5 Ways You Can Save This Year’s Thanksgiving

Rituals to the rescue!

Erica Keswin, author of the forthcoming book, Rituals Roadmap, has some advice on how to save Thanksgiving 2020…


You’re probably wondering how on earth you can enjoy your Thanksgiving with your loved ones from afar. Rituals to the rescue! As I’ve learned during these last two years studying the science and stories of rituals at work, rituals can help us through these turbulent times. How so, you ask?

Allow me to introduce the Three P’s of Rituals: When we connect with rituals, we feel Psychological safety, and a sense of Purpose, which leads to increased Performance. This makes sense for what we want to accomplish at work — creativity, efficiency, collaboration, and insight. But how can rituals help us at home? Especially these days? How can rituals save Thanksgiving from the nightmare of 2020?

Holiday rituals are the glue that hold us together as a family by helping us feel safe and connected, less stressed (in theory), and happy, which keeps us coming back for more year after year. So here are the top five ways rituals can save Thanksgiving…

Come to your senses.

So much of what makes something a powerful ritual is what we take in through the senses — the familiar smells, sights, and sounds. So even if your family is flying solo this year, try to spark the same sensations by cooking the same foods you always cook, which will fill up your house with that same old amazing scent. Set your table so that you can see your beautiful china that only comes out once a year, and turn on the TV to hear the football game. If you live within driving distance, have each family member make their special dish and drop it off at each other’s homes so that everyone can eat (and smell) the same thing at the same time. Or if cousin Susan always makes the sweet potatoes, this year she might have to share her “secret” recipe so that everyone can have a spoonful on their plate. Thanksgiving is a feast for the senses, so feed them well.

Make new friends but keep the old.

Thanksgiving is all about traditions, which we should do our best to maintain this year, but don’t be shy to try something new, as well. Try a photo contest to see whose flower arrangements look the best, go black-tie, or ask your kids to “own” a course or a dish. One family shared with me recently that they were planning to take an online class on how to roast a turkey because that’s usually someone else’s job in the family. And who knows? You just might find something that gets folded into the family lore forever. Sometimes rituals are like spaghetti — you just have to throw them against the wall to see what sticks

Find the Sweet Spot (between tech and connect).

Thanksgiving is a holiday that often includes multiple generations, and some of us are more adept with technology than others. This is a great opportunity for the kids to help the older folks among us by building a remote bridge during some part of the day. You could have a virtual call with grandparents at the beginning of the meal, as you sit down, or at the end, when pie is being served. Make sure everyone has the link ahead of time (maybe even do a test run the day before). Encourage kids to put away their phones and to be both physically and mentally present the whole time. They can check the football scores later.

Curate the Conversation.

Plan ahead and incorporate some inspiring questions for the group, both for the live gathering and when you connect virtually. One family I know takes this annual opportunity as a chance to do a quick check-in with relatives, providing updates on the year. In my family, every year we go around the table and share one thing we’re grateful for. We’ll definitely be doing that again! Another thing we like to do is remember how we celebrated past Thanksgivings. My kids will take any opportunity to relive YET AGAIN the story of when my nephew, Jake threw up on the turkey. And who can blame them? Not that we want that to become a ritual!

Have Fun.

You don’t need me to tell you how difficult this year has been for all of us. But that’s no reason not to have some fun. Think about the games your family loves and plan an Uno or poker tournament. You could design your own holiday-themed trivia game. Start by looking up Dr. Fauci’s favorite holiday treat, and fun facts about the history of the Macy’s Day Parade (it made its debut in 1924 with no balloons). I’m thinking about coming up with our own Thanksgiving Day Fantasy Football or handing out awards for the most creative masks. I know some families’ favorite form of fun is rushing out for Black Friday sales. Look on the bright side. This year, retailers are making sure you can shop from home.

If ever there was ever a year when we needed Thanksgiving’s cornucopia of rituals, it’s 2020. So grab your mask, your hand sanitizer, your favorite recipes, and bring your rituals to this Thanksgiving. And don’t forget to double-check your Wi-Fi.


Erica Keswin is a bestselling author, internationally sought-after speaker, and founder of the Spaghetti Project, a roving ritual devoted to sharing the science and stories of relationships at work. Her next book, Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines Into Workplace Magic will be published by McGraw-Hill in January 2021.