IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Try to find the silver linings': How families are preparing for virtual winter holidays

Why these families said ‘yes’ to a virtual Thanksgiving this year.
Dejah Johnson says she plans to do a lot of FaceTime and Zoom calls with friends and loved ones this holiday season.
Dejah Johnson says she plans to do a lot of FaceTime and Zoom calls with friends and loved ones this holiday season.

Last November, Dana Sapp-Lewis, a resident of Buffalo, New York, hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with international students from her alma mater, the University of Buffalo, at a local church along with family and friends.

She’s accepted that she won’t be able to continue that tradition this year and instead is opting to break bread and say grace virtually due to the pandemic.

As the total number of U.S. cases of COVID-19 increase and exceed 12 million, people like Sapp-Lewis are prepared to observe the winter holidays virtually for the first time.

“This is our first virtual Thanksgiving and God willing the last one, because it’s very impersonal. You know, you look for those times where you can sit and laugh and joke,” Sapp-Lewis, 52, told NBC News. “So, it’s just the camaraderie of being around each other that we’ll miss this year.”

Prioritizing the health and safety of loved ones is what mental health expert Dr. Benjamin F. Miller, chief strategy officer at the Well Being Trust in Chattanooga, Tennessee, also recommends.

“Now, we need to make sure that we are protecting those folks around us. And sometimes that means it’s going to be a little bit more difficult,” Miller said.

This comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not traveling over Thanksgiving during a "critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Courtesy Dana Sapp-Lewis

“It’s been challenging in more ways than one. I am in the medical field. I was deemed essential from the beginning,” Sapp-Lewis' daughter, Do’Monique Sapp-Clay, 28, said. “This will be our first Thanksgiving without our grandmother.”

Last May, her grandmother Doris Celest Delk, 82, passed away and her granddaughter said it was different that she and her family had limited time during funeral services while wearing masks and paying their respects.

Courtesy Do'Monique Sapp-Clay

“It’s been trying. I’ve just been trying to adapt every day as I go by,” Sapp-Clay said.

Adapting is also what helped Andrea Trudeau, 43, a middle school library information specialist from Chicago, Illinois, recover from an accident days after this photo was taken last year on Thanksgiving Day.

Courtesy Andrea Trudeau

“With physical therapy and diet modifications, and positive attitude and grit, I made it through and was able to recover in just over about half the time my doctors thought I would. So, by August, I made a full recovery,” Trudeau said.

“I think it taught me a lot and helped prepare me for this pandemic,” she explained. “I think when we’re faced with these kinds of challenges, like a pandemic, or a car accident, or whatever it is, you can see it as a challenge. But I think it’s important to try to find the silver linings.”

Thinking in that way also helped Dejah Johnson, a 22-year-old digital artist in Bloomfield, New Jersey, decide to observe Kwanzaa for the first time this year.

“Kwanzaa is really centered around self-determination and unity and togetherness and love and creativity and reflection, even at the end of the holiday,” Johnson said. “I plan on you know, FaceTiming, and Zooming different people, things like that to celebrate.”

Courtesy Dejah Johnson

The pandemic forced her to slow down which she credits with helping her put the current situation into perspective.

“It was COVID that showed me that the world had to stop for me to even see its place. Like everything is always just fast forwarded,” she said.

Despite the difficulties, being prepared to observe the holidays in a safe and healthy way helped bring these families perspective and reflection.

“We can still be close to the folks around us by connecting to them through alternative means whether that’s a phone call, a video or a letter,” Miller said. “But I hope that once we get through this year and we all buckle down as we have been, next year, we’ll be back to normal — at least for seeing each other at the holidays.”

For now, Trudeau, is prepared to celebrate with her family at home — and to master a family recipe.

“I know my mom and I plan to Zoom and she’s going to teach me how to make that cornbread stuffing,” Trudeau said. “And as I said to my mom, if I have to choose between a Thanksgiving meal, and the health and safety and lives of my family, there's just no decision here. I'm gonna obviously pick family.”