This year, you might be having a smaller Thanksgiving celebration with the members of your quarantine pod, and you might be wondering how it will feel any different than the meals you’ve already shared. Don't be discouraged! You can still make the holiday feel festive. Here are some fun ways to mix things up.
Make place cards and a seating plan
For as long as I can remember, my family has made place cards for Thanksgiving. We’ve done acrostics and pictograms. We've made word searches and collages. We’ve created an intricate alphabet where every letter is represented by a symbol and you have to decode your name. We’ve used magazine clippings of celebrity photos whose first names are the same as guests. We've written out song lyrics that include each person's name. It’s always a highlight of the day, and one we take very seriously.
Feel free to borrow one of these ideas. Or, if you have young kids, just have them scribble write everyone’s names on a place card. Or if you have someone who’s artistically inclined—or, even better, not artistically inclined—have them draw photos of each guest. It’s a fun way to start the celebration, and if you’re like my family, you can save them and look at them years later.
Let everyone choose a recipe to add to the menu
Make the menu collaborative by letting each person choose a dish. Provide a category and some parameters—"side dish that’s heavy on the green vegetables" or "vegetarian main dish that doesn’t include nuts," for example—so you don’t end up with six different versions of mashed potatoes. And if someone chooses something out of left field, just go with it. It might just become a new tradition.
Get “dressed up”
I, like many of you, have spent most of the last seven months in pants with expandable waistbands. (I’m really in trouble if full-body views start becoming a thing on Zoom.) Having a dress code for the meal—even if it’s just asking people to wear jeans—will make it feel different from the others you’ve had over the last several months. And you can always change back into sweats as soon as you eat.
Make the cooking a team effort
Does a member of your household have an aversion to cooking? Now is the time to have them face their fears. There are lots of small but important tasks that can help someone get more comfortable in the kitchen. Recruit them to mash potatoes, make cranberry sauce, halve brussels sprouts, or roll out pie dough.
Have everyone “arrive” like you haven’t been living together
On Thanksgiving day, designate someone as the host, then have everyone else go outside and ring the doorbell when guests would normally arrive. Have the host greet them like they didn’t just see them five minutes earlier. Pour drinks. Pass around the appetizers. Make it feel like the festive start to a special occasion.
Make a playlist
Get contributions from everyone, or assign this to someone who doesn’t want any part in the actual cooking. There are lots of things that go into making a meal feel festive, and music is one of the most important.
Have a signature beverage
This is another opportunity to be creative. Warm fall flavors are perfect for cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks. Make up one of your own or grab a copy of our first-ever cocktail book, How to Cocktail, and get our recipes for big-batch classics like mulled wine and holiday punch, and originals like the Fireside (brandy, spiced syrup, citrus bitters, and apple) and Autumn in New England (sage, maple syrup, bourbon, apple cider, and cider vinegar).
Zoom with others
I know we all have Zoom fatigue by now, but it’s still the easiest way to see people without getting together in person. And don’t just limit yourself to the actual meal; hang out over Zoom while you’re prepping the food. Talking to someone you don’t see every day is a great way to distract you while you’re peeling potatoes for mashed potatoes.
Do a dessert exchange with people you trust to do it safely
If you have friends or family nearby who aren’t joining you for the meal, arrange a dessert exchange. You can decide on the recipes together, or be surprised. Just make sure everyone is aware of any food preferences or allergies, and remember to follow the CDC guidelines so you can indulge without worry.
Plan a non-eating activity
Most turkey trots are cancelled this year, but you can always plan an epic board game throwdown or puzzle party. Or even better for this year, gather some notecards and stamps and have everyone write to friends and family you haven’t been able to see in person this year.
Get the best Thanksgiving recipes, tips, and product reviews in our 2020 Thanksgiving Guide, and check out more helpful holiday information below.
- 25 Fresh and Colorful Side Dishes to Brighten Up Your Holiday Spread
- 6 Ways to Prepare Your Kitchen for Thanksgiving Well Before You Start Cooking
- Thanksgiving Sides That Can Be Made with Ingredients You May Already Have
- Simple Thanksgiving Recipes for the First-Time Cook
- Common Thanksgiving Challenges and the Recipes That Help Solve Them