5 Ways to Have a Holiday Meal Together — Even When You’re Not Actually Seated Together

updated Nov 6, 2020
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As cases of COVID-19 spike across the country and health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci caution against even having small indoor family gatherings, the big holiday meal looks to be another casualty of a particularly cruel year. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t still celebrate with friends and family! It just means you’ll need to get a bit creative with how you go about it. With that in mind, we put together five ways you might consider hosting a distanced holiday celebration to bring even just a little normalcy to an otherwise abnormal 2020. 

(Of course, safety should always be your top priority. If you’re at all worried about the safety of your celebration, don’t go through with it. Follow all federal, state, and local COVID-19 guidelines, and please remember that your health and the health of those you love is worth far more than a meal. There will always be 2021!)

Figure Out If You Can Take It Outside

If you live in a part of the country blessed with temperate (or temperate-ish) weather year-round, heading outdoors is a safer (but still not risk-free) way to see a small group of friends and family this season. So perhaps host a holiday picnic. Fun new tradition, right? 

Assign each group of guests a designated part of the lawn or patio where they can eat their own food, making sure to provide ample space between each family/pod. You can even use festive picnic blankets to delineate individual areas. 

Credit: Niccoló Pontigia | EyeEm | Getty Images

Become Your Own Delivery Service

Toronto-based journalist Karon Liu is used to cooking big holiday meals for his extended family. With Karon’s partner stuck in New Jersey this year, and the various households of his family quarantining separately throughout the greater Toronto area, he decided to try something new for Canadian Thanksgiving on October 12: Liu cooked up his usual meal, then divided it into leftover containers, which his mother then delivered to family across the city.

While this option only works if your holiday crew lives relatively close to each other, it can be a great way to share some homemade cheer this year. 

Considering this route? Liu has a few tips. For one, avoid food that doesn’t travel well (see: salads, layered cakes). Keep slices of meats like ham or turkey fairly thick so they retain their juices. And make sure to stock up on takeout containers beforehand. Then, as you package hot foods, leave the lids off for a bit as they cool to cut down on condensation (no one wants soggy vegetables), and make sure to include reheating instructions when necessary. 

Liu emphasizes that you should make this task as fun for yourself as it will be for your friends and family to receive the food. “Don’t overthink it. Stick to what you know,” he says. “If it’s too much trouble to do it, then just don’t!” Apt advice for a pandemic that has us all worn down.

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Cook Together, Apart

A lot of families have one or two of those heirloom recipes that make an appearance each year on the holiday dinner table. Why not host a virtual cook-a-long this year to celebrate those special dishes? 

Make sure everyone has a copy of the treasured recipe in advance, and then, at the appointed time, log onto a joint Zoom call on which everyone can cook through the recipe together. Who knows: Maybe Aunt Susan has a special secret ingredient that no one learned about until now? Or perhaps everyone can get a good laugh in when cousin Dave’s cake batter goes flying out of the mixer? It might not be the same as enjoying a whole meal together in person, but it can be a great way to honor family history and have a bit of fun while you’re at it.

Don’t have a treasured recipe handy? Not a problem. You can still cook along with friends and family by emailing a fun new recipe (or snail-mailing a lovingly decorated hard copy) for everyone to make together virtually. 

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Support Local

We all know restaurants are hurting this year. One way you can celebrate the holidays and support your local restaurants is by ordering your holiday meal and having it delivered. North Carolina-based blogger John Huisman plans to do just that this year. “This seems like a big-dollar item that we could do that would really help,” Huisman says. “Plus, it’s a nice treat for us!”

Many delivery apps allow you to schedule deliveries in advance. You could even coordinate deliveries with friends and family around the country: Ask everyone to order their own meals to be delivered at the same time, and then log into a big Zoom takeout session. Bonus points if you make everyone else jealous with your superior takeout ordering skills.

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Just Zoom It

At the end of the day, what many of us will miss most this year won’t be the actual food, but the ability to gather with our loved ones. In times like these, those personal connections aren’t just important; they can be vital to our mental and emotional health. Maybe all you can do this year is gather virtually and check in with each other. That is more than enough. Whether you cook a whole holiday meal or just heat up some instant ramen, just make sure to take the time to connect. And remember: A lot of holiday traditions can translate to the virtual world, so you don’t have to give up on the Thanksgiving “what we’re thankful for” speeches or Hanukkah toasts just because you can’t physically be together.

“Better to miss a Thanksgiving than risk infecting your whole family,” Liu says. “We’re in a pandemic. Things aren’t supposed to be normal.”

The Home for the Holidays vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn editorial teams and generously underwritten by Cointreau.