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The Best Way to Celebrate Thanksgiving Safely During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Remote thanksgiving celebration over video call on laptop
Shyntartanya / Shutterstock

Many families are trying to figure out how to celebrate Thanksgiving, given the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The best way to celebrate Thanksgiving in the past often involved a lot of family togetherness and close contact that might risk the spread of the coronavirus this year.

Luckily, the CDC has issued guidance for alternative Thanksgiving ideas that can help you to be careful while still enjoying a day of food, fun, and gratitude. Whether you choose to have an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner or are trying to decide how to celebrate Thanksgiving alone, here are some ways to make your celebrations COVID-friendly.


What are the CDC’s guidelines on Thanksgiving celebrations?

The CDC is clear that gathering with anyone outside your immediate household does pose an elevated risk of spreading the virus. However, there are ways to minimize the risk by doing all or most of the following:

  • Spending time outside rather than in enclosed spaces.
  • Staying six or more feet apart.
  • Wearing a cloth face mask to limit breath droplet spread.
  • Clean hands frequently and clean surfaces more often than usual.
  • Stay home from all events if you are feeling sick or know you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

The best way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year will involve taking all of these pieces of advice seriously and changing parties and meet-ups in response.

One notable point is that serving food made by someone else hasn’t been shown to be the main spreader of COVID-19, so as long as cooks take the normal precautions to keep their food hygienic, bringing and sharing dishes isn’t considered a major risk.

10 ways to have a safe Thanksgiving during COVID-19

1. Make a small guest list.

The best way to celebrate Thanksgiving and minimize the spread of COVID-19 is to not have large groups gather, especially large groups from multiple households. Consider keeping your Thanksgiving celebration to only those who live in your household.

2. Host backyard Thanksgiving celebrations.

If you live in a place that still has reasonable outdoor temperatures during the week of Thanksgiving, you might consider having a backyard Thanksgiving. People can speak from distanced lawn chairs and enjoy plates of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie at your outdoor Thanksgiving dinner.

Make sure that your group is committed to the rules you want to follow ahead of time, such as wearing masks whenever not eating and drinking, and perhaps only having one or two people inside a home at a time to bring out food or use the restroom.

The best backyard Thanksgiving ideas involve thinking ahead about how you want to protect each other from virus spread. Setting the standards can help you all accept the ‘new normal’ of gathering during COVID and not have to worry.

Outdoor Thanksgiving buffet with pumpkins, pie, and fall decorations
svitlini / Shutterstock

3. Get creative about warmth outdoors.

When figuring out the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving, you may realize you live in an area with a pretty cold climate by this time of year. There are still options. Renting or setting up a canopy can give some protection against rain or snow, and putting up one to three walls on the canopy can reduce wind without enclosing the space and trapping clean airflow.

Outdoor patio heaters are a great idea for spending time outdoors. You can also consider making your get together a moving one. When you’re hiking, playing frisbee golf, or taking a distanced bike ride with the family, you expend more energy and stay a little warmer. Outdoor Thanksgiving celebrations can be fun even when it’s chilly.

4. Use lots of sanitizer and cleaning wipes.

It’s wise for hosts and hostesses to assume that they’ll need a few more containers of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes or solution than usual. Stock up – without going overboard – so that you don’t run out.

5. Make some clear mask rules for in-person gatherings.

If you do choose to meet people in person, take your role as host or hostess seriously. Let people know what the expectation in your home will be about masks, because it’s very easy, after a glass of wine or a plateful of turkey, to feel like relaxing rules that are there to keep everyone safe. Let yourself be the strict one and you may keep the likelihood of virus spread much lower. Find ways to make it easier for everyone, like adding masks to your table settings!

Thanksgiving table decor and setting with masks for protection during coronavirus
rawf8 / Shutterstock

6. Use video call apps with built-in games.

While many people see the Thanksgiving focus on the meal, you can still share elements of family togetherness even if you’re all in your own homes. Rather than a ‘normal’ video call, look into some of the applications that make it easy for families to play games.

