norman Rockwell, and years that were rocked by Army orders and flu-like symptoms (helllloooo Norovirus. yick.)
I have spent the holiday surrounded by extended family, by immediate family, by dear friends, and by myself. Here are some thoughts on how to make it through the holiday in a meaningful way this year. Some will seem not meaningful at all, and some will seem like way too much. None are one-size-fits-all, but all are meant to help you get the wheels turning.. thinking about what is meaningful to you, and how you might adapt your own traditions or create new ones this year.
1. A Family Service Of Worship
There was a time when folks went to church on thanksgiving, to give thanks to God, worship and praise. One idea to observe this at home with close family is to use the Book of Common Prayer, and give each family member a prayer or part of the service to lead everyone in. You could do this around the table before eating, in the backyard at sunset, or break it up throughout the day...
2. Acts Of Service
There are many soup kitchens other non-profits that have lost volunteers because the folks that usually serve are in high-risk groups (seniors, etc). Call around to see if any local organizations need help staffing for Thanksgiving, or other days near the holiday. Turkey day is actually pretty popular for drop-in volunteers, though, so maybe ask if there are other days in the coming weeks that could use an extra set of hands.
3. Send A Stand-In
This is actually my favorite, since we used it one Christmas when my brother was deployed. You can order life-size posters of a favorite picture of yourself, and send it to the family members you would usually share turkey with. They can hang the pictures around the house, and then take pictures with them to send back to you. A great way to laugh and share some silly joy between families who are far apart.
4. Recipe Swap
Ask each family unit to send each other their favorite holiday recipe, and include each one in each family's menu. Then share pictures of the different tables, which should have the same dishes.
5. Take The Year Off From Tradition
If cooking complicated meals seems like too much, ditch it and just make everyone's genuine favorite, non-traditional meals. Extra credit for grilling out, making ice cream, or eating an in-door picnic on the living room floor.
Wrestle the phones away from folks, and lock them away for a bit - maybe for an hour, or may for a whole day. Put the tech away, and read, work puzzles, rock on the porch, and enjoy a break from technology. For some folks, this pandemic has made it hard to distinguish between days - they all seem to run together. Breaking away from technology can help set the day apart and distinguish it as a day different from all the others this year.
7. Try Doing The Same Thing... Apart
Ask all the extended family members who would usually gather to do the same activity at some point that day... working puzzles, roasting marshmallows on a fire pit, playing a board game, etc. and then share pictures and stories with each other.
8. Stuffed Animal Stand-Ins
If your table feels empty this year and you have kids who still enjoy stuffed animals, fill the seats with them. Bonus points for asking the kids what each stuffed animal is grateful for, and you absolutely should send a video of this adorable-ness to their aunts who miss them.
9. A Cornucopia of Gratitude
If you normally have a display of pumpkins and gourds, replace it this year with a creative cornucopia. Ask family members to find pictures and objects of things they are grateful for, and then ask them to share about the objects they offered up.
10. Thankful Productivity
This is especially good for folks who are on their own or for whom the holiday seems especially quiet. Use the day to get a head-start on "real" Christmas cards to all the folks you miss, or spend the day actually printing out pictures from your phone, or work on some hand-made stocking stuffer presents for the upcoming holiday.
What are your plans this year?
Have you had to have separate holidays before, and if so, how were you able to connect with loved-ones and make sure they knew they were loved and missed?
What other traditions have you thought about extending to include family who won't be able to be together this year?