Rob Lowe on Family Traditions, His Thanksgiving Plans and Reuniting with The West Wing Cast

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Morgan Smith
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Thanksgiving, as for many families impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will look a little different for Rob Lowe and his clan this year.

“We always do the holidays in a big way,” he tells PEOPLE. “My wife Sheryl is a great planner of fun for everybody and there’s a gorgeous feast … but this year we will pare it way, way down, and everybody’s going to get tested for the virus.”

This will be the first year the Lowes don’t host their annual family Turkey Bowl football game, too, a tradition the actor says has been around since the 1970s. “We take it very seriously, one year we even had referees,” he says. “It’s gone from Ohio to California — wherever we’ve lived, we’ve always done it.”

Lowe racked his brain for other ways to make the holiday fun for his two sons, John Owen, 25 and Matthew Edward, 27. The trio recently teamed up with Ancestry for a fun video, exclusively debuted by PEOPLE, which sees the Lowe men using the family history company’s records to sift through their family tree — and even connect with a long-lost cousin, John Scott, over video chat.

Combing through family photos with John Owen and Matthew Edward (both of whom frequently make sweet appearances on Lowe’s Instagram) was “bittersweet, with an emphasis on the sweet,” Lowe says. “They teach me lessons every day, and they give me s--- every day, but it's a ton of love ... my greatest joy is definitely being a part of their lives.”

Ancestry From left: John Owen Lowe, Rob Lowe, Matthew Edward Lowe

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But how did Scott react when he found out he was related to one of the stars in Hollywood’s Brat Pack? “He was playing it very cool,” Lowe says. “I think he was aware that the cameras were rolling and played it as a family member as opposed to anything else!”

Ancestry is offering its users free access to personalized stories about their ancestors from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday using their StoryScout tool.

Lowe and his sons discovered that one of their first relatives to immigrate to the United States from Wales also happened to be named John Owen. “I knew Owen was a family name, and Sheryl and I also liked the name John, but we couldn’t agree on whether he should be named John or Owen, so we made it both, not knowing it was a family name!”

Faye Sadou/MediaPunch Rob Lowe and his sons

Another experience Lowe shares with his ancestors: his favorite dessert. Lowe’s grandfather, Robert, who is also his namesake, was a pie-maker — a tradition that Lowe honors each year on Thanksgiving. “I’m a big believer in pecan pie, but I’m also a pumpkin and apple guy … we really let the pie-making rip on Thanksgiving.”

Ahead of the holidays, Lowe has been busy shooting the new season of 9-1-1: Lone Star and recently reunited with The West Wing cast for a special episode urging people to vote ahead of the 2020 election.

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“It was surreal, and in getting ready to do it, it felt like it had been a thousand eons ago,” Lowe shares. “Then when the cameras rolled, and it was just Martin Sheen and I sitting down as Sam and President Bartlet, it felt like it was yesterday, and everybody was as good as I remembered them. It was like a great, classic rock band that hadn’t lost a step.”

Although the upcoming holiday will be missing a raucous family football game, Lowe says he’s using the quiet time to reflect on the other blessings in his life.

“Sometimes it takes something unpleasant to make us realize what's great in our lives,” he says. “That’s what this Thanksgiving is going to be about, at least for me and my family.”