Ah, it’s that time of year again. Good food, extremely full bellies, wonderful conversation, and quality time spent with family. Except, Thanksgiving looks different this year—quieter, smaller, more precarious. If you and your family are feeling bummed out about missing out on old traditions centered on big family gatherings, you're not alone. We're all feeling the effects of COVID on family and friend gatherings as months turn into more months of the pandemic.
But this year can still be wonderful. In fact, this might be the best Thanksgiving yet, as we're spending it with only our closest family members. In this post, we'll offer some COVID-safe, practical ways to cultivate gratitude in your home this Thanksgiving.
8 ways to celebrate Thanksgiving this year
COVID has really thrown a wrench into regular festivities. But thankfully, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be perfect. Instead, it’s a great season to begin new traditions that help our families focus on what God has lovingly provided, even in a time of pain or loss. We hope your family gathering, small as it may be this year, will be enriched by these practices. Here are a few ideas (or use our ideas as inspiration to come up with your own!):
- Gather safely. According to the CDC, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to do so over Zoom. But, if your family does still intend to gather, do it safely by wearing masks, washing hands often, staying 6 feet apart from those you do not live with, and using single-use items, like dressing packets. You might also avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, like the kitchen.
- Host your meal outdoors. If you're hosting people, consider having your meal outside. Who doesn't love a good backyard dinner, anyways?!
- Bring a meal to family members. Do you have any elderly, at-risk, or otherwise isolated family members who can't join in on the festivities? Make them a whopping plate of your famous Thanksgiving dinner and bring it to them! Making others feel loved, included, and thought of is a huge part of what makes Thanksgiving so great.
- Read Psalm 136. For those gathered in your home, read this psalm together. Read it slowly. Read it aloud. Read it together with the family; everyone can take a line. Read it every day if it will help you and your family focus on what truly matters.
- Make a gratitude list or keep a journal. Ask everyone in your home to keep their own list, or keep a running household list on the refrigerator or the inside of your front door. If your family is creative, think of fun ways to display the list.
- Ask your teen to own part of the Thanksgiving event. Consider what your teen enjoys, then put him/her in charge of some aspect of the day. Maybe they could be in charge of getting everyone’s beverages, or they could throw in ideas on décor, or cook the whole dang turkey! Whatever it is, give them the freedom and space to do their thing.
- Do a "honey roast." We’ve probably all tried the whole “say one thing you’re thankful for this year” thing, and it can be pretty lame if people aren’t into it. Instead, try a “honey roast” for a fun twist this year! Whereas a traditional “roast” focuses on making fun of a person, a honey roast gets everyone to focus on building each other up. Have each family member say something they’re thankful for about every person in the room. It’s a cool way to express gratitude in a way that’s uplifting and encouraging to one another, without the regular clichés of Thanksgiving gratitude.
- Pray. This seems like a no-brainer; everyone prays at Thanksgiving, right? Some do, but it can be awkward to pray before a bunch of folks you don’t typically see (and maybe some who don’t believe the way you do). The sample prayer below (based on the prayer of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving) can help you think of ways to express gratitude to God despite any pressure. Also, consider asking your teen to pray. He/she may feel a little weird about it, but strangers often feel more comfortable listening to a child pray than an adult, and teens really can understand it more than we think.
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of His life.
Thanksgiving has the power to focus our thoughts on what we have, rather than what we want or what we’ve lost. And though many of us feel like we've lost a lot in the year 2020, Thanksgiving can be a day to refocus what we've forgotten. It highlights the grace of God, encourages us, and gives us hope for every area of our lives. Those who regularly give thanks to God find themselves quickly ready to give to others. Such is the cycle of blessing, and in the Christian life, it’s where all the action is. So whatever your Thanksgiving looks like this year, make it one full of new traditions and gratitude toward our Heavenly Father.
- A Parent's Guide to Thanksgiving. For more on the history of Thanksgiving, relearning gratefulness, celebrating in times of both prosperity and difficulty, and much more, get this guide with Axis Membership!