Nearly every facet of our lives has changed this year and holidays are no different. Unlike birthday parties or Halloween where the themes vary every year, Thanksgiving is a more traditional holiday that for many are spent the same way every year. Deviating from the norms of a holiday that relies on traditions and recipes passed down from previous generations makes differences even more apparent, especially in the face of virtual communications and physical isolation. But disrupting our routines gives us pause to contemplate the meaning behind our long-held traditions and the opportunity to create new ones.
Though a frequently emotionally and historically loaded holiday, Thanksgiving is largely a time where families come together to share a meal, spend time together, and give thanks. Being physically separated from our loved ones in an effort to maintain safe health practices can make the holiday feel empty, but this really carves out space for us to create new traditions and assess what our friends, family, and community mean to us.
If you normally make a Thanksgiving feast that could feed an army but don’t have as many mouths to feed this year, you can reach out to your neighbors and community to offer up extra plates of food for those who wouldn’t otherwise have a hot meal. Or since we are having more of our meals at home rather than at restaurants, the same familiar spread can be prepared and frozen for delicious, home-cooked meals later. Another option is to scale down familiar recipes and cook just enough food for those who are in your home.
But just because things are different this year doesn’t mean that there isn’t a silver lining. On the bright side, you may avoid the family drama that comes from hosting and entertaining a large group of people in your home for an extended period of time. This also spares you from contentious political debates at the dinner table, especially in the wake of a tumultuous political season, allowing for a more peaceful evening with your immediate household. And no guests means making sure the house is spotless and in perfect order is no longer a requirement or cause for stress, saving you time and effort.
Holidays like Thanksgiving rely heavily on tradition, but sometimes we forget that traditions had to begin somewhere. Now we have the opportunity to create new traditions, like inaugurating a virtual game night with family members from across the country or trying new dishes that may deviate from normal menus. It also provides the opportunity to shed traditions that you have outgrown, like feeling obligated to run a turkey trot when you want to sleep in or making a 1970s jello recipe that only one person in your extended family likes.
The sentiment that we are in unprecedented times and living through the new normal has been repeated ad nauseam, but it’s true that change creates the opportunity to embrace differences and embark on new journeys. While traditions are comfortable and familiar and connect us with our ancestral past, they also can feel stifling when we’ve outgrown them. When we aren’t bound to the molds that we feel compelled to abide by, especially when they can seem so arbitrary, it gives us renewed freedom to design our lives as we wish and think outside the box for what is possible for us.