Your Thanksgiving gathering was canceled. What now?
As North Carolina State professors who teach and do research on families and food, we know how important rituals are. Rituals and gatherings mark new seasons, holidays, and big events in our lives. They remind us of who we are and cultivate a sense of community that can sustain us during even even the hardest times.
But especially this year, we need to give ourselves permission to break traditions. Gathering with others puts our families and communities at risk. So let’s rethink the rituals, putting care for ourselves and others at the center.
Embrace the new. Traditions are comforting, but they can also feel stifling, especially for the people– mostly women— who are responsible for maintaining them. This is the year to do something completely different. Skip the stuffing, even though grandma wouldn’t approve? No one likes it anyway. Order take-out for Christmas dinner and spend the afternoon watching Netflix? This is your year.
Cook together. We aren’t cooking huge holiday feasts, but with less time spent traveling and hosting others, maybe this is the year to learn to make something you’ve never made before. Host an in-house tamalada and make your own tamales. Or pull out a beloved family recipe. Call your mom (or dad, or great-aunt) and put them on speakerphone, so that you don’t miss out on the tips, stories, and love that passed along — but not always written down– when recipes are shared.
Reach out to others. Many people are struggling right now. If you have more food than you need, or a little extra time, share with others (while paying attention to food safety, of course!). Use your favorite meal delivery app to give a meal to someone. Drop off jars of jam and a kind note to an older neighbor who might be missing their family too. Double your lasagna or enchilada recipe and share with a stressed parent, like the Lasagna Love project does. And given that rates of food insecurity have more than doubled during the pandemic, consider donating to your local food bank or food pantry, or find out whether it’s possible to volunteer.
Listen to people’s stories. Our holidays and traditions are important because of the people: the loved ones we see around the table, and the missing places that remind us of those we’ve lost. This year, take the time to hear the stories that you might have missed in other, busier years. Ask family members to record a short video about a favorite tradition, food, or memory. Put all of the videos together (or ask the tech wizard in the family to do this!) and share with everyone. You can schedule a time to watch it together, and you will have it for the times when you miss everyone and need a boost.
Prioritize self-care. People are exhausted. Worry, stress, anxiety, depression, as well as substance use and thoughts of suicide, are all on the rise. It’s important to remember that care for self shapes how we are able to care for others. Take some time this season to think about what fills you up and sustains you. Set aside time for rest, reflection, and practices that help you cope with this challenging season of life.
Our holiday gatherings and festivities just won’t be the same this year, but looking back, we may even remember 2020 as the year we created some simpler, more caring traditions that are worth keeping.
Bowen is Professor of Sociology, Hardison-Moody is Associate Professor of Agricultural and Human Sciences, and Cryer-Coupet is Assistant Professor of Social Work at NCSU.