Thanksgiving is likely to look different for nearly everybody this year.
Even if your annual tradition simply includes watching a local parade, or partaking in a “Turkey trot,” the event will undoubtedly have coronavirus-related changes if it wasn’t outright canceled.
Health agencies and local politicians have pleaded with the public to keep gatherings small and limited to under 10, to respect travel quarantine advisories and to avoid trekking to see family and friends. These guidelines may mean that while some will be able to celebrate safely among immediate family, others will spend the holiday alone. Mentally, coupled with the many months already spent in isolation, it may be difficult to deal with valued traditions being upended as well.
But rather than viewing this altered holiday season through “half empty” lenses, use it as an opportunity to build new traditions, one expert suggests.
“The holiday season is all about creating traditions,” Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Fox News. “There are some times to start a new tradition.”
Yeager suggested planning a small gathering versus the typical extended group gathering or cooking a new dish or special dessert. For those who cannot gather with even small groups, he suggested using technology if it’s available, to arrange for video chats with loved ones.
“When doing so, take time to remember those family members that are no longer with us,” he said. “Take time to share your favorite holiday stories about those relatives with your family members. Laughter and remembering create strong memories.”
In addition to cooking a new or exciting dish, he suggested pulling some family favorites out of the recipe book to invoke a sense of remembering.
“Food is such a big part of the holiday season so be certain to cook some of those family favorites,” he added. “The sense of smell is a very strong sense tied to holiday memories. You can always bring those smells into your home, especially those from long-time family favorites.”
Yeager noted that quarantine and isolation don’t necessarily mean that individuals should miss out on these long-standing traditions, as dropping off a dish safely outside or communicating via video chat or by phone can help bring them into the celebration, even if it’s not a physical presence.
“Being alone is difficult for anyone of any age,” he said. “They may be away at school or in the military serving or working in a hospital or as a first responder. Take time to reach out to tell them how much they mean to you and how important they are to the family. If you have time, send a care package full of holiday favorites like candies, cakes or other homemade treats.”
If you do notice a family or friend acting more reserved than usual, or quieter than they may normally be, it’s important to check in on them, he said.
“Ask them how they are doing – expect them to say they are fine or that all is good, follow your instincts, engage them in conversation,” he said. “It may take time to establish a rapport with them. If you are still concerned, ask another to check-in. Make certain they are included in preparation for the festivities or that they help someone with a task. Keep checking in and working to keep them connected.”
And for those deciding on their own to skip out on the celebrations this year, Yeager advised keeping the conversation from turning political and to remember that this is a temporary situation.
“There are lots of good reasons to not gather this year,” he said. “Mostly being respecting family members’ health. Remember to let them know that there will be more future opportunities to gather. This is a temporary situation and you want to be certain all are available to meet next year.”