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8 Creative Ways to Spend Your Thanksgiving amid Restrictions

ways to celebrate thanksgiving

On top of usual questions you ask yourself while preparing for Thanksgiving, such as “What recipe should I use this time?” or “Will that much be enough?” this year has added another. How do you navigate the celebration with unvaccinated friends and family? Recent polls show that half of the respondents are hesitant on the topic. Still, experts say that there are possible ways to celebrate safely this year.

First of all, they suggest thinking about masks for the most vulnerable, appropriate space for the size of your gathering, ventilation, and HEPA air purifiers. In short – means to reduce the amount of bioaerosols, hence limiting the potential for the airborne virus to spread. Another thing suggested by Dr. Michael J. Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is rapid testing of all potential guests. “How much transmission would’ve been avoided through millions and millions of individuals completing their own early identification of being infected and infectious, in real time!”

However, if travel restrictions, distancing rules, or your personal situation make it difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving traditionally yet again, don’t feel down. There are plenty of alternative ways to have seasonal fun! If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s patience, counting small mercies, and creativity! Funnily enough, that’s exactly in the spirit of the upcoming Turkey Day. Besides, it’s at times like this new traditions are created. Today, I’ve put together a list of ways to celebrate Thanksgiving if you are staying on campus, away from the family table groaning under all the home-cooked bounty of the season.


This port-manteaux name means “Thanksgiving for friends” and has grown in popularity in the last decade. With people living far away from their extended families and relying on friends as their support network, it’s only fair we should have a day to celebrate this special bond. Normally, however, Friendsgiving isn’t supposed to be a replacement for Thanksgiving. It is either held on a week leading up to the main holiday or as an alternative for people who can’t make it home for some reason. Well, the only thing different this year is that the reason is common for many.

Gather a small group of people you befriended in college in your room or host a larger party in a common area of your residential hall if the rules allow it. Dr. Juan C. Salazar, an infectious disease specialist and physician-in-chief of Connecticut Children’s in Hartford. Conn. advises limiting the gathering to 10 people if some of you are unvaccinated. “Be not afraid, but be reasonable. This is not yet the year where 30 people can gather in one household,” he says.

Party Al Fresco

This is a picnic spin on Friendsgiving, in case the restrictions in your area only allow gatherings outdoors. If the weather is favorable, this can be your last chance this year to enjoy autumnal colors and snap a few panoramic photos. If traveling restrictions and distance allows it, visit a local state park for the day. Otherwise, just find a quieter nook on the campus grounds.

To make things easier logistically, host your picnic potluck-style. Let every one of your guests bring their signature dish or a cherished home-recipe treat. You can also combine this even with other cute traditional activities, like Scavenger Hunt or beanbag toss. Since Thanksgiving is a doorway into the Christmas season, this can be the time to exchange decorations, which will become colorful props for your impromptu photoshoot.

Host a Video Celebration… with a Twist

Maybe your life-long friends are still too far away, and there are few people left in the dorm. There’s no reason to pine! You can still be together – albeit virtually. Videocall dinner has become a classic option to reach out over the distancing restrictions for birthdays, anniversaries, and other traditional holidays. It suits Thanksgiving just as well.

To jazz the dinner up, organize wine swap in the days leading up to the holiday, randomly assigning pairs secret-Santa-style. Choose the wine you believe your recipient will love, or just share your favorite vintage. You can have fun at dinner trying to guess who each other’s sender is. That is, of course, if you are all of age. If not, you can do the same with everyone’s favorite treats, books, ornaments, or any gifts.

Paying Your Blessings Forward

“Tis the time for giving,” so volunteering has become a traditional seasonal activity. Soup kitchens providing holiday meals for the homeless and less fortunate are usually the charity of choice, so they experience a spike in people willing to help. There is, however, a lot of other options. You can collect donations for a food pantry, such as canned foods, non-perishable items, and monetary contributions for later, when Thanksgiving is over. Another season-appropriate choice is asking your friends and family to send you old coats and other warm clothing and donating those to a charity.

If you want to be generous with your time and attention, help at a local animal shelter, run errands for an elderly neighbor, organize a cleanup in the local park or share your paper writer or math skills with a disadvantaged schoolchild in a Zoom tutoring session. Look for options at websites like that match you locally with charities and non-profits in need of assistance.

Join a Turkey Trot

Many places hold annual foot races affectionately nicknamed “Turkey Trots,” either in-person or virtually, which makes for a bigger pool for you to choose from. However, if the locally organized event you’ve been counting on has been canceled this year, you can make your own DYI Turkey Trot. Gather up with the like-minded students of your college for a healthier way to celebrate. Plan a route around a local park, campus grounds, or city’s sites of interest. Add festive mood by dressing up in silly holiday-themed costumes and burn some calories before you dug in. Only don’t mix it up! All the mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffed turkey, and pies go after the exercise, not before.

As a solo option, just go on a long walk or a bike ride to soak in the fall beauty and mood.

Just be a Festive Couch Potato

If there are not enough people left on campus or restrictions, don’t allow a full-blown party, host a casual pizza and movie night, or a TV Marathon. Pick Thanksgiving episodes of long-running shows like Friends, Gilmore Girls, and Bob’s Burgers, or watch holiday-themed titles like Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving; Garfield’s Thanksgiving; Dutch; Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and many others. Check out the list suggested by Rotten Tomatoes for starters.

As a warm-up, start the day by watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and breakfasting on pies – no one will judge you. I know I won’t.

Have Fun with Seasonal Crafts

This is something you can do alone or with a group. Instead of carving the turkey, how about carving soap, painting, or having fun with some construction paper, feathers, and plants? In the spirit of the holiday, make a cornucopia filled with fruits of the season, flowers, berries, and leaves.

If you do have guests coming, you can put an exciting spin on this traditional craft. Ask everyone to bring one meaningful thing that represents what they are thankful for this year or just associate strongly with Thanksgiving. Arrange those mementos in a wicker cornucopia, basket, or any decorative container of your choice. This way, you will create a festive centerpiece unique for your gathering that will also be a sentimental souvenir for another year.

Write Down What You Are Thankful For

Counting your blessings is another thing that has nothing to do with food or big companies but everything to do with gratitude, which is a true meaning of Thanksgiving. Reflect on the past year and write down everything worth giving thanks for. You can prepare for this by keeping a gratitude jar and filling it with notes of thanks for a year. Then, all you have to do on Thanksgiving Day is open it, read all the notes, and relive all the happy moments of the past 12 months.

If you are celebrating with a company, you can make it an activity for your guests. Cover the table with a light-colored tablecloth and hand out pens or sharpies. Let everyone write at their end of the tablecloth something they are grateful for this year, something they dream about, or just a wish to everyone around them. This tablecloth will make a wonderful keepsake for years to come.

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