5 Simple Ways to Make a Small Thanksgiving Feel Extra Special

published Nov 13, 2022
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Thanksgiving tablescape set for two with mini pumpkins and plates
Credit: July Ko/Shutterstock.com

Growing up in my family, no two Thanksgivings looked the same. Though I have fond childhood memories of aunts, uncles, and cousins around the table, circumstances shifted over the years. Time, place, and family dynamics came into play, and with that, the occasion evolved from a grandiose gathering to a customary meal, which sometimes lost its luster. Between the pandemic and my husband’s schedule as a medical resident, holiday dinners are now often just the two of us. However, fewer guests have allowed us greater opportunity to create new and meaningful traditions while retaining that traditional Thanksgiving nostalgia.

If you’re also planning a smaller Thanksgiving this year, here are some simple ways to make your scaled-down celebration feel extra special.

Credit: Iryna Imago/Shutterstock.com

Connect with loved ones from afar.

If exorbitant travel costs, unexpected illness, or stressful family dynamics prevent everyone from getting together, there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with loved ones. Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp, or Zoom calls with loved ones offer an easy way to <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="connect%20with%20friends%20and%20family%20over%20the%20miles,%20while%20a%20simple%20phone%20call%20can%20also%20go%20a%20long%20way.%20If%20you%20don%E2%80%99t%20have%20time%20to%20chat%20with%20everyone,%20exchanging%20photos%20is%20another%20way%20to%20capture%20and%20share%20highlights%20of%20each%20others%E2%80%99%20holidays.</p>%0A%0A%0A%0A<h2>Create%20a%20special%20space.</h2>%0A%0A%0A%0A<p>Scaling%20down%20the%20size%20of%20your%20Thanksgiving%20doesn%E2%80%99t%20need%20to%20mean%20sacrificing%20the%20seasonal%20details%20that%20make%20the%20holiday%20feel%20so%20special.%20There%20are%20plenty%20of%20thrifty,%20autumnal%20accents%20that%20can%20<a%20href=" https: target="_blank">create an elegant, cozy tablescape. Table linens, personalized place settings, and foliage-forward centerpieces can transform your space and elevate your gathering above a typical weeknight dinner, even if you don’t have company over. A curated playlist along with some candlelight can also take your dinnertime ambience to the next level. If you’re spending your holiday in close quarters, consider one of several ways to maximize your minimal space, such as repurposing and rearranging furniture.

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Stylist: Rebecca Firkser

Rethink and revamp your menu.

The traditional Thanksgiving feast is synonymous with all things oversized, which inevitably translates into hours of stressful prep and cleaning, and an excess of uneaten leftovers. If you’re trimming down both your budget and guest list, you may also consider paring down your menu. With fewer palates to cater to, consider swapping traditional Thanksgiving staples with elevated side dishes, while including a special family recipe or two to keep old traditions alive. You might also want to rethink your bird — instead of a full turkey, consider a turkey breast, cutlets, or drumsticks, which you can prepare in an airfryer or Dutch oven.

Retain and reimagine traditions.

The beauty of traditions is that they offer a constant despite changing circumstances. Growing up, my constant was gathering with my dad and sister Thanksgiving morning to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with our favorite donuts in hand. Even though we now all live in separate places, I refuse to relinquish our parade and donuts routine — even if it’s just my husband and I. These little bits of nostalgia rekindle comforting memories of a simpler time, and help our smaller crew feel more connected. At the same time, a scaled-down Thanksgiving provides an ideal opportunity to start new traditions, or tackle things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the chance to during previous years. This can involve everything from a turkey trot, to pie baking, board games, and fun around the fire pit. In my own small family, we’ve started a tradition of dressing our dog up in some turkey day attire.

Give thanks! 

A smaller celebration will offer time for guests to truly relish in one another’s company, and express gratitude for all that you have. One way to do this is to give back, and Thanksgiving day abounds with community events to serve others. Food banks and restaurants may organize efforts to gather and distribute meals, while most cities host a charity run or 5k. Once you’ve returned home for your feast, consider calling or video chatting with long-distance loved ones, or get a head start on your holiday cards. If you have an extra spot at the small dinner table, consider inviting someone who would otherwise spend the holiday alone. An unexpected guest often makes for richer, more profound conversation, and treasured memories for years to come.