Here’s Your Permission to Not Have a “Real” Thanksgiving Celebration This Year
Last week I asked some fellow parents how they’re feeling about the looming holiday. Henry, a coworker, said something that got our virtual heads nodding: “Right now I would appreciate other voices saying that it’s OK to not have a real ‘celebration’ this year.”
Did you nod too? Are you still struggling over whether to gather with your parents? Maybe you’ve recently canceled a trip, and you’re conflicted about how much effort to put in to recreating this classic holiday meal with your immediate family.
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Let me be straightforward about our view at Cubby: It’s most definitely not wise to gather indoors with others right now. There’s a light at the end of of the tunnel, as good news about vaccine efficacy makes clear. Until then, we’re here to applaud your decision to stay home, stay safe, and limit COVID’s spread over the holiday.
But staying home doesn’t have to mean making a strenuous effort to recreate a holiday meal and simulate the heightened stress of a traditional gathering. In fact, it can be a chance to reevaluate everything about your holiday assumptions. Last weekend during Kitchn’s Thanksgiving Food Fest I spoke with Priya Parker, the brilliant facilitator and author of The Art of Gathering. She told me that the weirdness of this year is “actually an opportunity to get off autopilot and say, ‘Why do we do Thanksgiving this way?'”
She thinks that we should ask ourselves: “What is it that I most need? And then, how can we meet that need creatively and with joy?”
She gave the example of one family who said that their deepest need for the holiday this year was to create a sense of joy among the young cousins, the kids of the family. They missed the kids running around and kicking their legs under the table at the big family dinner, having fun. “So what they’re doing this year is having a collective, distributed Zoom talent show on Thanksgiving. It allows a little bit of structure for the kids to be able to focus for a second, and do something they enjoy. It can be a magic trick, it can be a song!”
I loved this exercise and have been thinking about it all week. As Parker urges: “Begin by asking not, what do I want to perfect this year, or what do I want to throw out. But what is it that we most need?”
Speaking for myself, but also likely for many of you, what I need most this Thanksgiving is rest. Not fidgety rest, flopped on the couch, staring at my phone and counting electoral votes. Not the anti-rest of cooking all day to recreate traditions that don’t nourish me. Like Henry, I want full reassurance, existentially speaking, to take it really, really easy.
I talked to a few families about just how quiet they’re keeping it this year — and the simple ways they’re making an unusual Thanksgiving still feel special.
A common theme, and the biggest way to keep it easy? Skip the cooking altogether. Many people are ordering out or picking up food from a grocery. Erica says, “I ordered it all from Whole Foods, save pie. I’d rather spend the day hiking with kids (or playing board games if the weather is bad) than worrying over a big meal for just the four of us.”
Katie is also thinking about getting takeout—so there’s more time for pie! “I’m legit considering Chinese for dinner so I have time to bake more pies. It seems like going to the trouble to make a whole traditional dinner is not worth it. But we all love pie!!”
Camille also has a pie-centric plan. “This year, my kids and I are staying home, but obviously, we’re very concerned about having enough pie and enough different kinds of pie. I was thinking about baking at least three pies and offering to drop off slices at my friends’ houses over the week of Thanksgiving. I think baking and baking and baking pies all week would really give me some purpose and fill the season with gratitude for my health, my family, and my friends.”
Some people do find rest and fun in trying new dishes. My childhood friend Dan says, “Sadly most of my family will not gather this year because of COVID concerns. We are trying to make the best of it by trying some new Thanksgiving food. I’m planning to smoke a turkey (which is new for us).”
In other families, the kids are pitching in. Mallory told me that they are having a day of rest, simplifying the menu, and letting her 5-year-old be in charge of a whole dish (cranberry sauce!).
Getting outdoors was another common theme. Deb told me she was renting a cabin in Red River Gorge in Kentucky, where they would do a casual Thanksgiving meal at some point in the long weekend. Rachel says that while dinner will just be with her immediate family, “We are going to do a hike with family outdoors over the weekend.”
Others I heard from had plans to send gifts to family, like a bottle of wine to use for a toast over Zoom. Maureen, mother of twin teenagers, says that they are volunteering on Thanksgiving. “We have identified a few senior citizens in our immediate area who could use some helping hands, so instead of our traditions of watching the parade and a big breakfast, we are going to be raking and doing yard cleanup together. There is nothing normal about this, but it’s a learning opportunity for all of us on how to make the best of any situation.”
Last but not least, I saw a poignant commonality among people who found comfort in the necessary intimacy itself. Keith says, “I grew up as an only child, so Thanksgiving was sometimes just the three of us. Now that I have an only child, I’m kind of looking forward to doing the same thing.” My friend Marisa, mother to 16-month-old twins, says, “I’m still roasting a turkey because I love doing it. But everything will be super casual. No cleaning for guests because there are no guests. I’m going to make a couple sides the day before and just reheat before dinner. We’ll feed the boys early and then eat our meal watching a movie once they’re asleep. It’s going to be different but also lovely.”
“Different but lovely” is what I hope we all can find this holiday, along with a genuine day of rest. Priya Parker said in our chat: “There are so many ways to create meaning.” And this holiday, that meaning may be as easy, as Henry went on to say, as the comfort and rest you get when you, “cook a good meal and be home and watch some TV together and that’s more than enough.”