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10 Ways Arab Americans Can Safely Celebrate Thanksgiving Amid COVID-19 Surge

posted on: Nov 25, 2020

Group of friends safely practice a ‘Friendsgiving’ meal.

By: Safa M. Qureshi/Arab America Contributing Writer

Arab Americans may have bigger gatherings than the average household; they love to have family and friends at home gatherings throughout the year, especially, during the holidays. Remember, their life revolves around social interaction. They show love by being close, joyful, and persistently inviting family for big dinners and piles of food! However, this year, they must modify their behavior since COVID-19 is very real, and disregarding it could be very harmful.  “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the CDC says. In this article, we will cover 10 things you can do this Thanksgiving to stay safe and to help prevent the surge of the post-holiday, Covid-19, spike.

1. Provide Guests with Masks for Social Distancing

The term ‘distancing’ is almost non-existent in the Arabic dictionary if you ask me. For many of us Arabs, we are so used to hugging and kissing when we greet someone, that social distancing is a great challenge for us. Unfortunately, this year we will need to form our own personal bubble and keep our distance. If you are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner or gathering, you should take the lead to ensure that your guests are safe. Make sure you have some extra, disposable masks so that you can provide your guests with one in case they forget theirs.

2. Number of People at Gathering

This is a tough one. Arabs love inviting the whole “fambam” when it comes to holidays like this. This Thanksgiving, you should avoid having more than 10 people at your house. You should stick to about five close family members who are masked. We all know how hospitable Arab people are. They like to show their love for family and friends through constant and persistent invitations. 

3. Social Distancing

Avoid talking in close proximity to each other. Arab people are known to be up close and personal. This habit has been developed throughout the Arab World for years. It is a kind gesture that indicates that not only is the person they are talking to loved and admired, but that they are being given full attention. 

4. Duration of Gathering

Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Perhaps, this Thanksgiving, the celebration should be cut down to two hours, rather than three, four, five hours, or even the full day. Because of the culture where there is this feeling of closeness to family and friends, Arabs spend many, fun, hours with each other; almost to the extent that they are glued together. During this holiday, the number of hours together should be reduced. 

5. Arriving at a Gathering

Do not carpool or give rides to each other. Even if you have a mask, avoid squeezing people in a car.

6. Greeting Family, Cousins, or Friends

Most Arabs hug and kiss when they are greeting their loved ones. This Thanksgiving, the CDC even warns against fist or elbow bumps. We recommend using the Arab/Muslim greeting- this is when you place your right hand on your heart with a tiny bend to the upper body. Some Muslim women have used this greeting for centuries to avoid physical contact with the opposite sex. This non-verbal form of communication has also been used by Arabs when a person they’re greeting isn’t in close proximity.

7. Avoid Multiple Trips to the Grocery Store

Try to avoid cooking items such as turkey, hummus, grape leaves, or kibbeh which will require more trips to the store. Your family and friends know how generous you are. If you prepared only one dish, 3adi (it’s OK). Everyone knows the circumstances we are living under. The most ideal way to serve food to avoid contamination is for guests to bring their own food. And perhaps, cut down on extras, especially sweets, because you can save trips to the grocery store and also reduce the risk of diabetes. It’s a win-win situation.

8. Dabke Dancing?

Although it’s in our blood to listen to Arabic music and dance, this year we have to be cognizant of the dangers related to contact dancing. Avoid dabke and any other couple/paired dancing.

9. Sharing and Serving Food

Don’t share your drinks, food, plates, serving utensils, etc. And please do not touch the food while serving others. If one person will be serving everyone, try to wear gloves just in case. We know how much Arabs love to make meals more personalized by sharing a drink or serving kousa (rolled cabbage), or other delicious foods by hand. But for now, we must be more cautious, especially when handling food.  

10. Helping Out Mama or Teta in the Kitchen

This is a popular one. Arab females always insist on helping the host in the kitchen, whether it’s with getting the dishes plated or cleaning after the meal. For now, perhaps we can stick with just one person in the kitchen at a time. It’s your lucky day, you just might get off the hook for cleaning up the after party.

So there you have it, 10 things you can do this Thanksgiving to stay safe and to help prevent the spike in Covid-19 cases. Although this Thanksgiving will be an unusual one, there will still be college football, the Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV … and of course, lots of good food. Happy Thanksgiving from your Arab America family- make sure to wear stretchy pants!

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