Finding New Thanksgiving Traditions in COVID Times


Thanksgiving traditions are on the cutting board this month as I redefine my expectations for the holiday, 2020-style. Just like everything else this year, COVID has thrown a monkey wrench into our plans, our lives… and our traditions. Finding new Thanksgiving traditions is on my mind.

A stuffed Thanksgiving turkey on a platter.Many of the things that used to define Thanksgiving now make us recoil at the germy, COVID-laden thought. Volunteering to provide food and comfort to others less fortunate, gathering with friends and family, traveling to share meals, passing elaborate platters around and around, cozying up inside. Yuck.

Vermont has done well in limiting the spread of the virus, but our numbers have risen of late. The pandemic is of ever-increasing concern. State officials issued a number of new controls in last week’s executive order; they warned Vermonters to limit gatherings and consider staying home for the holidays. They suspended the travel map and implemented a mandatory quarantine for anyone returning or traveling to Vermont. Multi-household gatherings are now prohibited. The closures and isolation of April may be making a swift return.

Given the almost lifelong uncertainty of the day-to-day, can we even make “new traditions”?

By definition, traditions are time-honored, regular occurrences. And they’re not new. I suppose “new traditions” is an oxymoron but I’m going with it. I still want to celebrate, take an active approach to finding new Thanksgiving traditions, and lead my family in having a Thanksgiving that is definitely different, and at least okay.

The question arises: what can I do to find family activities that are fun and memorable for them and possibly even for me – maybe even find some “new traditions” that are worthy enough to keep around next Thanksgiving, when we hope things will be normal again? I’ve always loved this holiday, and I want it to continue to be meaningful for me and my family.

Try a New Local Product

A coop grocery sign asking if holiday plans are different this year and suggesting customers buy their foodOur former Thanksgiving crowd would have missed our perennial favorites if we didn’t serve them in prior years. Now that there’s nobody to lament that cranberry jelly (still in the shape of the can) is missing from the table, is it time for us to experiment with something new – and why not make it local? There’s that boxed stuffing that always caught my eye in the grocery store but I couldn’t buy because I made my own. Those down-home cherry cobbler bars that I couldn’t buy because I couldn’t stray from magically producing the home-baked trio of apple, pumpkin, and pecan every year. Those artisan marshmallows that lots of people put on sweet potatoes, but my crowd likes pecans and brown sugar. Let’s switch up our menu a little.

Redefine Dinnertime

This year, nobody is expecting guests to make their way to the dinner table from points far-flung. In fact, the State of Vermont has forbidden out of state travel without quarantine. Great Aunt Bertha is staying put. Let’s face it, everyone who is coming to dinner is probably… already here. Why not try a noon time, farm-style “dinner”? It’s a lot less exhausting to clean up when you haven’t already had a 12-hour day. Plus, there’s no crime in having at least a full eight hours to digest before bed – an added bonus to finding new Thanksgiving traditions. Somebody just has to get up early to pop in the turkey to be ready for noon.

Or Forget Cooking Altogether… Try a New Restaurant!

Let’s face it. I’ve always been a little envious of people whose Thanksgiving plans mean dinner out. No cleaning, no setup, no dishes, no exhaustion! With a smaller group, this may be the year to let someone else serve dinner. From Barre to Woodstock and all around the state, the Vermont Fresh Network, a non-profit organization that connects people to local food, has published this handy list of Vermont inns and restaurants serving Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Game Night

As if a pandemic weren’t enough, now there’s another reason to keep those teens from running off. Murder mystery games are popular among the older set and I’ve always wanted to try them. Or a game of Clue – hey, maybe nobody will be up for learning something new and we would fare better if we keep the Thanksgiving-day “murder” simple. Either way, if there’s ever a chance for a captive audience of my teens, Thanksgiving will be the day. With no outings, even if murder is off the table, there will be plenty of time to play Monopoly from start to finish.A photo of the corner of a Monopoly gameboard

Take a Turkey Day Stay Trip

Doom, gloom, and Zoom – these are the only things before us, it seems. With school and screens powered down for the long weekend, it’s a great time to take a little trip to explore another part of Vermont. I would love to go check out the art scene in Brattleboro, soak the day away in the hot tub at Top Notch in Stowe, walk the city parks around Burlington, or be part of Jay Peak’s Return to Jay. Plus, if Vermonters have any extra money at all to put toward a little fun, our tourism businesses desperately need us.

Move into a New Class

Yoga, dance, pilates… lots of group exercise studios have Thanksgiving morning classes. I’ve always been envious of the people who could attend Thanksgiving morning classes. My kitchen is at its busiest in the hours before noon. But not this year. If you are cooking less, or for fewer people, why not start your day by giving thanks for the opportunity for self-care? In the end, your family may thank you.

Give Yourself a Break from Finding New Thanksgiving Traditions

Go ahead. Throw caution to the wind. It’s been a tough year. Perhaps we have spent too much time inside, too much time contemplating the same pod of people over our screens, and too much time eating without intention. Who says Thanksgiving 2020 can’t be the anti-Thanksgiving? No big meal, and no sitting around. Take a hike, go for a long walk – with or without friends or family. You deserve it. Who says we have to hold it all together?

COVID has given us the unlikely opportunity to make Thanksgiving entirely our own. How will you approach finding new Thanksgiving traditions this year?

Finding New Thanksgiving Traditions in COVID Times

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Vicky Parra Tebbetts
Originally from Connecticut, Vicky lived on a farm in Cabot for 22 years before recently moving to South Burlington seeking greater opportunity in high school education. She is a mom to a teen boy and girl, and a Goldendoodle who grew up to look more like a poodle. A reticent soccer mom and former lawyer who owns her own marketing and communications business, she spends most of her work time playing with words. She mourns the demise of the serial comma. Don’t ask her if she passed the bar exam (she did) and why she doesn’t have her own website if she writes them for others (she’s been working on her own site for about six years). She’s outside every day, and you may find her sitting in the sun in January, wrapped in blankets. Swinger of birches and lover of all things Vermont, she hikes, paddles, cooks gluten-free and vegan food, reads meaningless novels, and is a recent Pilates convert. She loves to visit her happy place any time of year in Ogunquit, Maine.


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