5 Alternatives to That Big Thanksgiving Gathering

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Opting out of a big Thanksgiving celebration doesn't mean you can't have a good time. (gmast3r/iStock)

As much as we might wish otherwise, Thanksgiving is different this year. With COVID-19 cases across the country on the rise, traveling, mixing households and enjoying a lengthy indoor meal are all risks we just can’t condone.

There’s no replacement for the warmth and coziness of spending time with friends and family in person, so that's why we've gathered suggestions for fulfilling, distracting or weird things to do to help you get through the holiday. Stay strong, wear your masks—and plan to celebrate extra hard in 2021!—Sarah Hotchkiss

Watch Alice’s Restaurant

Every Thanksgiving, it’s tradition in my house to listen to a full 18-minute version of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” (There’s a multitude to choose from, thanks to many live recordings over the years.) It’s that rarest of beasts: a song about Thanksgiving magic that people actually want to listen to. That’s due in part to the fact that the lyrical “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” is merely a jumping off point to talk about the challenges young Americans faced in 1967—over-zealous policing, the draft, and government hypocrisy. Despite being such a product of its time, the song has continued to live because of Guthrie’s casual, rambling, hilarious delivery.

In 2020, though—a year in which there will be no Thanksgiving gathering at my home—revisiting the song alone simply will not suffice. This year, I’ll be turning to the Alice’s Restaurant movie—currently streaming in full on YouTube—that came out two years after the song became a hit. Not only is it a reminder that this is by no means the first time American families have found themselves separated by greater forces, it also reinforces the idea that family doesn’t always have to mean our literal relatives—we can make our own.—Rae Alexandra

Go On a Hike

This one is so obvious, yet so easy to forget. Getting outside for a hike is one of the best things your can do for your body and your mind, and, being an outdoor activity, it’s mostly COVID-safe. That’s doubly true if you can find a lesser-hiked, out-of-the-way trail. In the East Bay, avoid the crowds at Tilden Park and instead head to Joaquin Miller Park, which connects with Redwood Regional Park. In the South Bay, try the trails at Mount Hamilton or the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. In Marin, don’t fight for parking at Muir Woods or Mt. Tamalpais, and instead hike the short, scenic loop at Olompali State Park. And if you’re all the way up in my neck of the woods, in Sonoma County, there’s plenty of options outlined here, with an emphasis on non-crowded trails.—Gabe Meline

Trade Traditional Recipes for Wild Experiments

Since you’re staying home with just your household this year (yes, you are), I encourage you to reject the pressure to cook a universally beloved dish. Instead, try something weird, and—most importantly—time consuming. Nothing distracts like a complicated recipe.


You could take a page from Salvador Dalí’s audacious, surrealist cookbook (one dish combines artichokes, Swiss cheese and tequila). Or turn to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s multisensory Futurist Cookbook, which attacks the very notions of goodness and taste. For the truly adventurous, may I suggest the technicolor jiggle of once-popular Jell-O recipes. I’m particularly intrigued by something called “Ring-Around-the-Tuna.”

While you’re thinking about food, and if you’re able, consider donating time and/or money to a local food bank. More and more Bay Area residents are facing food insecurity, and these organizations have been racing to keep up with demand.—S.H.

Plan a Day of Self-Care

Skipping Thanksgiving might lead to a case of FOMO, especially if you check Instagram and see people ignoring public health guidelines and gathering with families. But how can you reframe your thinking and make your day off all about you and your pleasure, whatever that may mean to you?

Turn your bathroom into a spa with an epsom salt bath (or foot soak if you don’t have a tub), face mask and your favorite TV show or book. Stock up ahead of time on your favorite snacks and desserts. If you partake in medicinals, an edible may be your calling. Wear soft fabrics or a onesie. Take a crisp, autumn walk while listening to an uplifting podcast. Think about whatever makes you feel warm, cozy and luxurious and let that be your mantra.—Nastia Voynovskaya

Find Other Ways to Connect

Tempting as it may be to doomscroll (don’t do it!), use technology to connect with loved ones in meaningful ways. Schedule FaceTime dates throughout the day with the people you would normally spend Thanksgiving with, or get creative and hang out with them on Animal Crossing, Jackbox or Houseparty, which has interactive options and games. You can also “eat together” by cooking the same meal in your separate homes.—N.V.