7. Keep a video call on while the big game plays.

If everyone in your family prefers to spend the afternoon watching your favorite football team play, just turn on a video call app and chat and cheer while watching the game from everyone’s individual houses. You’ll still enjoy some camaraderie, and you can even plan to make or order the same game day snacks!

8. Have a drive-by celebration for those in isolation.

One way to make someone’s Thanksgiving brighter is to come up with some Thanksgiving pop-by ideas for someone in isolation. Have family parade by the house in cars, drop off a Thanksgiving treat without breathing near each other, or put up festive cards, decor, and messages in their yard.

Fall leaves yard decor for outdoor Thanksgiving or fall holidays
Gorlov-KV / Shutterstock

9. Plan carefully for any overnight visitors.

If anyone is coming into town from outside your household, make some plans for how to give them their own part of the house so that you minimize shared germs. You might also consider using a hotel (even if you normally don’t). Hotels are working very hard to keep rooms spotless right now and avoid in-person contact with things like mobile check-in, which may be safer than sharing a house or apartment with family.

10. Consider postponing or canceling if your area is in a spike.

It needs to be said: If your area is in the midst of a lot of cases or a major spike in hospitalizations, consider the benefits of postponing or canceling festivities. Even if you are pretty sure no one in your group is vulnerable, it’s part of everyone’s responsibility to keep each other safe.

If you’re quarantining or can’t travel, here’s how to celebrate Thanksgiving without family:

Just because you’re having to figure out how to celebrate Thanksgiving without family this year doesn’t mean you have to abandon the holiday. Here are just a few one-time traditions you can start, and who knows? You might find something new you like for the future.

1. Write some thank you notes to those you’re grateful for.

Rather than watching another show all the way through while at home alone, consider writing thank you notes or emails to those who matter to you. It’s a way to have an impact and make someone smile even when you are figuring out how to celebrate Thanksgiving alone. The gratitude element of the holiday is actually a source of joy for many people, and you can make it personal this year.

2. Choose shared recipes and have a video call.

If you and your family love the cooking element of the holiday, work together to select some recipes online and make the exact same food in your own kitchens. During the thick of cooking, stirring, and plating, keep a video call open with the other family chefs to have that kitchen chatter, and then sit down to eat and talk about the food together via a video call.

3. Make your favorite Thanksgiving alternatives.

If, on the other hand, some Thanksgiving foods just aren’t your cup of tea, this is the perfect year to drop them and replace them with something you do like. It’s a great year to experiment and find your own best way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The bottom line

It’s best to assume that this year isn’t ideal for travel and indoor parties unless every member of your family has the ability to quarantine 14 days at home before arriving at the party. Any indoor gatherings, otherwise, carry some risk of virus spread. Consider how to celebrate Thanksgiving in safe ways by creating new traditions, sharing memories via video calls, and focusing on showing gratitude to others.

Frequently asked questions


What are safe Thanksgiving activities during COVID-19?


You can still make and eat great food, watch a game on TV, and even play silly games via a computer, all without having to have social contact through virtual celebrations. If you do host in-person get-togethers, consider holding them outside. You can also plan drive-by celebrations.


Should I travel on holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Every point of contact with other people increases the risk of traveling on holidays, so think about interactions in airports, gas stations, restaurants, and other points of contact. Each one makes it less safe to travel and more likely that you could spread the virus.


How do I keep my spirits high during COVID-19?


Finding ways to care for others and express your gratitude to them can be a good way to boost your spirits. Creating new traditions, from an outdoor soccer game with your household to making homemade gifts for future winter holidays, can stave off the blues during social distancing.


Who is most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic?


While anyone of any age can become seriously ill, many of those who are most at risk are individuals over the age of 60, those who have chronic respiratory or other health conditions, and those who live in congregate living situations like nursing homes.

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