This article was written in 2020. The facts and figures are current as of then. With the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions, we will no longer be updating the article. While much of it remains true, we encourage our readers to check with CMS and the Medicare program to get the most updated information.

Sadly, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a year-long event and something that will continue to affect our holiday traditions. We’ve dealt with it for Halloween and trick-or-treating, but it’s almost time for another important family holiday in the United States — Thanksgiving. More than Halloween, Thanksgiving is a holiday when we gather our families together. It is, after all, one of the biggest traveling holidays on the calendar.

Getting together in large groups from all over doesn’t mesh well with the commonsense guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — social distancing to prevent the spread. Following these guidelines and celebrating Thanksgiving aren’t mutually exclusive, though! Let’s look at a few ways you can celebrate Thanksgiving safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virtual Thanksgiving

The most straightforward solution is to utilize the benefits of modern technology to see your family on turkey day. By now, many of us are familiar with various video conferencing and chat applications for our phones and computers. All you need to do is get everyone on the same app at the same time so that you all can be together for Thanksgiving while still maintaining social distance. This may be as simple as planning a time that everyone hops on a video call together to say “Happy Thanksgiving,” before getting back to their other plans, but there are many other ways you can go about it.

Having a video chat while everyone is eating may not be ideal, but you could schedule some family time after dinner, when everyone can enjoy each other’s company. Football fans could have running friendly bets during the traditional games. As long as you’re all having fun together, the distance may feel a little smaller.

Thanksgiving Dinner Competition

Another idea that plays off the virtual Thanksgiving idea is to make a game of it. With food being so central to the holiday, why not have a cooking competition? We’re basing our idea on the popular Food Network show, Chopped. Prior to Thanksgiving, everyone should get a set of agreed upon “basket items” centered around Thanksgiving. In this case, turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, or mashed potatoes would make for excellent basket ingredients. Each family could take those basket ingredients and try to transform them into a new, cohesive dish. This means you can’t just plop cranberry sauce on a slice of turkey along with mashed potatoes and call it a day. If you want to see what we’d do, you’ll have to check back after Thanksgiving for our post on creative uses of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Once the dishes have been presented, everyone votes on which dish they like the best. The voting categories can be which one looks the best, which is most creative, which one sounds the tastiest, or which is the most impressive, to name a few examples. The winning dish could win a prize, whether that’s money set aside in a pot, a fun trophy, or a bottle of wine.

Smaller Dinners Together

The CDC suggests only having a smaller dinner with those in your household, which makes a lot of sense. This way you can really limit your chances of exposure by only being around people see every day. It may be tempting to just make a simple meal if it’s just your household, but make it feel like a real holiday meal by going all out (though you can make a healthier Thanksgiving meal if that appeals to you). This may even be your chance to try frying a turkey!

If you really feel it’s essential that you have others over to visit for Thanksgiving, there are ways the CDC says it can be safer (not safe, just not as bad). Everyone who attends should be healthy — anyone displaying symptoms should remain at home. Everyone should also stay outside, where it’s more difficult to spread the disease. This may make it a harder sell in late November, but it’s important. Masks should be worn and social distancing maintained. The number of people involved with the cooking and serving of the food should be limited to a small group who are regularly washing their hands and disinfecting. As you can see, this may be more stressful than the usual Thanksgiving, which is why we suggest finding an alternative way to celebrate. These are only suggestions to follow if you plan on gathering regardless.

Shop Online

For some people, the post-Thanksgiving dinner shopping spree known as Black Friday is as important to the holiday as the turkey. This year, it’s simply not safe to take part in Black Friday like other years. The massive gatherings of shoppers looking for great deals is an excellent way to spread a sickness.

In fact, in our article on Black Friday safety, we discuss a lot of benefits to doing your Black Friday shopping online. First and foremost, you’re avoiding the crowds, which is all the more important this year. If the deals aspect is important to you, many stores will be offering similar deals online, even if you choose to wait until the following Monday. To that end, evidence shows that Black Friday isn’t even the best shopping day for deals. With that in mind, there’s less pressure to rush to big box stores and surround yourself with a crowd during a pandemic. Stay home, stay safe, and get better deals.

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Thanksgiving is a difficult holiday to socially distance around. The central theme and activity is gathering the family and loved ones together for a big meal. It’s not quite like Halloween or Christmas, with many different highly developed customs and celebrations that you can mold and reshape to work in a COVID-19 world. It’s a bit tougher to do that with a family meal. Luckily, with these options and a little creativity on your part, Thanksgiving can still be a special day for you and your loved ones, without putting anyone at risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus.