Ginger Floerchinger-Franks typically invites 10 people to her home in Boise, Idaho, for Thanksgiving dinner and cooks the entire meal herself, including her specialty, pumpkin soup.
But the pandemic forced her to devise a new plan: a socially distant potluck. Three households will each prepare a dish and Mrs. Floerchinger-Franks will shuttle between the trays. Then, they’ll gather on Zoom to savor each other’s food.
“It’s kind of an adventure,” she says.
The coronavirus pandemic has intensified across the country as Americans prepare to sit down to eat turkey and stuffing and make their opinions known to parents, siblings, cousins, children and perhaps to be a friend who has nowhere to go. But now public health officials are warning of the very rituals many families take for granted: trips out of state and large gatherings inside.
The virus and the precautions have shaken Thanksgiving in an unprecedented way. Families are scrambling to design vacation plans that do not endanger their health. Many are lining up at testing sites, hoping to test negative in time for Thursday’s meal. Some forgo Thanksgiving altogether.
But not everyone is as demanding as Ms Floerchinger-Franks, who happens to be a retired public health official. Frustrated after months of isolation, many ignore calls from public health experts and move on.
“We’re just going to eat like we normally would,” said Tamra Schalock of Redmond, Oregon, who is hosting a 13-person party. “We believe family is important, and we believe that people who don’t have families need a place to go.
See Thanksgiving as the last casualty of 2020, another tradition that has already united the country and been reduced to a stressful dividing line. Instead of arguments about politics or the Dallas Cowboys racing game, the argument is whether to come together.
Tyler Cohen, 52, of San Francisco, knows the debate well – and is exhausted by it. Ms Cohen’s 80-year-old father, who suffers from diabetes and is a cancer survivor, plans to celebrate in New Jersey with his wife’s extended family, despite all efforts to convince him otherwise. “I hate it, and I hate all fighting,” Ms. Cohen said. “I appreciate that maybe these are his last years on earth, and he doesn’t want to spend her hiding inside.”
For those trying to follow the rules, Thursday’s holiday meal will be improvised in multiple ways: large turkeys replaced by small chickens to accommodate smaller crowds. Chiefs for the first time apprehend absent family members. Dining room moved outside – or inside with the windows open. Promise to try again next year.
In Menlo Park, Calif., Nette Worthey typically hosts several dozen guests, but will celebrate this year with just her own family of three. She plans a less “turkey-centric” meal. In Camarillo, Calif., Richard Aronson is planning an online party. “We’ll all be listening to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, taking our laptops around the house to show off our Thanksgiving decorations,” he says.
Rebecca Hing, who lives in New York, would normally travel to Arizona, where most of her family live. There, his mother prepared Chilean sea bass, adding ginger, soybeans and wine, and various other dishes. “She would make these crazy Chinese banquet 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 walks her through the steps on the phone. “I try to do so many things that remind me of being home,” she says.
A military family in San Antonio rarely does the same thing twice anyway and had some great advice for the rest of the country: “Overall, we really adapt to where we are,” Kate said. Mansell, whose husband serves in the military.
Typically, Ms. Mansell says, they try to volunteer. This year they will stay at home and order a traditional meal at a local restaurant. Ms Mansell can’t wait to show her 2-year-old son, William, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – which in itself will be an improvised, television-only affair.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new Thanksgiving guidelines, imploring Americans to stay home. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the members of your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the agency’s community and critical population response working group.
The recommendation was not that different from the advice the agency had been giving for months on being careful with its contacts. And there are already indications that more families are planning to stay at home. The number of people who passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints fell 60% from the same day last year on Friday, TSA AAA estimates said road trips will drop by 4.3% this Thanksgiving Day.
But just days before the holiday trip began in earnest, the CDC’s statement not only drew the wrath of conservative commentators (“tyrannical government hype,” Christine Favocci wrote in The Western Journal), but also touched a nerf for many who consider Thanksgiving gathering as sacrosanct as any religious worship.
Sarah Caudillo Tolento, for her part, will attend a celebration with 10 to 15 people at her mother’s house in Salem, Ore.
Ms Caudillo Tolento, 32, said the recent death of her grandmother – whose last months were defined by isolation – pushed her to seize the opportunity to reunite with family. “I’m not afraid,” she said. “No one will stop me from being with my family.”
Anthony Peranio, 39, of Floral Park, New York, plans to celebrate at his mother’s “as always” house, with 15 to 20 people. “It is beyond the ridiculous what is asked of us as a society”, he declared.
Other families, eager to reunite after months of separation, have made a Compromise: Covid-19 is testing as a sort of safety net for the holidays.
Negative test results do not guarantee that holiday dinners will be virus-free – only that “you probably weren’t infected at the time your sample was collected,” according to the CDC. Still, some families made Covid-19 testing the price of entry to Thanksgiving this year.
Romeo Garcia III, who waited in a long queue for a test in Washington, DC on Thursday, will drive to see his family in Greenville, NC, and is expecting about a dozen people at the reunion, which will include a family prayer before dinner and football on television.
“I was a little upset that we got to the point where we have to take a test to go see the family,” he said, “but I guess that’s what we need to do.”
For many pending tests, the Thanksgiving choice was agonizing: risk getting sick, or staying apart from their families they hadn’t seen in nearly a year. Patricia Adelstein and her husband plan to travel from Washington to the Berkshires 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 danger. She and her husband will try to keep their distance from their daughter, although she is not sure if it will work out well. “She said she wanted to hug her mother,” Ms. Adelstein said.
“We will risk,” she added. “We need each other.”
A New Jersey couple, alone this year, have found a way to feel close to their family from afar. Qraig de Groot plans to introduce her boyfriend, Jamey Welch, to her beloved KFC travel tradition.
Mr de Groot’s family first turned to Colonel Sanders for their holiday meal decades ago when his mother was a nurse and his father worked in an electrical company which required him to work for Thanksgiving.
His mother loved him very much. Some 30 years after their first KFC Thanksgiving, Mr. de Groot recreated the meal in 2015 for his mother, Barbara, who had moved into a retirement community and was unable to travel for the holidays.
The chicken was reheated in the oven while the mashed potatoes and gravy bubbled up on the stove. The coleslaw was placed in a decorative bowl while the cookies were reheated in the same electric grill from the original event. It would be Mr. de Groot’s last Thanksgiving 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 believe 2020 is the perfect year for him to experience one of my most cherished childhood memories: reheated mashed potatoes, gravy, fried chicken and all.