Thanksgiving 2020, A Thanksgiving Without The Drive
Simple Tips To Make Your Remote Thanksgiving Special
This year, as we slide in to Thanksgiving and reflect on both the joys and hardships of the last year, the one thing I am thankful for above all else is the health and well being of my friends and family. This year has been an unexpectedly difficult one for nearly the entire world (though video conferencing companies and hand sanitizing manufacturers have seen growth they could not even imagine in 2019) and people are ready for a reprieve from the realities of living in a pandemic. The visions of roast turkey with gravy and sticky pecan pie have danced in people's heads since they threw out their rotting jack-o-lanterns (in mine for much longer as I am all about the Thanksgiving spread). People are thankful for their health and their family and that they have made it through the pandemic so far, but are still worried about the future and just want to share the sacrament that is Thanksgiving with family and friends and feel a connection with what is normal for a few hours. Unfortunately, many cities and states have put limitations and restrictions, if not outright bans, on multi-family gatherings in advance of Thanksgiving and greatly restrict holiday travel, requesting quarantining for those that travel. Health experts advise limiting travel and gathering sizes, even in places without their own restrictions, especially in regards to out of town and out of state visitors.
Though not having to listen to previously debunked electoral conspiracy theories, spouted as though they are new gospel truths, may be quite nice for myself and many others this year, a Thanksgiving without travel is a Thanksgiving without family for millions of people in this country. Not being able to travel, or choosing to limit group gatherings to help keep vulnerable relatives safe, does not need to mean that Thanksgiving has to be cancelled. Using, or adapting, some of the following last minute suggestions as inspiration for your Thanksgiving celebrations may help capture some of the elements of Thanksgiving you, and I, love most, help inspire future remote interactions with family members, and hopefully give many something to be thankful for 8 months into what has been extreme isolation for many.
1) Start By Being Open Hearted And Open Minded
The immediate reaction of many when thinking about remote celebrations is, that'll never work. Many people do not foresee grandma being able to video call or may think it is all just a pointless substitute. Though remote gathers or group conversations may not capture everything that may be shared in person, they definitely can allow room for connection with those you have not seen in person in months, without being in the type of direct proximity that makes health experts, Governors, and mayors nervous. There are many strategies to make remote gatherings more successful and group call options that are as simple for grandma as answering a call on her cellphone. Taking health guidance seriously is a major part of preventing future illness as we continue to work our way out of this pandemic as a society. Not seeing Grandma in person this year might just be the difference between her staying healthy or getting very sick. Keeping an open mind about how well a remote celebration may go, and taking technical difficulties in stride, will go a long way towards keeping connection with family and friends during this pandemic holiday season.
2)Take A Few Minutes To Weigh Your Technology Options
Though zoom has exploded in popularity over the last 6 months and offers a free option to host "meetings" running up to 45 minutes with up to 100 participants, it does not always feel accessible to first time users, can take a little time to figure out for those hosting the meetings, and necessitates sending meeting details to participants in the form of URLs and/or access codes (not all grandmas are great with cut and past and new software setup). Other services like skype still exist, but most require that all participants sign up with the service or download a software prior to use and may come with a learning curve of their own. Facebook video chat rooms take a few seconds to setup, allow users to use their existing Facebook contact list, allow for scheduling a time for the event in advance or to start live, allow the option of sending links to those who do not use Facebook, groups and individuals can be added on the fly and it does not require the download of any new software. As a bonus, if Grandma is already on Facebook, inviting her live into the room will look like an inbound phone call and she can be recalled again and again if she accidentally hangs up or did not realize she was supposed to answer the call. If you use Facebook and most of the people you want to invite are already Facebook friends, it may be the simplest solution and is very easy for first time users.
