Just don’t worry about it this year.
Every year for the last decade, I’ve told people how to “host the best Thanksgiving ever” and troubleshoot “common turkey mistakes.” I’ve compiled list after list of “the absolute best side dishes for your holiday feast.” Thanksgiving is the top food holiday in America, and every year we food writers dutifully pump out content accordingly.
This year, though? You can just go ahead and skip Thanksgiving this year.
Seriously. It’s fine. It’s probably for the best.
Look, 2020 has been A Year, and it’s not over yet. Between the pandemic, the recession, the election, and [fill in your own personal horror here], sometimes the mere act of getting through the day is a small miracle. Celebrating, in a group setting, with a multi-component meal that takes many hours and many dollars to prepare, is asking entirely too much of our collectively fried brains and bodies. It can’t be done, nor should it be.
There is, of course, the public health component, arguably the simplest and most rational argument for skipping Thanksgiving this year. The CDC recommends avoiding gatherings with people outside of your immediate household, which automatically limits the guest list. This alone may be enough to discourage you from bothering with Thanksgiving, and since you’re very smart, you can just stop reading here.
But perhaps you thought it would still be nice to have some sort of gathering with your immediate household—the same household you’ve eaten every meal with for the past seven months—and still try to make it feel “festive.” Or perhaps you’re thinking of traveling, painstakingly working out all the logistics to avoid touching anyone or anything on the way, setting yourself up with a place to quarantine upon arrival, and then desperately trying to pretend things are normal two weeks later. I understand the impulse, because we as humans are biologically programmed to be social, and socially conditioned to respect tradition.
Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving this year, though: It won’t feel festive. It will feel forced and awkward and probably kind of sad, because you cannot through sheer will make your immediate household members have a good time (I’ve tried). It will be challenging, if not impossible, to celebrate Thanksgiving this year without comparing it to more joyous Thanksgivings past, a depressing prospect in a year already filled with so much grief. Melancholia is a dish best served cold, and this year, instead of attempting to recreate a pale approximation of a holiday we once knew and loved, we should accept the fact that Thanksgiving 2020 straight-up sucks, and skip it entirely.
Now, this is not to say that whatever you do instead of Thanksgiving itself needs to suck. Far from it. Once you release yourself from the pressure of having to perform this tone-deaf ritual, you’re freed up to do all sorts of other things.
You can take the day off and luxuriate in whatever form of self-care feels right to you: calling friends and family (or completely ignoring them), going into nature, falling asleep in the bathtub. You do you! Thanksgiving is indeed a time to be thankful, and though this year has largely felt like a steel-toed boot to the gut, if you are healthy enough to be considering what to do for the holiday this year, that counts as something to be grateful for. Do what it takes to make yourself feel good, even if only a little bit—you do deserve that on this day in particular.
Food-wise, the other nice thing about skipping Thanksgiving is that you can eat anything you want. I’ve already railed against the tyranny of turkey, and this year, I’ll encourage you to abandon all forms of “traditional” holiday cookery. (Unless, of course, eating an entire casserole dish of stuffing is what constitutes your version of self-care—in which case, go with God.)
There are a few different ways to approach eating on Thanksgiving. One, if you want to cook, is to use it as an excuse to try out another celebratory-feeling dish you might not otherwise tackle (i.e., reshteh polo, chili lobster, mini beef Wellington). Another is to skip cooking altogether and order takeout, and not Thanksgiving-themed takeout, but maybe there’s a Sichuan place you’ve been wanting to try for months? Now is the perfect time. And if you still really want to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving menu, get in touch with a local food pantry—this is often the busiest time of year for them, and they may have Covid-appropriate ways you can help.
Look, the point here isn’t to shit-talk Thanksgiving (though turkey is truly overrated). It’s to remind you that this year, nothing has gone as planned, so don’t be too hard on yourself if this holiday doesn’t either. One skipped Thanksgiving does not a ruined holiday season make. Cut yourself some slack, then grab your finest sweatpants and a bottle of something good—because some traditions are worth keeping.