How to begin? Think about how you have celebrated Thanksgiving in the past. What do your children remember? What do they anticipate for 2020? Children may long for intangible sensory experiences - like a bustling kitchen, a blazing fireplace, or the sweet scent of warm pumpkin pie. Or they may remember company arriving, cooking together, or setting a fancy dining room table for extended family. Personalize your list and tease out which aspects of the holiday you want to preserve.
Questions to facilitate your discussion:
- What do you love most about Thanksgiving (scents, tastes, sounds, rituals)? Why?
- How can our family find a new way to re-create these things?
- What materials, ingredients, or equipment will we need?
Begin to re-imagine these newly identified moments and try these suggestions:
1) Set a date in advance of Thanksgiving to brainstorm your menu virtually with would-be guests. Involve children to incorporate their ideas. Which dishes are "musts"? Is there a new recipe that you want to try? How about drinks? (In our house, we like to start with mugs of steaming cinnamon cider.) Assign dishes. Then, create a menu on Google Docs where everyone in your extended family can post recipes. If your Thanksgiving crew is local, make large quantities of selected dishes and choose a central location for a socially-distanced course exchange. If you are geographically spread out, make smaller quantities of the entire menu for your own family. Either way, everyone participating will enjoy the same Thanksgiving menu.
2) Plan a few cooking Zoom sessions during Thanksgiving week with kid-friendly recipes like Katy’s Cranberry Sauce. Children especially enjoy cooking with cousins. This might be the perfect opportunity to pass on beloved family recipes between generations with actual demonstrations.
3) Think intentionally about creating a "shared" holiday environment in each participating home through selected scents, tastes, sights, and sounds. Consider your initial conversation with your child. How can you recreate what's most important? Focus on adding details that everyone can enjoy, like scented candles and flowers. Make a playlist. Eating the same lovingly-prepared family recipes in tandem can create a powerful, joint experience, even if you aren't physically in the same place.
4) Plan a way to start (and end) your meal together on Zoom. Choose someone to lead a song, prayer, poem, story, or a gratitude practice to focus your participants. For a change, try reading a Thanksgiving children’s book to set a playful tone for your holiday meal. Some families even prepare a Thanksgiving Seder. Here are a few recommended resources:
Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes
History Smashers – Mayflower by Kate Messner (for a fascinating re-examination of Thanksgiving myths)
"Simple Gifts" - a Shaker Hymm
"Over the River and Through the Woods" - a 19th Century American Thanksgiving Song
"Thank You, G-d" - Debbie Friedman
Light a candle and open your meal by having everyone take a turn sharing what they feel grateful for this year. Encourage visuals - they will be particularly helpful to young children. Provide paper and crayons for children to draw their answers, or just to doodle. Taking the time for a simple gratitude practice can shift the overall mindset to blessings, rather than what is missing this year.
This Thanksgiving seder was compiled by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer of Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL. It contains the Shehecheyanu prayer and well-loved songs about America. Try it as written, or add your own readings. https://reformjudaism.org/seder-thanksgiving
For the meal itself, decide in advance whether to eat together virtually or whether to turn off your screens. While the collective virtual experience on Zoom can help to recreate the large family meal you may be craving, a meal in a small grouping may offer a more intimate experience. I recommend making sure to reconvene with all participating families after the meal to share reactions.
5) On your joint Google Doc with your menu and recipes, document Thanksgiving week. Add photos of cooking together, as well as your holiday meal. Include readings, songs lyrics, and your family’s gratitude comments. Jot down notes and add quotes. Save and scan children's drawings. Document the novelty of Thanksgiving this year, so that you will have a meaningful keepsake of this unprecedented holiday.