How to Enjoy Thanksgiving in a Different Way this Year

Every year, Melissa and her family drive to New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with her mother, a widow who lives alone. This year, with the kids still playing sports and Melissa and her husband still going into the office occasionally, they thought it would be a bad idea to make the trip and possibly expose her mother to coronavirus. Similar to many of us, Melissa decided to err on the side of caution and stay home. Melissa’s mother is disappointed, but has other plans. She may cook a turkey “alongside” her family via Zoom, or she’s thinking about making an unconventional meal on this unconventional holiday: tacos.

Why People are Rethinking their Thanksgiving Plans this Year

Many holiday traditions may be upended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and the danger it poses – particularly to seniors. Consequently, a number of older people may forgo traditional celebrations with friends and family and opt for a solitary Thanksgiving to stay safe and COVID-19-free.

Similar to Melissa’s family, the consensus for many of us is that we are better to be safe than sorry. Right now, the coronavirus pandemic is spreading out of control: more than 256,000 people have died in the USA, schools are closed, and the nation set records of infections multiple times over the past week. That has prompted people to rethink their Thanksgiving plans, many choosing to eat a meal known for community and family alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to keep Thursday’s dinner small – ideally with only people living in their household – and to avoid traveling for the holiday. A bipartisan group of governors and mayors urged people to follow that advice, arguing that it’s more important to stay safe and wait for the vaccines in production to be finalized. Those recommendations make this holiday season a complicated one as families negotiate over social distancing ground rules, how to share meals, and whether the whole thing should be called off.

Are you Alone this Thanksgiving?

Roughly one-third of Americans live in single-person households, according to census data. If you are alone this Thanksgiving, here are some tips:

Invite someone you know will also be alone to share Thanksgiving dinner via zoom. Talk about the dishes you’ve made for each course and why you included them on your Thanksgiving menu.
Experiment with baking some goodies that you can make again to share with friends during the Christmas/Hannukah/New Year’s holidays;
Experiment with new recipes. If they are a success, take a pic and display on social media;
Schedule a zoom meal with friends on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or during the weekend following Thanksgiving. Make that your “holiday celebration”;
Make a list of people you’ve been thinking about and call them to say, “have a lovely day”;
Stream a virtual film you’ve been wanting to see;
Fix a snack that carries out the theme of the movie, such as some warm croissants if watching a French film with subtitles;
Dive into a project that you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t had time to tackle;
Go through photo albums, diaries and calendars and relive Thanksgivings past when you were not alone and celebrated with friends and family;
Take a walk by yourself or go for a ride. Or, ask a friend or neighbor to join you on a socially distanced stroll;
Write a note to people you are thankful are in your life. Or, reach out to them by phone, e-mail, or text;
Curl up in your favorite chair and become absorbed in a book you’ve been wanting to read;
Begin a journal or add to one you already have;
Consider starting work on a memoir, emphasizing gratitude and the things in your life for which you are thankful;
Attend a virtual religious service;
Get tickets to an online play, musical, performance or concert during the weekend after Thanksgiving;
Offer to take care of a pet for a friend or neighbor who will be out of town over Thanksgiving;
Plan ahead to cook a special holiday dish or entire meal. Or, place an order for Thanksgiving treats from a restaurant or grocery store. Set the table with your favorite dishes;
Gather up some brightly colored gourds, autumn leaves, or your household treasures to use as a centerpiece — and dress up in your holiday best;
Ignore the holiday and view it as just another day.  Stick to your usual routine, take something out of the freezer and chill. Or, similar to Melissa’s mother in our example, make something that has nothing to do with the holiday like tacos.

