Giving your Teen a Fun Thanksgiving during a Pandemic

Thanksgiving mealThe pandemic has stolen so many rites of passage from our teens – and our families – this year. From school to sports to gathering with friends, our teens have lost so many events that make life special. As we approach the holidays, every American family faces the difficult choice of gathering together as usual with the risk of spreading the virus or isolating with immediate family and missing the joy from an extended gathering. It’s a bit hard to feel as grateful in Thanksgiving 2020.

However, while your Thanksgiving festivities might look a bit different this year, there are still ways to make your Thanksgiving feel festive and special, even while social distancing. Below are some great Thanksgiving ideas you can do safely at home. You might even find that taking the time to reimagine Thanksgiving could lead to new traditions that last for years to come.

Backyard Barbeque

Who says Thanksgiving has to be a big indoor feast? If you want to have extended family and friends included, you can do it much more safely outside. Get a firepit going, bundle up, and host an outdoor barbeque. Deep fry your turkey or consider cooking a different type of meat on the grill. Have lots of easy sides that can be served outdoors. Set up games for all ages, such as cornhole, croquet, or horseshoes. Being closer to nature might just lift your spirits and make you feel more thankful.

Turkey Trot

Many locations host Turkey Trots – usually a 1-mile or 5K fun run – on Thanksgiving morning. In light of the pandemic, many races will be held virtually, meaning you can run wherever you want to, within a given time frame, and then self-report your results. This is a fun and healthy way to start your Thanksgiving, so encourage the whole family to dress up in silly, themed costumes, lace up their running shoes, and get moving.

Gratitude Notes

The true meaning of Thanksgiving is gratitude, so why not have everyone share what they are thankful for? If you’re hosting a larger gathering – hopefully outside for safety – cover the table in butcher paper, dole out black sharpies and ask everyone to write one thing for which they are grateful. If you’re separate from family this year, ask every family member to send you an email this week with their gratitude items and compile a list to share with everyone on Thanksgiving day.

Scavenger Hunt

Sometimes, teens still want to have some child-like fun. Put together a fall-themed scavenger hunt for the youth in your home. Whether the hunt is indoors or out, make it a little tricky to keep them engaged. 


The easiest way to make it feel like the holidays is to decorate your home. Even if no one is coming over this year, adding a few festive touches here and there will lift your spirits. Put your teen in charge of decorating your home for Thanksgiving. They could make a centerpiece or create a wreath or put candles everywhere with autumn touches. Give your teen ideas, but then let them have full control over the Thanksgiving look.


Few teens would be disappointed with being asked to be a bartender over the holiday. Set up a “bar” somewhere outside of the kitchen so they are not in your way. Give your teen several recipes of tasty “mocktails” (non-alcoholic mixed beverages) – there are lots of available recipes online and there are so many delicious fall flavors that taste great in drinks.

Cooking Differently

If you are only celebrating the holiday with your immediate family, reinvent your Thanksgiving meal. This is a great time to experiment with new dishes – ones that always sounded good, but you were too nervous to try when serving guests. It’s also a good time for everyone in the house to help get dinner on the table. Consider assigning everyone a dish to make. Teens might enjoy being put in charge of their favorite side dish or dessert.

Zoom Party

Host a virtual party! Get the entire family together on Zoom after your smaller Thanksgiving meal. You could all play a card game, Scattergories, charades or some other game together online. Ask older relatives to share a few of their favorite family stories or memories from when they were young.

Care Package

If your loved ones are scattered across the country for Thanksgiving this year, you can still make the day special. Ask your teen to help you create a care package for each family you would normally spend Thanksgiving with. You could send an autumn candle, homemade cookies, packets of spiced cider or hot chocolate, turkey jerky, a homemade Thanksgiving decoration, pumpkin-scented soap, or candy.


Before the big day, ask everybody in the extended family to share one thing they love or respect about each family member. Compile all of the compliments in one document for each family member and email it to them on Thanksgiving morning. They will wake up to find a heartwarming list of anonymous appreciations.

Final Thoughts…

Just because your Thanksgiving feast might be smaller this year doesn’t mean it has to be any less creative or fun. While this holiday will be different than any year before, consider it a great opportunity to try out some new ideas that could become beloved traditions.

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