Celebrating Thanksgiving in 2020

This year, many of us will be facing Thanksgiving with reduced numbers of loved ones around the table. The impact of COVID-19 will be heightened for millions of families. How do we celebrate a holiday grounded in giving thanks amidst so much loss, so much change?

Neuroscience may have the answer.


Begin with gratitude, one of the exalted emotions described by Dr. Mario Martinez in The MindBody Code. Gratitude boosts the immune system — one good reason to make it a daily practice.

It also changes our mood. Gratitude causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, causing feelings of well-being and happiness.


Our ability to overcome adversity can also help us face this very different Thanksgiving.  How do we get to resilience? Barbara Larrivee suggests “cultivating positive emotions, like gratitude, is the quickest way” in A Daily Dose of Mindful Moments.

What does gratitude look like for this holiday?


Thanksgiving is the perfect time to write a note or an email to express your appreciation, make a phone call to check on someone, say thank you, keep a gratitude journal, have a group “count our blessings” Zoom call.

Big or small. Expressions of gratitude can be key to celebrating a pandemic Thanksgiving.

Difficult Conversations

Have you decided that you cannot risk traveling but dread telling your loved ones? Have a loving, respectful conversation as soon as possible so that they will have time to adjust. Resist the temptation to lighten the blow by promising to be home in December. There is nothing on the horizon to guarantee that next month will be better. Instead, plan to have a Thanksgiving Zoom call.

For many who have lost a loved one, emotions will be tender and raw. Do you address the loss? Do you try to comfort?  Take your cues from the one who is grieving. Tune in to the body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Trust your instincts and speak from the heart.

Difficult political conversations may be even more divisive this year. If there will be people around the table with differing views, agree in advance to avoid the topic or set ground rules for a respectful discussion. No judgments. Listen to understand.

Stay Safe

If you are hosting a small gathering for Thanksgiving, there are several things that can  keep you and your guests safe:

  • Talk to your guests in advance to agree on safety protocols.
  • Weather permitting, celebrate outside.  Barbecued turkey works!
  • If dining indoors, open windows to ensure plenty of air circulation.
  • Ask your guests to bring their own food,  beverages, and utensils. They will understand the benefits of minimizing contact.

As a guest, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Talk to your host in advance about your plans to protect yourself and other guests.
  • Bring your own food, beverage, and utensils.
  • If bringing a dish to share, make sure to provide for single servings.
  • Store your mask safely in a plastic bag when eating.

Travelers have the most risk during this holiday season, but there are still safety precautions that can minimize exposure:

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Get a Pneumococcal vaccination.
  • Check your destination to understand local restrictions.
  • Self-quarantine, before and after your visit, even if it is not required. It is an extra step that benefits everyone.
  • Keep your mask on as much as possible.
  • Do not touch your face.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has many additional suggestions for making the most of your Thanksgiving celebration in 2020 while keeping everyone safe.

With science and gratitude, we can have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Written by:
Linda Cassell
Human Capital Advisory Services
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