Tips for Reaching Out to Those You Know will be Alone on Thanksgiving

There is also a cornucopia of ideas to help people reach out and provide holiday cheer to someone who’s celebrating alone, as follows:

Call someone on Thanksgiving you know will be alone on the holiday. Perhaps you can coordinate with others who know the person, to space out calls throughout the day;
E-mail someone who’s alone on Thanksgiving. Or. send a video greeting from you, and, if appropriate, members of your family;
Leave a plant, homemade goodies, or a card at the door of a neighbor you know is alone on Thanksgiving;
Send a humorous e-card to be delivered on Thanksgiving. Have the personal message on the card reflect your thankfulness that the person is in your life;
Make time on Thanksgiving to set up a zoom date with someone who is alone. If feasible, include family members or mutual friends;
Set aside a portion of your Thanksgiving dinner for a friend who is observing the holiday alone and deliver it to their door;
Screen share a movie or football game via zoom with someone alone …or, view the football game or movie separately…and text or talk by phone afterward;
Send or lend a book you enjoyed or was meaningful and then plan to discuss it with the person by phone or zoom on Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter;
Arrange to have a zoom meal…or visit with the person…the day before Thanksgiving or the weekend after. Make your virtual get-together a “holiday celebration”;
Cook on zoom with friends who will be alone. Make dishes for your Thanksgiving dinners — or snack treats like pizza or brownies. Then eat some of your concoctions together virtually;
Write “letters of gratitude” to friends you know will be alone. Mail them so they will arrive the day before Thanksgiving but write “Do Not Open Until Thanksgiving” on the envelopes;
Invite a friend or neighbor who is alone to go for a socially distanced walk on Thanksgiving;
If someone you know lives alone but has Thanksgiving plans, check in at the end of the day, to make sure the plans came to pass. If the plans fell through, the person will be disappointed and lonely, and will be pleased to have the human contact. If the holiday get-together took place as scheduled, the person will be delighted to have the chance to share details with a friend;
See if your Village, Senior Center, House of Worship, or older adult social organization can arrange a virtual dinner on Thanksgiving – or, at least, a zoom gathering — for folks who’ll be by themselves;
Have your community organization recruit young people to be holiday pen pals, sending cards and letters – or poems, drawings, and stories — to older people who are alone on the holiday;
Make room at your table virtually. Add a person who is alone to your guest list to dine via zoom with you and your family on Thanksgiving. If it’s too much of a hassle to include someone who’s alone for an entire Thanksgiving meal, ask them to log onto zoom and share dessert with your other guests;
Or, invite someone who is alone to a zoom dinner with your family the night after Thanksgiving to join you in giving virtual thanks for holiday leftovers.

Alone on Thanksgiving in the DC area?

The co-owner of the Medium Rare restaurant group based in Washington, DC put out an offer on Twitter to deliver a Thanksgiving meal to anyone over 70 quarantining alone. A similar effort over Mother’s Day netted 225 requests. This time? He’s reached 1,000 meal requests.

“The original intent was to do something uplifting and give back and be thankful for everything we have,” Bucher said. “But frankly, what we’ve learned is that the elderly have been overlooked.”

Bucher said his email inbox has been flooded with tragic stories of elderly people suffering alone. He’s even gotten calls from the DC government offering packets of personal protective equipment to deliver with the meals and asking his drivers to report back on the condition of the elderly people they visit. Learn more here.

If You Really, Really Must Celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday in Person

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no eliminating risk; there is only reducing it. Any one strategy — whether that’s masking, social distancing, or increasing ventilation — is no perfect measure to prevent the spread of the virus. If you are celebrating in person this year, be sure to take precautions! For those who are traveling and celebrating with loved ones this year, this article in Vox offers some excellent suggestions.

There is Lots to Be Thankful for This Year and Every Year

As a senior, there are moments and memories that make our life meaningful. We accumulate these experiences over the years and appreciate them along the way. This Thanksgiving, take time to reflect on all you have and all you are thankful for. We at the Farr Law Firm are thankful for you our readers and hope that you have a happy and healthy holiday!

Remember, as you are taking the time to reflect, the greatest peace of mind comes with planning for your future and for your loved ones. If you or a loved one is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.