After a record-setting election and record-setting unemployment claims, within a frightening pandemic and between strict diets of misinformation and disinformation, America is ready to have a great meal with loved ones, put our feet up and breathe … on each other.
Half of the states have travel restrictions of some kind. Nearly 4 out of 5 epidemiologists surveyed are having Thanksgiving at home with just their household or not at all. The C.D.C. is nearly begging people to stay home over the holidays in expectations of an even greater explosion in the spread of coronavirus. But, this Thanksgiving, Americans are still absolutely gonna America anyway. Here’s some ways we’re solving — or failing to solve — the ethical, political, emotional and viral puzzles of 2020.
Kara Schweitzer, 43, is the only sister of six brothers, all of whom live in or around Sioux Falls. That state had, as of mid-November, the highest Covid-19 hospitalization rate in the United States. Still, Ms. Schweitzer said, several of her siblings had been planning on keeping with tradition for Thanksgiving: a big meal, with about 35 people, hosted at a single house.
“Being the only daughter, often a lot of these decisions get put on me,” Ms. Schweitzer said. But this year, someone else kicked off the planning. A couple weeks ago, her oldest brother, a family practice doctor, sent a group text to the family, saying he and his wife would be hosting this year. They asked what dishes everyone would be bringing.
“He thinks he and his family all already had it and it wasn’t a big deal,” Ms. Schweitzer said.
A disagreement centered on their parents, who are in their 70s.
“If something happened to my dad, then we would all be responsible for caring for my mom, and vice versa,” she said. “And my brother’s attitude is, ‘If they’re going to get it, they’re going to get it.’”
As Thanksgiving grew nearer, dissent rose. Their youngest brother opted out. Their father, a Vietnam veteran who can’t tolerate President Trump, said he wasn’t sure if he was comfortable gathering, either. In the end, family dinner has been scrapped.
Before it was decided, though, some of her siblings had argued that 2020 could represent the last time the whole family could gather for the holidays, given their parents’ ages. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I really don’t want to push that along,’” Ms. Schweitzer said. — JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH
Henry Lyons, a 24-year-old artist manager in Los Angeles, will be figuring out his Thanksgiving agenda the night before.
Mr. Lyons is currently with Wallice, one of his artists, at a house in Cedar City, Utah, where a four-person team is working on her first EP. They’ll be returning to Los Angeles the day before Thanksgiving. Then, he plans to get a rapid test and let the results determine where he spends the holiday.
“If the rapid test comes back negative, then I’ll drive straight from the urgent care to my parents’ house in San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and my younger brothers,” Mr. Lyons said.
“If the test comes back positive, then I don’t have a plan,” he said. “I’m probably going to get in the car and call my mom while I drive back to my apartment and basically say, ‘I’m so sorry, but I can’t come.’”
Partly, he said, this plan helps him avoid thinking about the prospect of spending the holiday alone. It’s also an attempt to not stress out the family.
“I haven’t told my mom that I might not be able to come because I don’t even want to put it on her mind,” he said. “I don’t want to add any stress or anxiety to her life unless I have to.”
Mr. Lyons is optimistic that things will work out for the better and the family will come together. He said that because he and his three brothers are often spread out across the country, Thanksgiving is always a special opportunity for them to get together.
“I care a little bit more this year even than I normally would,” Mr. Lyons said, “because I really want one of the silver linings of this year to be how much time I spent with my family.” — JULIA CARMEL
This will be Jamie Buffone’s second Thanksgiving in a hospital.
Ms. Buffone, 24, is a traveling nurse and will be spending the night taking care of patients, including those fighting Covid-19, at the Kona Community Hospital in Kealakekua.
“Everyone is super on edge here. It’s such a small place,” Ms. Buffone said. “Everyone is super-cautious, because if something did go really wrong, they don’t have the resources here that they do in New York or Boston.”
Fear and worry douses virtually everything this year touches. But Ms. Buffone and other staff members have a plan: to bring in a potluck to share with one another, including traditional Thanksgiving dishes, Hawaiian cuisine and fruit from some of their own farms.
