Ginger Floerchinger-Franks usually takes 10 people out for Thanksgiving dinner in Boise, Idaho, and cooks the entire meal themselves, including their pumpkin soup.
But the pandemic has forced them to come up with a new plan: a socially distant potluck. Three households each prepare a dish and Ms. Floerchinger-Franks will transport the plates between their houses. Then they will gather on Zoom to enjoy each other’s food.
“It’s kind of an adventure,” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has spiked across the country just as Americans prepare to sit down to eat turkey and stuffing and share their views with parents, siblings, cousins, children, and maybe a friend who isn’t going anywhere else can. But now public health officials are warning of the rituals many families take for granted: out of state travel and large indoor gatherings.
The virus and precautionary measures changed Thanksgiving in unprecedented ways. Familys strive to develop vacation plans that will not endanger their health. Many are queuing at test locations and hope to get a negative result in time for dinner on Thursday. Some do without Thanksgiving entirely.
But not everyone is as demanding as Ms. Floerchinger-Franks, who happens to be a retired health officer. Frustrated after months of isolation, many ignore pleas from public health professionals and make progress.
“We’re just going to eat like we normally would,” said Tamra Schalock of Redmond, Ore., Who is throwing a 13-person party. “We believe family is important, and we believe people who don’t.” Family needs a place to go. “
Count Thanksgiving as the youngest sacrifice of 2020, another tradition that once united the country and been reduced to a stressful dividing line. Instead of arguments about politics or the Dallas Cowboys’ running game, the argument is about whether to get together at all.
Tyler Cohen, 52, from San Francisco, knows the debate well – and is tired of it. Ms. Cohen’s 80-year-old father, who has diabetes and survived cancer, plans, despite his best efforts to convince him, to celebrate in New Jersey with his wife’s extended family. “I hate it and I hate all fights,” said Ms. Cohen. “I appreciate that these could be his last years on earth, and he doesn’t want to spend it hiding in it.”
For those trying to obey the rules, Thursday’s Christmas dinner is improvised in a multitude of ways: large turkeys are replaced with small chickens to suit more humble crowds. First-time cooks concerned about looking for absent family members. The food was moved outside – or inside with the windows open. Promises to try again next year.
In Menlo Park, California, Nette Worthey typically receives several dozen guests, but this year will only be celebrating with her own family of three. She plans a less “turkey-centric” meal. In Camarillo, California, Richard Aronson is considering an online party. “We’re all going to hear ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, we’re going to run our laptops around the house to show off our Thanksgiving decorations,” he said.
Rebecca Hing, who lives in New York, usually travels to Arizona, where most of her family live. There, her mother made Chilean sea bass, adding ginger, soy, and wine, as well as various other dishes. “She would make these crazy Chinese banquet-style meals for 25 of us,” said Ms. Hing, 49.
This year Ms. Hing will be in her own kitchen recreating some dishes while her mother leads her down the stairs on the phone. “I try to do so many things that will remind me to be home,” she said.
A military family in San Antonio rarely does the same thing twice anyway, and had some sensible advice for the rest of the country: “Overall, we really just adapt to our location,” said Kate Mansell, whose husband serves in the army.
Usually, said Ms. Mansell, they try to volunteer. This year they stay home and order a traditional meal in a local restaurant. Ms. Mansell is excited to show her 2 year old son, William, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – which itself will be an impromptu affair for television only.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new Thanksgiving guidelines urging Americans to stay home. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with members of your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who heads the agency’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force.
The recommendation wasn’t all that different from the advice the agency had been giving for months to be careful with contacts. And there are already signs that more families are planning on staying home. On Friday, the number of people who passed the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints was down 60 percent from the same day of the week last year. The TSA AAA estimates that road traffic will drop 4.3 percent on this Thanksgiving Day.
Yet just days before the vacation trip would begin in earnest, the CDC statement not only drew the ire of conservative commentators (“tyrannical transgression,” wrote Christine Favocci in the Western Journal), but also touched many who consider Thanksgiving gathering as sacrosanct as any religious worship.
On the one hand, Sarah Caudillo Tolento will attend a celebration with 10 to 15 people in her mother’s house in Salem, Ore.
Ms. Caudillo Tolento, 32, said her grandmother’s recent death – whose final months have been marked by isolation – pushed her to take the opportunity to gather together as a family. “I’m not scared,” she said. “There is no one stopping me from being with my family.”
Anthony Peranio, 39, of Floral Park, NY, plans to celebrate “as always” with 15 to 20 people at his mother’s house. “It is more than ridiculous what is being asked of us as a society,” he said.
Other families anxious to reunite after months of separation have one Compromise: Covid-19 tests as a kind of holiday protection net.
Negative test results don’t guarantee that holiday dinners are virus-free – just that “you probably weren’t infected at the time the sample was taken,” according to the CDC. Still, some families did Covid-19 tests at the price of admission to Thanksgiving this year.
Romeo Garcia III, who was waiting in a long line for a test in Washington, DC on Thursday, will be driving to his family in Greenville, NC and expecting about a dozen people to attend the gathering, which will have a family prayer and supper will involve football on TV.
“I was a little upset that it got to a point where we have to take a test to go to the family,” he said, “but I think it’s what we have to do.”
For many who waited for tests, the Thanksgiving Day election was torturous: they might get sick or be separated from the family they hadn’t seen in almost a year. Patricia Adelstein and her husband plan to travel to the Berkshires from Washington to see their 30-year-old daughter.
The couple are concerned about the virus, said Ms. Adelstein, 64, but ultimately decided the trip was worth the risk. She and her husband will try to keep their distance from their daughter, although she isn’t sure how well that will work. “She said she would like to hug her mother,” said Ms. Adelstein.
“We’re going to risk it,” she added. “We need each other.”
A couple from New Jersey who were alone this year found a way to feel close to their family from afar. Qraig de Groot plans to introduce his friend Jamey Welch to his beloved tradition of a trip to KFC.
Mr. de Groot’s family first approached Colonel Sanders decades ago when his mother was a nurse and his father was working at an electrical company where he had to work on Thanksgiving.
His mother loved it very much. About 30 years after their original KFC harvest festival, Mr. de Groot recreated the food in 2015 for his mother Barbara, who had moved into an old age community and could not go on vacation.
The chicken was being heated in the oven as mashed potatoes and gravy bubbled on the stove. The coleslaw was placed in a decorative bowl while the biscuits were reheated in the same electric broiler used at the original event. It would be Mr. de Groot’s last harvest festival with his mother, who died the following year.
Mr de Groot, 49, said Mr Welch wanted a big family dinner with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. “But I think 2020 is the perfect year for him to relive one of my most precious childhood memories – reheated mashed potatoes, gravy, fried chicken and everything.”