3) A Remote Holiday Is A Great Opportunity To Learn Those "Secret" Family Recipes
Many families have that one special dish that makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. Whether is is an ambrosia (aka desert salad) that is your guilty pleasure or baked beans that are the same every year but unlike anyone else's or even something simple like scratch made stuffing that puts the boxed varieties to shame, most families have at least one dish that stands out. It is a great time to video (or voice) call Grandma or Aunt June or your cousin who recently became of keeper of her mom's recipes and ask them for their help. Under the circumstances (everyone not being able to share a meal), it might be the right time to get them to let loose the secret if you promise not to share it outside the family.
It may even be a good time, if you have a "secret" dish of your own, to teach it to others in the family, either on a one on one basis or through a group video call to all those nieces who think there is something magical about your pumpkin pie (likely not to be the start of your Food Network career, but who knows). Whether it is a simple recipe exchange or cooking while on a video call with grandma, her talking you through each step or a recipe, sharing food made deliberately with care and love is a huge part of most people's Thanksgiving traditions and sharing recipes and cooking techniques is a great way to approximate food sharing in a year that you do not get to enjoy the fan favorites in person.
4) Rethink Your Guest List When Planning A Virtual Celebration
One small reward of having to take Thanksgiving remote would most definitely be that you have much more freedom to invite exactly who you want to invite. Do you invite Uncle Marc every year because he lives 5 houses down the road, but he spends the entire time fighting with his ex-wife (aunt Tina, who is so delightful that you invite her even though she is technically no longer "family")? You don't need to invite him or can invite him at a time that is staggered with the time you invite Aunt Tina, so they do not overlap on a video call. Are there family members or friends across the country who you would not normally even consider inviting because they typically can not travel? This is a great year to invite them. Because you do not need to feed everyone you invite (or fit them around the same table), it is also a great year to play fantasy Thanksgiving, inviting your dream guest list. Because of the loss and isolation this year has brought so many, it may be a good idea to invite family members and friends who will be unable to share Thanksgiving with those they normally spend it with and may not be celebrating with anyone, especially those who may have recently lost a close loved one themselves.
Simply put, do not feel tied in to the old guest lists and look for opportunities for both inclusion and for chances to finesse your guest list to provide the best experience for all. Staggering certain guests or potentially having 2 separate events (perhaps one friends and one family, or one for immediate and one for extended family) may also work well since travel and the need to organize around a specific mealtimes are likely deleted from the equation, giving a greater variety of scheduling options.
5) Make Your List, Check It Twice, Verify Whether It Is Spelled "Hot" or "Hott" In Tina's Email Address
When it comes to many family contact lists, information often has come from multiple sources over the years, with some pieces of information are 15 years old and with others having been transcribed over the phone by someone who is hard of hearing. Sending a test group email to your family is one option, but you may or may not hear back from everyone immediately. If you are not sure of an email address, use another form of communication to make sure you have it directly from that person, or at the very least, verify the information from a more reliable source than your own chicken scratched note taken 7 years ago while driving and talking on a garbled cell phone connection, left untested all these years. A 5 minute phone call to each person to make sure you have the correct email address to send links or contact information to start a video call, can save multiple 15 minute phone calls during the celebration wondering where someone is who already told you verbally that they would follow the links you were sending and then another 10 resending information to all those people you had the wrong information for, it definitely an ounce of prevention is more valuable than a pound of cure situation.
6)Do A Quick Dry Run
Some technical difficulties are entirely unforeseeable. Others, like not having a webcam driver installed (or having the camera not even plugged in), can be headed off at the pass by taking a few minutes to make sure everyone is setup and ready for whatever your celebration will entail. Doing the dry run a day or 2 in advance will give people time to find that missing cable in their house, let their software drivers update, or figure out their microphone is absolute garbage and use or buy another one before the big day. If you are hosting, being the remote IT support person may fall on your shoulders but you can also delegate this responsibility to someone else in the family who has more time to walk Grandma through things step by step over the phone (always good to ask before tossing them that hot potato). Ultimately, the first virtual holiday for your family may not be entirely smooth, but will likely be made better by not having to talk people through technical aspects of the celebrations throughout the celebration.