“One way you show that you care here is to bring in food,” Ms. Buffone said.
While she and her colleagues have taken steps to make the day feel special, she knows it’ll feel different than holidays past. For one thing, because of restrictions on visitation at the hospital, not only will staff be away from family, but also each patient will have to spend the day apart from their families and loved ones.
“In Hawaii, they say everyone is your ohana. Everyone is your family,” Ms. Buffone said. “It’s a special part of the job to be with people who can’t see their family, to be there for them and the people you’re working with.” — DANYA ISSAWI
When you’re a social media influencer, Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday — it’s a content opportunity.
For Dominic Andre, 27, and his girlfriend Mary Noura, 22, both influencers in Los Angeles, that made for an extra consideration going into an already logistically complicated holiday. Though both of their sets of parents live nearby, Mr. Andre’s are far more cautious about coronavirus restrictions and weren’t comfortable with the couple hopping from one feast to another.
To keep everyone safe and happy, they decided to spend the holiday with Mr. Andre’s family. (And, they provide better content opportunities.)
“It would be much more beneficial for me when it comes to my business and making content to spend Thanksgiving with Dom’s family,” Ms. Noura said. “A lot of my followers typically look forward to videos of Dom’s mom. All the past videos I’ve made with her have gone viral.”
Mr. Andre doesn’t often post about his personal life to his more than six million TikTok followers, but he’s begun preparing his audience on Instagram for what they may see next Thursday, letting them know the precautions the couple has taken ahead of the holiday.
“I’ve communicated through Instagram Stories that I’ve been quarantining for two weeks,” he said. “I’m laying the groundwork so that they know I am quarantining and I am going to see my family. I’m telling them now so they can understand the context. A lot of people jump the gun on getting upset when they don’t really know the back story.”
Ms. Noura is planning to film Thanksgiving pranks and cooking videos with Mr. Andre’s mother on Thursday. She’ll pepper her posts with reminders about the steps she and her boyfriend took to celebrate the holiday safely.
“I’m going to push that a little bit more on my Instagram,” Ms. Noura said, “and post about how it’s important to quarantine before spending holidays with your family.” — TAYLOR LORENZ
This Thanksgiving, Nicole Monique Beede, 27, is sleeping on an air mattress in a friend’s apartment in Worcester. But come December, she’ll need to find somewhere else to go. “I’m pretty much pretending Thanksgiving isn’t happening,” she said.
Her mother died suddenly of lymphoma when Ms. Beede was 17. She went on to study child psychology at Northeastern University, then worked as a victim’s advocate in Rhode Island. But it all felt ephemeral until this spring, when she drove to Los Angeles and found a like-minded community, and began pursuing training as a death doula. In the fervor of the Black Lives Matter movement, support from strangers poured in on Venmo, carrying her onward.
“I’ve already found a community of Black health healers here,” she said in June, “and that’s where I want to be.”
But the stress of protests, the pandemic and lingering effects of transracial adoption and her mother’s death came to a head on the West Coast. She said she was hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder, contracted Covid-19, lost her ID.
Now back East, she feels adrift. A lack of a steady mailing address complicates applying for disability and receiving unemployment; the pandemic complicates things further.
“I don’t feel like I have the right to ask my friend what she’s doing for Thanksgiving,” she said. “I feel like an embarrassed burden to the people that check in on me.”
“I really need a mom or a family right now. And that just doesn’t exist.” — ALEXANDRA MARVAR
Not long ago, three friends in Austin, Texas — Gabby Phi, Jackie Fu, both 26, and Michelle Kao, 27 — got together and purged their closets, inviting friends over for the clean-out sale.
It went so well that they turned it into a recurring series, roping in people outside their immediate social circles. Any gathering requires food, so they began to expand beyond clothes, turning their attention to food-centric pop-ups under the name Gan Bei Gals. For Lunar New Year, in late January of this year, they hosted family-style hot pot dinners, a style of eating that the group says is otherwise hard to find in Austin.
