Keeping Thanksgiving Accessible

by Ariela Paulsen
Keeping Thanksgiving Accessible

The beauty of holiday traditions is that they give us a structure within which to celebrate.  We make the same foods, often with the same people.  We share what we are grateful for or swap gifts.  We have preset themes for decorating.  And, holidays are built to be inclusive, providing entertainment and connection for family members of all ages. 

Making holidays not only inclusive but accessible to all of your loved ones doesn’t have to take much extra work!  Check out our tips for an accessible Thanksgiving celebration:

1. COVID safe

Yes, part of accessibility this year involves making sure guests feel safe from COVID-19.  If you are vaccinated, relatively young, and healthy, you may no longer worry about getting sick in your day to day life.  But those who are older than 65, younger than 4 months, immunocompromised, or at high risk for any other reason, want to know that they will be safe before coming.  Remember that you may not know who falls into this category!  We know from last year that gathering for holidays is a main cause of COVID transmission.  We will be indoors and unmasked, in close quarters with people who have different levels of exposure and who may be traveling.  But there are steps we can take to reduce the risk!  

communicate — check in with guests ahead of time to find out their risk levels and concerns.  Consider asking that people play it safe the week beforehand, wearing masks when possible, not going into crowded public spaces like restaurants and bars.  Mostly, make sure everyone is heard and let them know what to expect so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not they feel safe attending in person.

vaccinate — COVID is far more infectious and dangerous for unvaccinated people.  It is ok to limit your party to vaccinated guests (and their young ineligible children).  Be clear to communicate well if you do, to make sure they know you are not excluding them because of who they are, but rather you are just taking precautions to keep everyone safe, and that you hope to see them for next year’s celebration.  If you do end up including unvaccinated guests, be sure to mention it to all other guests.  This is important for the informed consent mentioned above.  Again, you may not know who in your party is immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk.

keep it small — like last year, it may be a time to do a few smaller gatherings rather than bringing everyone together for one larger celebration.  If we keep the spread down this year, it may mean a safer holiday next year.  That said, it is still important to find warmth in one another, so it’s up to each of us to decide what size will still feel joyous.

get tested — we have the tools to screen for COVID, so you could get a PCR test a few days before (knowing a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t develop COVID a few days later unless you’ve been quarantining).  You could also ask everyone to take a rapid antigen test at home that morning; it has ~15% chance of false negative and 2% false positive, but it is a good way to screen larger groups of people!

keep sniffles at home — if anyone in your party does feel under the weather, stay home.  For vaccinated people, COVID can present just like a cold, even a mild one.  If you have any cold symptoms, or headache, fatigue, or loss of taste/smell, let your party know and ask if they would like you to stay home.  It will be sad, but better than bringing a potentially devastating illness to everyone you love.

Looking for a more thorough guide on staying safe this holiday season?  Click here.

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

2. food sensitivities

For this and every year, remember that your guests may have food sensitivities.  Send out a quick check in ahead of time to ask for food restrictions.  If no one has any, great!  If someone does, however, be sure to accommodate.  It is quite isolating to sit in a room full of people enjoying a meal when you can’t partake.  You don’t need to switch up your whole meal plan, but make sure that there is at least a portion of a main course, side, and dessert that they can enjoy.  If it’s easy to leave a sauce on the side, or keep some ingredients separated in a self-serve buffet style, that may also help.  Most important, though, is the communication, so that they can bring something for themselves if absolutely necessary.

Looking for tips?  Check out our holiday recipes here.

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

3. welcoming environment

Similarly, many people have needs in regards to the physical space.  You may need to let someone with mobility aids sit at the part of the table with extra room, or closer to the bathroom.  Strong scents are a common issue for people with migraines or chemical sensitivities.  Let the guests arrive and then ask the group if it’s ok before lighting scented candles.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

4. share the load

Finally, holidays should also be enjoyable by those hosting!  When planning a gathering, don’t be afraid to ask for others to pitch in.  Potlucks are a great option — you can make the main course and each person can sign up to bring a side or dessert.  This not only gives you a breather, but lets everyone feel involved.  If you go this route, remember to communicate with all cooks if you find out someone does have a dietary restriction.  You can also ask some guests to come early to help decorate, or enlist the kids in making creative decorations!


Even if it’s not perfect, any efforts you are able to make for accessibility will mean the world to the people who need it.  We wish you the warmest of holidays with those you love!

For more information, check out our guide to hosting loved ones with chronic illness here.

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