Making holiday plans this year has proved to have new obstacles. Our extended families don’t live close by, and we decided we will not travel or take risks associated with larger family gatherings. Unfortunately, we will likely not see aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins for another year or more. This is a sad reality facing many families this year.
However, we have decided to plan a small gathering at home with just our family and my parents. To bring some brightness to the holiday this year, I will plan and try to make it a memorable holiday and express our gratitude for all the things we are thankful for, and there are many despite the difficult year.
Plan the Big Meal in Advance
I will plan the menu far in advance this year, so my mind can focus more on family and ease a bit of the stress associated with last-minute preparations. We will stick with the classics in our family: garlic mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts, green beans with almonds, cranberry salsa, stuffing, and of course, the turkey, which my father has graciously agreed to smoke overnight as per family tradition. My husband loves to make pumpkin pie, so I will let him enjoy baking dessert with the kids. Any other extras or sides I will buy already prepared. Anything I can make in advance, I will.
Engaging Family Activities
My goal is to maximize interactive family time, although some movie and down time is welcome. Activities and crafts to do with the kids, board games for the family, and games to encourage storytelling are priorities in our time of celebration. Here are some of my ideas. Some are new to us and some are traditions:
1. Thankful tree with leaves: Use carboard from old boxes to cut the shape of a trunk and branches. Then trace or draw leaves on colored construction paper and cut out, or use store-bought fabric leaves. On each leaf a family member writes something they are thankful for. At the end of the day, put the tree up on the wall and read all of the leaves to each other.
2. Thankful jar: This is similar to the idea of the thankful tree but everyone writes a note and places it in the jar, and shares them around the dinner table.
3. Board games: Games have always been a big part of our family celebrations. This year, we are planning to play some of the old favorites but also try some new games. Some favorites include Scrabble (and Scrabble Junior), Boggle, Taboo, Scattergories, and various card games. Thanksgiving-themed Bingo with fall-themed squares is another fun game for the whole family. A new game we are going to try this year is called Wingspan, a card game where players compete to attract birds to their wildlife preserves. This game was recommended to us by some family and friends so we decided to try it out as our new game this year.
4. Sharing Thanksgiving memories and stories: As we share our Thanksgiving meal, we like to go around the table and share topics of conversation. One way we do this to give topics such as “best album or song of all time,” “best vacation place” or “favorite family holiday memory.” Sharing past holiday memories is usually one of my favorites and sparks a lot of conversation about family members that we miss. Just to be prepared in advance, I jot down conversation starters. Since we cannot be with our extended families this year, I have also planned to coordinate a few Zoom meetings around the dinner table or just after so that we can share these games and memories with them as well.
5. Kids performance time: Another holiday family tradition is to have the kids prepare a short performance of some kind, whether it be a play, musical instrument, reading a story together or sharing something they are proud of. It is fun for them to practice and come up with a program. It is also a great memory to record and revisit.
Get Outside to Hike and Bike
Hopefully, weather permitting, we can all be outdoors as much as possible. We typically enjoy a family hike around nearby trails. Some of our favorites include Montgomery Pinetum Park and Pomerance Park in Greenwich, the Mianus River Trail in Stamford, and Babcock Preserve in Greenwich. A family biking trip is also fun. Going for long walks whenever possible has proven to be a welcome break and great exercise for the family.