Since the pandemic, they’ve collaborated to host Instagram tutorials for how to make asam laksa and fresh homemade paneer and participated in a contactless pickup pop-up Asian-centric market in August, selling dishes like Chinese Five Spice wings and boba cocktails.
The collective has found that moving their work online still maintains the same sense of community they want to cultivate. It may even expand their reach.
For Thanksgiving week, Ms. Phi will lead a virtual Friendsgiving cooking class and brunch. Participants will get lists of ingredients to purchase or pick up locally; she’ll be teaching how to make crispy banh xeo, Vietnamese-style stuffed crepes.
“While we do love hosting events and seeing people in real life, people are dying every day and we definitely don’t want to worsen that number,” she said.
In her family’s household, she said, “traditional” American Thanksgiving foods are joined by egg rolls, fried rice, shredded chicken salad dressed in fish sauce, chicken wings and curry or stew. “My family usually does a really big gathering in Houston every year,” Ms. Phi said. “We call it Vietsgiving.”
This year she still plans to drive home, but that event too will be limited to her immediate loved ones. — EMMA ORLOW
Frederick Briggs Sr., 79, and his wife, Peggy, moved to Florida in 2012. They live in the Villages, America’s largest retirement community, which made headlines during the presidential election.
For Mr. Briggs, it’s an oasis. They live in a “three-bedroom, two-bath villa.” He is very active in the community, and for five years he was the president of the homeowners advocates. They have five children, seven grandchildren (another on the way) and four great-grandchildren, who live out of state. Mr. Briggs loves to golf and this place is a golfer’s dream. The weather is “gorgeous,” he said.
In his childhood, Thanksgiving was a main event. “I grew up on a farm, up in northern Pennsylvania. Everybody came there for Thanksgiving. It was a time where we all went to church, we always had a big turkey,” Mr. Briggs said. “As my mother used to say, ‘Don’t make any plans, this is family time.’ That’s what it was. It was wonderful.”
The Briggses carried on the tradition until, of course, this year. “We’ve told them all to stay at home,” he said. “When you get to be our age, you’re concerned about Covid and so you take precautions.”
“My wife and I actually ordered our Thanksgiving dinner and I’m going to go pick it up at a place called the Fresh Market — curbside.” But they’ll still see the kids. “I’m sure we’ll be FaceTiming with all of the children,” he said. “It’ll still be family, but it’ll be arm’s-length family.” — LINDSEY UNDERWOOD
At first, the cranberries confounded Sharada Kumar.
It was her first encounter with the tart fruit and her initial attempt at Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired by her upbringing in Mumbai, Ms. Kumar, 77, made a savory cranberry chutney. Turkey, corn pudding and pumpkin pie were replaced with masala dosa, corn vadas and pumpkin halwa to suit her Hindu vegetarian family.
“Our parents felt a need to both preserve our culture, but also make us see how we fit in,” said her daughter, Dr. Vidya Ramanathan.
That family dinner in 1980 gradually mushroomed into a Thanksgiving blowout held at Chinmaya Mission Ann Arbor, a local chapter of an international Hindu organization. But, amid the pandemic, this event, which draws more than 1,000 people, would be considered a potential super-spreader event.
Michigan recently ordered new restrictions to curb the steep surge of Covid-19 cases. Dr. Ramanathan, 44, a practicing pediatric emergency room physician, said her mother had already planned to host the festivities on Zoom. “As a health care worker, I have a real front seat to the suffering,” Dr. Ramanathan said.
The usual activities are still scheduled, virtually: dosa making, Shanti Mantras recitations and competitive rounds of Antakshari, the song game. Last week, Ms. Kumar led a two-day Diwali celebration attended by more than 500 families, all online.
“They were telling my mom, ‘Auntie, it was like you were doing the celebration in our own home,’” Dr. Ramanathan said. — PATRICE PECK
Jeramy Neugin, 44, is a magician in Lost City, a community of around 800 people in Cherokee County.
