Arts & CultureFeaturedKiddie Dope

You Can Have Fun on Thanksgiving Without a Big Crowd

Credit: Kristen Morales

A friend who is smarter than I am helped put the pandemic in perspective recently, observing that right now, we have two choices: hospital food or airplane food. We have to choose one.

Both options suck. But that’s what we’ve got.

Now, as we stare down the barrel of the holiday season, the bad food analogy rings especially true. Nobody likes cooking a turkey or ham for one or two people. Nobody wants leftovers for days. Nobody wants to upend decades of family traditions to spend the food-centric holidays apart from loved ones.

And yet, we must. I’m sorry folks, I know it’s an unpopular opinion in some circles. I’m not judging you for planning a holiday get-together like it’s a normal year; I’m telling you: Stop.

I launched a Facebook discussion about this topic recently in a parenting group, and I was disheartened by the number of people who planned to forge ahead with their holiday plans as if 250,000 people hadn’t already died this year from COVID-19. It’s selfish, really—you can’t take just one year off to let this plague pass safely? Georgia Tech compiles a website of risks associated with large gatherings, and, last I checked, a gathering of 15 people in Clarke County has a 21% chance of someone being infected with COVID-19. (Check it out for yourself at In other Georgia counties, it’s double that.

Sure, there’s risk in everything, but this is a risk that’s entirely avoidable by not hosting large family gatherings. You wear your seat belt as you drive to the store because you want to reduce the risk of getting injured in a car accident. Why not mitigate your risk of catching a potentially deadly virus, too?

But this is a column about doing things with your kids, not public health. Let’s talk about families who are navigating the holiday season with children—many of whom have already gone months without seeing any family beyond parents and siblings. While there were a number of parents in that Facebook discussion who had plans to forge ahead with traditional Thanksgiving plans, many others had plans to do just the opposite and involve their kids in fun activities to still make the holiday special. 

For example, one mom was planning an alternative Thanksgiving, with a turkey meatloaf, curly fries instead of mashed potatoes and a fun turkey snack board that uses a decorated pear for a turkey and radiates crackers, fruit and vegetables as its tail feathers. (It certainly makes for a good Pinterest post.)

Another family plans to have a meal outside under family-specific tents. Each family has its own tailgate-type tents to sit under—this way they can still socialize but stay within their pod while eating. Of course, the mom acknowledges, they’re a bit screwed if it pours that day. But at least they’re making an attempt at being safe.

There are a lot of families who live close enough to include, for example, grandparents or in-laws into their quarantine pod—and these are the same people who will be sharing a meal with them this Thanksgiving. I’ll admit, I’m a bit envious of this setup; my parents live more than four hours away, and since my mother is high-risk, we haven’t seen them since last Christmas. But I also know there are families with members in more precarious health situations—maybe this could even be the last Christmas for some—and so a visit takes on an entirely different sense of urgency.

Which is when I’m reminded: hospital or airline food?

Maybe this is the year you take the kids camping. Or you set up a computer on the kitchen table and share your meal virtually. Heck, maybe that means you can finally fit 30 people in your house for that big, full meal you’ve always wanted to cook. It will probably be the only time a Zoom meeting with multiple people talking over each other makes sense.

But, yeah, maybe skip that trip to Pigeon Forge or that rental house with three other families or making the rounds among multiple houses of family members all in one day. Again, no judgments. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you skipped the tradition. Just this year.

Remember, we’re setting examples for our kids. Doing things for the greater good of public health isn’t like getting a second piece of pie or playing with your cousins all day on the rope swing. And I know our kids have already sacrificed a lot. A lot. But we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s not give up and let down our guard just yet.

Your kids can always look back at that time we had the pandemic and we made s’mores in the backyard instead of traveling four states away to visit distant cousins. It can be a year—just one year—that you shake things up a bit with new memories. Let’s find our joys where we can and expect to make some sacrifices for the greater good.