Instead of a big dinner with family or friends, make new Thanksgiving traditions. We have a few ideas

The Register's editorial

This editorial was written by The Register's Editorial Board and was originally published by the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network. 

In a normal year, you wouldn’t think twice about gathering for Thanksgiving. That might mean extended family around the dining room table, a potluck with neighbors or traveling to Grandma’s house. 

This is not a normal year. The novel coronavirus doesn’t care about holiday traditions. It cares about spreading to as many people as possible.

So, let’s try something different. Let’s invent new traditions. Tweak existing ones. Focus on the many things we can still do instead of what we can’t. Direct our energies to helping others. Get creative. 

Making new traditions should be the theme of the 2020 holiday season — from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. 

All family traditions were all once first-time activities. Now you have the opportunity to start new activities that may become traditions for years to come.

A few ideas: 

  • Decorate paper bags or the many restaurant take-out containers you’ve acquired in the past several months. Bake holiday cookies or candy or lasagna or soup or whatever your signature dish might be. Divvy it into the packages and deliver it to the doorsteps of friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Spread some love through food. 
  • Mix up a hot chocolate, get in the car and drive to new neighborhoods (and new towns) to look at Christmas lights.
  • Meet friends at a park, keep distance and cook dinner over a charcoal grill.
  • Bundle up with the kids and go Christmas caroling. Wear battery-powered string lights, Christmas sweaters and Santa costumes. Bring a guitar. Stand 20 feet away instead of on the porch.
  • Ask an elderly neighbor if it’s OK to decorate her porch for the holidays. Then dig through the boxes of decorations in your basement and put them to use. (Just remember to retrieve them after the holidays.) 
  • Make a list of people you haven't talked to in a while and schedule days to call or write them.
  • Be a Secret Santa for a neighbor, leaving little surprises like candy canes or handwritten messages on the front porch every few days.  
  • Have virtual family dinners using teleconferencing. You can invite many people and will have to wash only your own dishes.
  • When it snows, drive to your friend’s house and shovel the driveway. 
  • Donate money.
  • Focus on doing things for others, especially those who are alone.

This has been a painful year of loss for Iowans. We've lost loved ones to COVID-19. We've lost jobs, weddings, funerals, graduations, businesses and vacations. We've lost a basic sense of safety and security. 

Planning a Zoom Thanksgiving? Here's what you need to know

So it’s understandable the thing we’re craving most right now is a familiar activity — whether bringing the family together for dinner or crowding into a store on Black Friday.

Such activities are not worth the risk. The consequences of engaging in them may not manifest for days or weeks. Perhaps you’re already positive for the virus and do not know it. Or your teenager is. Or your brother. Or your uncle. 

But you decide to go ahead and invite the extended family over for dinner. Maybe you’re fortunate and no one gets sick. Or maybe next Thursday you’re taking your mom to the hospital. Maybe the Thursday after that, you’re planning her funeral. 

COVID-19 is highly contagious. Gathering indoors with others for the holidays will exacerbate spread of the virus, leading to more hospitalizations and more death. 

Don’t do it. Help keep your family alive so you can celebrate Thanksgiving together next year. 

Share your ideas for the holidays

Do you have ideas for meaningful ways to safely celebrate the holiday season this year? Please share your ideas in an email to