Until recently, he and his father, Bobby Neugin, 69, performed together under the name Lost City Magic. Their show involved retelling Cherokee myths, including “bringing a swarm of live wasps from a handful of dirt, pulling live snakes from drawings, using a preserved finger of a Bigfoot to bend coins and trapping demons in Dreamcatchers,” the younger Mr. Neugin wrote in a Twitter direct message. (Lost City does not have phone reception.) The elder Mr. Neugin retired from performing after suffering from a stroke but he still helps his son, who recently moved in to help care for him, develop routines.
Thanksgiving has always been important to the Neugins. “We generally celebrate Thanksgiving with family, same as everyone else, but will be isolating this year,” Jeramy wrote. “For my memories of my grandfather telling me, we celebrated on that day because the Civil War had ended, it meant that family members who had fought on both sides tried to reconcile on that day, not the traditional celebration of a pilgrimage landing.”
When he was growing up, his family would serve venison as their main dish. “Because the turkey wasn’t served at the first Thanksgiving,” he wrote. “If it was, it was a side dish. The main meal was venison meat.”
This year, the Neugins are planning on a meal of buffalo meat, home gardened potatoes and wild mushrooms.
Venison won’t be on the menu. “We began to use our spot of land as a no hunting area, a place they can run to from hunters, poachers,” Jeramy wrote. “We’ve always felt the need to watch over them and have been setting up feed and water stations for them, stray cats, even some rabbits that have settled. Now we’re too emotionally attached to think of them in that way.” — EZRA MARCUS
For Bronwen Wyatt in New Orleans, this Thanksgiving is strange because she’s starting a cake business while feeling ethically conflicted about selling cakes.
Two months ago, in furloughed unemployment purgatory, she decided to strike out on her own, peddling desserts out of her shotgun house in Tremé under the banner Bayou Saint Cake.
But business is no cakewalk: Supply chains are in shambles, so planning ahead is critical; overhead is steep; and specialty ingredients are all the harder to come by. (Her favorite fresh-milled flour vendor folded their milling operation; her muscadine dealer has disappeared into quarantine.) And, as Americans are increasingly — and enthusiastically — baking at home, professionals are seeing decreased dessert demand at a time when they need cash flow most.
Ms. Wyatt, 36, came out strong with a special Thanksgiving menu with items like classic Southern spoon bread and chicory ice cream pie. “You’re staring at the numbers, hoping they make everything possible,” she said. So far, they’re “OK but not great” — and people who do buy are asking questions like, “Will this last 12 hours in a car?”
“Honestly, I don’t think people should be traveling,” she said. “I’m not. And it’s been a long argument with my extended family and my parents. Still, I’m trying to optimistically sell desserts I know are being taken to large gatherings. That definitely makes me uncomfortable.” But at the end of the day, the baker can’t tell people how to eat their cake. — ALEXANDRA MARVAR
“My family ritual for Thanksgiving involves an early dinner and then going to the stores that are open to just walk around and buy some stuff,” Shelby Covington, 25, said. It isn’t about being first in line or chasing specific deals, but rather experiencing a moment of stillness before the Friday storm.
This year, though, Mx. Covington, a recent college graduate in Portland, is thinking about working. They started driving for DoorDash at the beginning of the pandemic, in addition to an office administrator job, and they’re anticipating deliveries.
Thanksgiving has a reputation as a dud day among DoorDashers. “Last 2 years I was on the schedule for 10 hours on Thanksgiving … NOT ONE ORDER…,” wrote a driver on a DoorDash subreddit. “The day before and after is busy,” another longtime driver wrote. “The day of is dead and should be.”
Mx. Covington expects this year to be different. “It seems like people will be getting food delivered for dinner and possibly through the night,” they said. Maybe retail workers preparing for Black Friday will get deliveries. Lots of people will be alone, or in smaller groups, and might not want to cook a whole Thanksgiving meal, or to cook at all. A statewide “freeze” affecting nonessential businesses went into effect in Oregon on Wednesday and will extend through Thanksgiving, limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery.
