Celebrating Thanksgiving virtually: How to do it and why


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Thanksgiving usually means families crowding in one house, sharing food and creating memories.

At least, that’s what Thanksgiving typically looks like for Jennifer Rutherford and Lisa King in Knoxville.

However, with the country in the middle of a pandemic and COVID-19 cases on the rise, their families will host the holiday virtually.

King’s family usually heads to her home in Knoxville every other year, this year being the year they were supposed to make the trip.

“This year of course is completely different,” King said.

King plans to have an open Zoom meeting with her family as they are cooking their dinner.

“The kitchen is the heart of my family. That’s where we hang out, that’s where we cook, that’s where we plan, that’s where we do everything,” King said.

People can pop in and pop out when they need to.

The kids can be kids, which means stealing the show for a few minutes before going off screen to do their own thing again.

She says the Zoom call will be like their family is gathering, but long distance.

King knows there’s no substitute for the in-person camaraderie. At her house, it would be being in a crowded kitchen with the dogs underfoot, passing the babies around, and everyone having their special recipe that they want to make.

So, she thought of ways to add that touch of the real deal.

“I was actually on the phone several times with my mom today because she wanted to make a cranberry sauce, she wanted to make the German red berry pudding that we make sometimes. And I was on the phone with my sister saying, ‘hand over the dilly bread recipe. Like, I want the dill bread,'” King said.

While it won’t be the same, King said the reason to stay physically distant is life-changing.

“My mom’s a three-time cancer survivor, my dad has diabetes and a heart condition, so you know, definitely thinking about protection,” King said.

King is immunocompromised as well.

She said she understands why other families aren’t changing their holiday plans, but she’s already lost family this year and can’t bear to lose anymore.

“Better to be safe. Better to be safe and do things this way and to take care of each other this way so that when it’s over, or at least when things settle down; when there’s a vaccine, when we can travel again, at least with a little more confidence that we’re not just bringing it with us; then it will be good,” King said.

As a grandmother, Rutherford was looking forward to Thanksgiving this year with her newly wedded son and her new granddaughter, along with the rest of her family.

She usually goes all out with her southern hospitality.

“There’d be a separate table for snacks, dessert; you know, we’d have shrimp, there’d be this, there’d be that. There’d be oysters. I mean, there just would be a smorgasbord,” Rutherford said.

Like King, Rutherford is keeping her family’s health and safety a priority during the pandemic.

“They’re very high risk and (my brother,) Michael’s a cancer survivor. And my husband’s a cancer survivor, so that’s not going to happen, but we’re going to do a Zoom. We’re going to do a dessert zoom,” Rutherford said.

Different from King, Rutherford will have some family inside her home.

She said her son’s family, who also live in Knoxville, are in the COVID-19 bubble with her and her husband.

They don’t mingle with anyone outside of their household, they work from home and use online grocery shopping to limit as much exposure to others as possible.

Rutherford even takes her shoes off for COVID-19 reasons at her son’s home.

“My daughter-in-law, my son and my granddaughter should be here because we’re in that bubble, so we’ll be on Zoom together,” Rutherford said.

Even though the holiday will be virtual, the rest of her family will be able to watch via Zoom as new memories are made with the youngest family member.

That’s what Rutherford is most excited for.

“When I see my granddaughter eat off her dad’s Winnie the Pooh plate, when she drinks out of the baby cup my sister got her, when for the first time she gets to pour gravy out of the little pitcher that my sister got her, when she gets to use a baby spoon that her father used,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said she has been in the ICU as a patient around Thanksgiving before. She knows how horrifying it can be to not know what’s going on and not have any of your loved ones there.

That’s why she’s hosting the virtual Thanksgiving.

“It’s Thanksgiving. It isn’t the end of the world. It’s Thanksgiving. You can have it Friday, you can have it Saturday, you can have it in March. It’s what you make of it,” Rutherford said.

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