Celebrating Thanksgiving during COVID-19

Written by Elise Freche, Graduate Student in Nutrition. Elise currently lives in Mountain View, but she is from La Baule, France. This is the first in a series of 3 Thanksgiving blogs by students in the Nutrition and Food Science program, where they will share Thanksgiving traditions and healthy recipes. ISSS is excited to collaborate with Professor Jamie Kubota and her students on this project!

How to celebrate Thanksgiving during Covid19

Thanksgiving is the time of the year to gather and celebrate together. But it is essential to keep Covid19 out of the table. The CDC’s recommendations for this Thanksgiving include avoiding travel and large gatherings to keep everyone safe. It might feel challenging to celebrate this holiday, especially if you are far from home. However, there are still many ways to celebrate Thanksgiving as an international student in the U.S.:

1- A meaningful video call dinner.

Thanksgiving can be an excellent opportunity to share a meaningful experience and feel closer. This year, you just have to organize it a little differently. 

Share the recipe

To keep the feeling of closeness, you can set up a shared recipe for all your virtual guests, that everybody can prepare ahead of time. This way, everyone can eat the same meal on Thanksgiving, and you can even do a contest of which dish looks the most beautiful! Here is a great recipe to share for Thanksgiving dinner. You can also find the recipe at the end of this post.

Prepare the ambiance

Ask everyone to get the same scented candles, or have them install decoration in the background so everyone can feel the Thanksgiving vibes. The video call will feel much more heartwarming and outstanding if everyone shows some Thanksgiving decorations.

Organize some activities in advance

There are a lot of great activities you can set up for Thanksgiving dinner. Sharing gratitude is the big one. You can make it special by sending letters to your loved ones and asking them to wait until Thanksgiving to open it. You can also prepare a “Thanksgiving gratitude bowl” and have everyone take turns reading why they are thankful. Do not hesitate to do some games, like a charade, or heads up. Here is a list of 10 games to play on zoom

Photo by Chris Montgomery

2- If you are still meeting in person this year

Plan it outside

It is safer to take the turkey meal outside this year! To fully enjoy the day, you can set up a thanksgiving brunch or lunch with your friends or family. Everyone can bring their own food and picnic in a park or better, in a backyard. Make it spacious so everyone can stay 6 feet apart! 

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Cook thanksgiving treats in boxes for the neighborhood and family.

For this special occasion, you can show how grateful you are by cooking for your neighbors and family. You can buy very cheap paper boxes and offer a slice of pie to people that matter. You do not know your neighbors yet? It is the perfect occasion to introduce yourself while giving them a little piece of thankfulness. 

Photo by Zahra Tavakoli fard

Follow safety rules

If you are hosting a thanksgiving party, do not forget the guidelines and keep your family and friends safe: wear a mask and wash your hand when you are cooking; you can prepare each plate individually, so people do not share the food at the table. 

Thanksgiving is a heartwarming celebration, and you can make it fun and festive while keeping your friends and family safe this year. Let’s use this time to show new ways to show our gratitude, and add meaningful novel activities to this traditional holiday.

Image created by Asa Gilland –Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives: help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Pumpkin Dump Cake Recipe 

Photo by Elise Freche

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 40 mins

Serving size: 1 slice

Recipe makes 8 servings


  • 2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 8 oz evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 box yellow cake mix (250g)
  • 1 stick of salted butter
  • Dash of salt, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon

Instructions :

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Butter a 9-inch pie dish.
  3. Mix the pumpkin, evaporated milk, brown sugar, eggs, spices, and salt. Spread the mixture in the buttered pie dish.
  4. Sprinkle the yellow cake mix on top, in an even layer
  5. Add butter in thin slices on top
  6. Bake the cake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top is golden brown
  7. Allow the cake to cool slightly; enjoy!

For more recipes and thanksgiving ideas, look out for our next blog post, and check out Instagram @SJSUinternational or @whisk_sjsu


Elise Freche

Graduate Student in Nutrition, SJSU

(Currently living in Mountain view, US; From La Baule, France)

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