There will be no stores to wander on Friday, so Mx. Covington may as well keep an eye on DoorDash. “I signed up to supplement my family’s income due to a lost job and a pay cut,” they said. “When I first signed up, they sent me a masks and hand sanitizer, and had clear guidelines to keep yourself and others safe. It’s stressful to think about how many people you come into contact with, but it is usually brief.”
When restaurants reopened during the summer, Mx. Covington, who is immunocompromised, avoided orders from establishments that reopened for indoor dining. “I truly didn’t believe in bringing more germs into that situation, or getting sick,” they said.
Mx. Covington shared some advice for anyone thinking of ordering delivery on Thanksgiving.
“If you want your order delivered on time and hot, tip well and give clear instructions on how to get food to you,” they said. “Otherwise your order will keep getting rejected by drivers wanting to make a living wage.” — JOHN HERRMAN
Alberto Polanco, 42, hopes his son, Luis Fernando, 18, is able to make it to Atlanta from Honduras in time for Thanksgiving. But with virus cases surging, destruction from two major hurricanes and a looming travel restriction, there’s a lot to worry about.
Within two weeks, two Category 4 hurricanes have hit Honduras — Eta on Nov. 3 and Iota on Nov. 17. Mr. Polanco grew up in Siguatepeque, where Mr. Fernando lives with his mother and extended family. The town sits at a higher elevation in central Honduras, so it has been spared flooding and mudslides.
“They’ve been without power for two days now. Bridges are closed so you can’t go to the other side of town where the grocery stores are,” Mr. Polanco said. “Hopefully in a few days bridges will open again so they can get to the store.”
Most of the country hasn’t been so lucky. Levies were already broken and soil was already saturated. Evacuees returning to their already-flooded homes were forced to turn around. Almost every major road is closed for mudslides, and all the bridges are out.
“The main airport was flooded with the first hurricane and then flooded again last night,” said Mr. Polanco.
Assuming Mr. Fernando can get to an airport, there are still other obstacles.
“He has a green card, so he has to be here before Nov. 30, due to travel restrictions,” Mr. Polanco said. “If he tries to come after, he likely won’t be allowed in.”
Mr. Polanco has lived in the United States for 10 years and gained citizenship five years ago. In the past, he’s spent Thanksgiving with friends, but that won’t be happening this year.
“I wish I could take him to visit my friends and their families, but we’ll probably just get something for the two of us and do some shopping for him,” Mr. Polanco said. — SHEENA ROETMAN
“Every year in residency scheduling, we request a holiday off,” said Dr. Alice Shanklin, 28, a pediatric resident at a hospital in Washington, D.C. “This year we were excited to get Thanksgiving.”
At first, she and her fiancé felt good about their chances of spending the holiday with family. “We were optimistic when Covid rates started going down on the East Coast this summer,” she said. “We were thinking we might get tested prior and go home, or try and distance really well and go home.”
But as rates started to climb in recent weeks, the holiday gathering was off — least for them.
Because her three siblings all work from home and are able to quarantine at home before Thanksgiving, they will still gather at their parents’ home on Long Island.
But Dr. Shanklin will not be there, because of the Covid risks of her profession. During a family phone call about the risks and benefits of joining the festivities, both sides agreed that the risks outweighed the rewards.
The sacrifice that so many health care workers made in 2020 now extends to the holidays.
On the plus side, Dr. Shanklin and her fiancé, Dr. Sunny Sandhu, 29, a primary care pediatrician, have a prized holiday off with no social commitments.
“I don’t know what we’ll do,” she said. “We probably should have bought a turkey by now. Maybe we’ll just make curry.” — ALEX WILLIAMS
“My family is just ignoring all recommendations and moving forward with their holiday plans,” said Cullan Bonilla, 25. “I’m in the really frustrating position of trying to explain it to them. And I’m being met with the response, ‘If you’re uncomfortable, you don’t have to come.’”
