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If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.

Thanksgiving is going to be different this year. People might be away from family, and it could be very hard for them. However, there are a number of ways you can make Thanksgiving special, even during a pandemic.

“There are many obvious challenges that come with Thanksgiving this year as we adapt in the face of COVID,” said Katharine Appleyard of Appleyard Counseling in Bangor. “I worry about isolation, feelings of hopelessness, and depression during these dark days. The holidays are challenging for many [of] us under normal circumstances, and we are dealing with exasperating circumstances this year.”

You can still bring a little joy and connectivity to a holiday that is all about family and togetherness, even while you safely keep your distance.

Check in on loved ones and neighbors

Talking with loved ones during the day is probably the best thing you can do. As with earlier in the pandemic, telephone calls and video chats through platforms like Zoom are the safest ways to do so at a social distance. For the holidays, though, you can spice up the conversation with fun backgrounds, or even a multimedia experience.

“While many of us are experiencing video conferencing fatigue, it may be helpful to engage with family and friends on these same platforms in a way that allows for being in one another’s company in ways beyond chit chat,” Appleyard said. “I’ve heard wonderfully creative ways of maintaining connection including making videos of pictures from past gatherings and creating an accompanying soundtrack, hiring a local yoga teacher to lead a private group session for you and your loved ones, playing games together over video [and] reading books aloud.”

Cooking over Zoom or another video chat platform is a great way to bond with your family at a distance.

“My daughter loves cooking [with my mother] when she’s on FaceTime,” said Stephanie Enjaian, culinary arts department chair at Kennebec Valley Community College. “It can be an opportunity for people to create new memories.”

Appleyard said that even checking in on neighbors can be good for you.

“We are in it together, and the more we can remember our common humanity, reach out to those we feel [worried] about, and care for our most vulnerable, the better we will be,” Appleyard said. “Resilience comes from learning that we can survive difficult circumstances and we can help keep that faith for one another this winter.”

Make classic dishes, or try something new in the kitchen

Making classic family dishes can make you feel more in touch with your family when they are not there.

“Half of what food is to us is memory,” Enjaian said. “There’s so much psychology there. Simply making a dish that only your grandma makes can bring grandma into your house. Having that dish there, but also learning her style can be empowering.”

On the flip side, with less opportunity to go wrong and make something that nobody wants to eat, take the opportunity to approach a cooking challenge.

“Perhaps if you’ve only ever roasted a grocery store turkey, you might try brining it first,” said Jay Demers, department chair of culinary arts and restaurant food service management at Eastern Maine Community College. “Maybe fry it or smoke it instead if you are feeling you want to up your game.”

Perhaps try to make homemade versions of your favorite boxed or canned classics, like stuffing, gravy or cranberry sauce. Or, attempt a twist on the classic desserts.

“For a lot of people, it’s not Thanksgiving if there’s not a pumpkin pie,” said Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine. “I would encourage people to think beyond the pumpkin a little bit. Use butternut squash or [another type of] squash.”

Figure out something you really love to prepare or eat and tackle a new, challenging version.

“If I’m going to play, I usually make a fancier bread,” Enjaian said. “That really relaxes me. I think people can get as creative as they want.”

Leave or send a care package

One way to reach out to your neighbors or local family members is to share food in a contactless way, which is safe to do.

“If [your family or friends] are local, bring them a plate of food or some of your leftover desserts,” Demers said. “Maybe put together a little care package of sweets and treats and leave it on their doorstep or mail it to those not geographically close to you.”

This is also a great way to use any leftovers you might have.

“Even if you cook enough food for 10 people, package up some nice containers, maybe drop off a Thanksgiving dinner for a lonely neighbor,” Dumas said. “There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to folks that might not have anyone and might not be comfortable enough to eat with others and send them leftovers.”

Give back

This has been a hard year for a lot of people. If you are able, giving back will make you feel good and will also legitimately help someone out.

“Do something that makes you feel good,” Dumas said. “When you go to Hannaford, buy one of those $10 donation boxes and give that to someone else. Do something to share your good fortune with others.”

Not only will giving back help make that person’s Thanksgiving a little brighter, Appleyard said that science shows giving back also makes us feel happier and is good for our health.

“We benefit both from taking care of ourselves and our families as well as by taking care of our neighbors and lesser-known strangers,” Appleyard said. “[Make] a donation or [volunteer] to ensure that others also have food on the table, compassionate care and a warm place to sleep.”

Just because this year’s Thanksgiving may look a little different than in years past doesn’t mean it can’t be special or meaningful in its own right.