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Newsletter: November 2020

How to Handle Holiday Dinners This Year

Early this fall, The Family Dinner Project team started asking each other: “What do you think Thanksgiving is going to be like?” We knew it was possible that the biggest family dinner occasion of the year would look different in 2020 than it has in the past. But even though we were expecting it, when the CDC officially released new guidelines for the holidays — including caution about eating with family and friends — we were still disappointed. How would we handle holiday dinners during COVID? And how would we help other families manage their own changed celebrations?

Still, Thanksgiving is about two key concepts: Thanks and Giving. Holiday dinners during COVID might be different from what we’re used to, but the meaning of the day remains the same. So we can still be thankful — and even feel gratitude for our ability to adapt to changing circumstances! — if we have to host dinner over Zoom, or if we decide to spend the day in our pajamas having a movie marathon, or whatever each individual family decides is the right way to mark the holidays this year.

Among our team members, not everyone has entirely decided how to celebrate. Some are excited about the idea of setting up big virtual dinners with family members across the country. Others are thinking about how to make sure older relatives will have a holiday meal. Some of us are too exhausted to plan a big dinner and look forward to simplifying, while others are eager to cook and bake no matter how many people will be able to sit down together. In other words, our team is just like everyone else right now: Trying to find the holiday dinner solution that feels good enough for 2020, even if it’s not the “perfect holiday.”

Together, we’ve created some ideas and resources that have helped us, and which we hope will help others in their search for the right 2020 holiday dinner plans:

  • Struggling with where to start? Dr. Anne Fishel shares her own thought process about navigating this Thanksgiving, along with expert advice and tips for families.
  • If you’re looking for a way to bond with family despite staying apart this year, our Virtual Care Package may help. It’s packed with fun and conversation ideas you can send to loved ones to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Keeping an “attitude of gratitude” might feel particularly challenging right now. Our 2019 article for Kids Nation Magazine, on ways kids can help the whole family keep a spirit of thankfulness, is even more relevant now than it was last year.
  • Our Thanksgiving page has gotten a 2020-ready update. You’ll find a virtual dinner guide and our Virtual Care Package there, as well as plenty of food, fun and conversation inspiration you can use for celebrations of any size, in person or online.
  • Worried that politics will overshadow the meaning of the day? In 2016, we published Dr. Anne Fishel’s advice for families who were feeling politically divided at the holidays, and we’re revisiting her wisdom this year.

For many of us, this month is the beginning of many weeks of compromise as we try to navigate what the holiday season will hold. There are bound to be some feelings of disappointment or stress, but we encourage you to also find the opportunities this year — opportunities to let go of holiday obligations you don’t enjoy, opportunities to try new and exciting ideas, and opportunities to take stock of what we all still have to be thankful for. We hope your holiday dinners during COVID still bring you together as a family, even if you have to stay physically apart.

Family of the Month

Cooking instructor Christine Wansleben can’t spend the holidays with family for their traditional celebrations, so she and her kids have reimagined Thanksgiving dinner entirely.

Real Family Dinner Projects: The Wansleben family


While creating new traditions for this year, Christine and her kids won’t let go of the most meaningful traditions from years past. This eggnog cake recipe is one that will stay on their menu this year!

Christine’s Eggnog Cake


Our most popular dinner game has gotten a Thanksgiving makeover! Try Thanksgiving-themed Would You Rather… ? to give your holiday a lift.

Thanksgiving Would You Rather…?


Whether you’re gathering with friends and family, connecting virtually or keeping the celebrations close-knit this year, a few great conversation starters can make a big difference to the dinner atmosphere.

5 Thanksgiving Questions