Mx. Bonilla, a software developer who lives in Philadelphia and takes nongendered pronouns, usually spends Thanksgiving with their father’s family, including their 89-year-old grandfather, a barber who still regularly goes to work (and, occasionally, goes out for karaoke).
He had open-heart surgery last year, they said. Also, their father is diabetic and their aunt, an expected guest, has Parkinson’s disease. That side of the family lives in Elkton in northern Maryland, in a county where, as of mid-November, there were more than 1,500 reported positive tests for coronavirus.
In a tense phone call with their father last week, Mx. Bonilla said, they paced the room, trying to find the combination of reason and emotion that might persuade him to change his mind.
“He’s been safe so far,” they said. “That’s his attitude. Nothing has happened yet so he must be invincible. I tried bringing him data. But he is someone who has had his brain rotted out of his head by Fox News, and he said, sure, look, deaths are going down.”
Mx. Bonilla has not seen their family since January and said that they feel guilty, “even though I know in the rational part of my brain that I’m doing the right thing.”
But they feel that they have no hope of convincing their father.
“All I can feel is this impending sense of doom and dread because there’s nothing I can do to change my family’s mind about what they’re doing,” they said. — JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH
Back in April, when the pandemic was still new, Natalie Geisel was on her phone, swiping through the country.
Though the 22-year-old was quarantined at her parents’ home in a suburb of Atlanta, her Tinder location was set to New York City. Soon enough, she matched with Eliana Kaplowitz, 23, who was also not in New York City. The two soon became “internet girlfriends.”
“It just got really, really intense because we were both at home with our families so it was a very nice thing to guide our sad quarantines,” Ms. Geisel said. “After like two-and-a-half months — so in June — we were like, ‘we should meet in person,’ and I was like, ‘I would fly to you.’ So I decided to book a flight to Michigan,” which is where Ms. Kaplowitz was.
After their four-day-long first date, Ms. Geisel returned to Georgia, but just for a moment.
“I went back two weeks later and met her entire family,” Ms. Geisel said. “In June I met her and then in July, I met her entire family, like, grandma included. Uncles, aunts, cousins — it was so funny.”
Ms. Geisel soon moved to Washington, D.C., and Ms. Kaplowitz moved to Providence, R.I. Their whirlwind seven months of dating will escalate with Ms. Kaplowitz’s family once more, as the couple heads home for Thanksgiving.
“We schemed a plan for me to go and stay with her in Providence, quarantine there for a week, and then drive from Providence to Michigan with her little brother who lives in Connecticut,” Ms. Geisel said. “Then I think we’re staying in a separate house than them? But by Thanksgiving Day we’re going to be able to see them inside.”
“I’m not worried about it,” she said. “I’m actually more excited about it than worried about it, which is kind of weird to say.” — JULIA CARMEL
About three hours south of where America’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 was found, Jamison Green, 72, is quarantining with his wife and adult son in their home in Vancouver, Wash. The three of them will spend Thanksgiving the way many families will this year: their little pod gathered around a turkey dinner.
Missing from that pod is Mr. Green’s daughter. She lives only a dozen miles away, but she is on a medication that compromises her immune system, and Mr. Green has asthma, so any type of travel was out of the question. She moved to the area at the beginning of the pandemic, and their only in-person contacts have been the occasional outdoor visit.
“When she and her husband moved up here, the pandemic was already going full-board and restrictions were already in place. We hoped we’d all get together — we just like to get together,” Mr. Green said. “I have a weekly phone call with her as if she were on the other side of the world, and she’s just 12 miles door to door.”
It’s because of the pandemic that Mr. Green, an author and transgender rights activist, will spend Thanksgiving with his son: About six months ago, his son came to stay in Vancouver after struggling to work from his Los Angeles home.
