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Here’s How To Host An Outdoor Thanksgiving That'll Make The Whole Family Thankful

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First, it was Easter and Passover. Then, it was Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Halloween. So many of our beloved holidays have taken a hit (or have been greatly modified) due to COVID-19. But if you’re drawing the line at having to stay separated from your family, friends, and loved ones come Thanksgiving, you’re not alone. Thing is, you’ll need to gather safely, which is why it’s important to learn how to host an outdoor Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving this year may look a bit different, but it can still be enjoyable,” Dr. Christina Madison, M.D., an infectious disease expert, tells Romper in an email. “You’ll need to think creatively in order to dine together with safety precautions like social distancing and mask wearing put into place.” With the right safety measures in place, you can still have all the things that make Thanksgiving special. Keesha Brooks, an event planner and owner of Reason-a-BOWS, LLC in Newport News, VA., definitely agrees in an email to Romper. “Your Thanksgiving can still be stylish no matter how big or small your gathering will be,” she says.

So here’s how to have a stylishly safe Thanksgiving al fresco that won’t even make you miss dining indoors.


Sort Out The Seating

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Although you want to have an intimate gathering full of food and festive fun, you’ll need to keep everyone safe, too. Set out tables for immediate family members, and make sure that the tables are spaced out from everyone else. “Families can be seated together in their own ‘bubble,’” advises Dr. Madison. “Separate anyone else that is not part of that group’s family unit by at least six feet.” And tell your kiddos to stay in their seats — no swapping spots allowed.


Mask Up

Sure, you’re sitting outside, which can help decrease the risk of viral spread. But all it takes is one good gust of wind coming in your direction (right after Uncle Oliver coughed into the air) to make you wish that you had been wearing your mask. The solution: mask up from the time your get-together starts until it’s over. “Everyone should be wearing their masks if they are not eating or drinking,” says Dr. Madison. “Wearing a face mask is the simplest and easiest way to protect yourself and those around you during this global pandemic.”


Rock The Rustic Look

“The beauty of Thanksgiving is that it originated in rustic weather, possibly outdoors with the traditional first Thanksgiving,” Christine DiRocco, an events planner in Palm Beach County, FL tells Romper in an email. “It’s heartfelt and authentic to bring that feeling back as best we can, especially this year.” Tables can be set outside in the grass or patio with a lush, fresh and living centerpiece, like a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, pinecones, hurricane lanterns, and smaller pumpkins and gourds running down the middle of the table.


Prepackage The Meal Ahead Of Time

While there’s nothing like seeing a beautifully basted turkey sitting in the center of the Thanksgiving table, you might want to cut out family-style serving this year and prep some plates ahead of time. “Individual plates that are served from inside removes the passing of large bowls/platters back and forth between people,” explains DiRocco. It also eliminates everyone from touching the same serving spoons and talking over each other as they make a grab for the gravy. Plus, pre-plated meals ensure that there’s less potential for interaction without wearing a mask, advises Dr. Madison. “The meals can call be on the table and everyone can sit down to eat at the same time,” she says.

Then, take it one step further and serve the food on disposable plates that can be tossed in the trash after the main meal. This will prevent well-meaning guests from crowding in the kitchen wanting to help you with the washing and drying.


Warm It Up

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If you live in a southern state, you might be accustomed to hosting your outdoor Thanksgiving in flip flops and shorts. But if the weather outside on Thanksgiving is kinda cold, you’ll have to take extra measures to make it warm enough for your guests to enjoy dining al fresco. “Adding fake fur throws, blankets and pillows are a colorful and festive way to keep warm too, especially if fire pits and portable heaters are not available,” says DiRocco.


Serve Seasonal Drinks

Serving up warm drinks (like yummy apple cider) is a great way to celebrate the season — and keep guests feeling comfortable. “Serving warm apple cider is a nice addition to a Thanksgiving meal for outdoor dining,” says DiRocco. “Creating more festive hot toddy-type drinks with star anise garnish and whole cinnamon sticks adds to the dinner… and adds more ambience at your fingertips!”


Have Hand Sanitizer Available

You should greet your guests with heartfelt air hugs — and then ask them to wash their hands immediately. Before sitting down to eat, you should encourage them to practice good hand hygiene by either washing their hands again or using some hand sanitizer. “Everyone should wash their hands as frequently as possible, especially if they touch high-touch surfaces like door knobs and counter tops,” says Dr. Madison. A cute way to encourage safe sanitizing, according to DiRocco, is by using a tiny name card tied a small bottle of individual hand sanitizer for place cards at the table.


Hold Off On The Hugs

While your kids might want to give their grandparents a big squeeze, it might be better to hold off for now. “Hugging and kissing are not recommended. You want to keep your respiratory droplets to yourself,” says Dr. Madison. “You can bump elbows or tap feet.” But if you absolutely must shake hands, be sure to wash them or use hand sanitizer right away, especially if they’re family members who don’t live with you. And if you’re saying grace, it’s acceptable (for this year, anyway), to keep your hands in your lap to avoid any cross contamination right before the big meal.

Even if you’re used to spending Thanksgiving in the cozy comfort of your home, you might need to move the meal outside in order to celebrate as a family this year. And by embracing the great outdoors, (and channeling your inner pilgrim), you’ll get to appreciate all of the autumnal elements that make Thanksgiving that much more special.


Dr. Christina Madison, M.D., an infectious disease specialist

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