7) A Whole Turkey Is A Lot Of Food For Two People
If you are trying to keep things traditional (turkey and gravy with cranberry sauce, sides, rolls, mashed potatoes, squash, and the like), but this year it is going to be just you or a select few around the physical table, you may want to consider ways to control how much left over turkey you end up with before cooking and even before shopping. The giant 30 pound turkeys are typically the ones on sale for 39 cents a pound, but smaller turkeys (some under 10 pounds) and even smaller turkey breasts are available at most grocery stores, even though they may cost you more per pound than the 3o pounder. For those who set off the smoke detector making hard boiled eggs, there are even frozen microwaveable turkey options.
For sides, if the recipe you were given by grandma called for the whole bag of navy beans, the recipe typically can be easily halved or even quartered (though it can be difficult to approximate a third of an egg, so baking can be a bit tricky). If it is not thanksgiving with squash, sweet potatoes, and the like, consider smaller varieties or halving the squash and wrapping and freezing the half you do not need, squash do freeze relatively well and can be cooked in 3 or 4 weeks once your Thanksgiving leftover fatigue has subsided. If larger batches than you can eat are unavoidable, planning out how you will use left overs in advance can help with storage options, including processing left overs before putting them in the fridge. Properly wrapping and freezing left overs is also an option for a variety of staples you may have made way too much of but will definitely be interested in eating in a month.
8) Curtail Your Celebration To Your Group
It might make sense, depending on who you are inviting and your shared comfort level, to not hold a video gathering while everyone is busy stuffing their faces, something you may very well not want to share or see. Planning a gathering between meal times focused around discuss, either with or without planned structure, focused around the holiday you are celebrating, may make a lot more sense than having video cameras trained on faces at weird angles while they eat. If your group is composed of adults who all drink and beers and wine flow at group gatherings, a video gathering over drinks after a meal may work much better for you. You may even consider setting up a group video call specifically for the "kids table", letting cousins talk with each other separately from a discussion between their parents. If you know that missing deer hunting hours is an issue for some invitees, you may consider a time that is dark enough that you know no one would have the complaint of missing hunting time.
9) Manage Expectations But Build In Opportunities To Be Pleasantly Surprised
It is a good idea to not promise some amazing spectacle of screen sharing prowess filled with family videos and slide shows from Thanksgivings of the past if it is something you have never done before. However, you can come to the experience prepared with plenty of stories about your life over the last year and updates to share and points of conversation to discuss (it is an especially good year to avoid politics unless you share most of the same viewpoints with everyone in the group). Be open to the celebration not lasting as long as your in person celebrations typically would but also be prepared for possibility that the conversation carries on much longer than you originally expected it to. Be prepared for people to have made other plans because of travel restrictions, but leave opportunities open for people to join in at specific times if they have limited availability. The recommendation of no large family gatherings and significant travel restrictions will likely continue on until at least Easter, so it is a good idea to view your first virtual family holiday as a learning opportunity for future holidays as well as the chance to see family and friends and celebrate.
Especially Thankful For The Safety And Wellbeing Of Friends And Family
This year, at the top of my gratitude list, is the safety and well being of my friends and family. Through all the cancelled plans and restrictions on travel, the baseball games I did not get to go to and lack of live music, the idea that my relatives who are more vulnerable have been safer because of the restrictions that have existed has been the one thing that has made all those sacrifices bearable for me. It is a great year to look on the smile of an uncle or an aunt or to hear the laugh of your grandmother or listen to the garbles and coos of the newest member of the family over live video, and to be grateful that those people are there, as healthy as they are and that you can still interact with them. Knowing family and friends are well now, and taking steps to stay safe, means that you are much more likely to be able to have future in person visits and celebrations with them. It is a particularly easy year to find things to complain about, but if you have family and friends who are alive an well now, it is also a particularly easy year to find at least a few things to be thankful for.