“I’m very happy to have him around, he’s becoming a very nice young adult man,” Mr. Green said, pausing before letting out a laugh. “As opposed to an overgrown teenager.” — TIM HERRERA
For the past several Thanksgivings, Maria Counts, 33, a public relations associate in Millsboro, has packed a turkey dinner and driven 45 minutes to deliver it to her father, Clement Counts, at a nursing home in Salisbury, Md.
She always brought leftovers, since her father, a former biology professor and a food connoisseur, has little affection for the nursing home’s cooking.
“Food was one of the great pleasures in his life,” Ms. Counts said. “He loved going out to restaurants.”
That obsession did not end when he had a stroke and found himself confined to a home. He ordered from local restaurants “and I receive daily requests for cheese and fettuccine alfredo,” Ms. Counts said. “In short, the man lives for food.”
The pandemic, however, has limited family visits — and food deliveries. At first, she could chat with her father through a glass door, using a cordless telephone. But after nursing home employees started testing positive, those visits ceased.
So Ms. Counts searched for a workaround. Could the nursing home make a one-day exception for a home-cooked meal? Could she cater a dinner for her father’s entire floor?
But at a time of spiking infection rates, the home would not be relaxing its safety precautions. “This particular group is so vulnerable,” she said. “But, I also want to give him something to look forward to, something to enjoy, even if it’s just one meal.”
She hasn’t totally given up. “I’ll likely just drive there, park in the parking lot, and call him to tell him I love him,” she said. “It’s probably the closest thing to our normal for the holiday.” — ALEX WILLIAMS
Adrienne Michelson, 25, a data analyst, knows that the survival rate for her cancer, within her age range, is 90 to 92 percent over five years, she said. She has Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What is unknown is that rate in a pandemic, when hospitals are overwhelmed and immunocompromised people are more likely to become severely sick from Covid-19.
Which is why Ms. Michelson will spend Thanksgiving home alone in Nevada, eating vegan takeout while Zooming with family, instead of visiting her parents in Texas.
”My survivability is incredibly high — I’m doing everything possible to make sure it stays that way,” said Ms. Michelson, who has remained positive in the seven weeks since the disease was diagnosed.
For most of 2020, Ms. Michelson believed her persistent cough was regional allergies; she’d tested negative for Covid-19. But while on a Labor Day weekend hike, her body began swelling up significantly.
After the diagnosis, her parents stayed with her for a week, helping Ms. Michelson prepare for chemotherapy. But when they began talking Thanksgiving plans, Ms. Michelson fell back on the data. As of Nov. 17, Nevada’s average daily cases had increased by 86 percent from two weeks earlier.
“Based on the numbers, no thanks,” Ms. Michelson said. She worried about elevating the risk for her parents, too, who are in their 60s. Her father, an emergency medicine physician, is handling a dangerous Covid-19 wave in El Paso. (Currently, nearly 1,500 cases are reported in the county each day, the highest daily average in all of Texas.)
Still, they’re her parents, living 800 miles away from their daughter while she manages nausea, hot flashes and bone pain.
“They definitely fought me on it,” she said. “But if they got sick from coming to see me, I don’t think I could live with myself.” — JESSICA TESTA
Kendra Valentine has grown used to spending her favorite holiday away from home, but the first few Thanksgivings outside the United States were difficult. “One year I was eating ramen on Thanksgiving. I don’t really eat ramen,” said Ms. Valentine, a 35-year-old business consultant in Berlin. “I was extra sad.”
Now, after 10 years of living abroad, she’s established her own tradition: hosting friends and putting out a full spread, with collard greens, pecan pie, cornbread stuffing, turkey and gravy. And when she’s able to, she makes the trip back to Boston to celebrate with her family.
This time around, she’s staying put. “It feels very different this year when the reason why you can’t go home is because there’s danger or you could put your family at risk,” Ms. Valentine said. “There’s a pandemic. It’s a very different feeling to ‘I really can’t afford to go home this year because I decided to travel to the islands last month for vacation.’”
Her German Friendsgiving will also look different this year, with fewer guests invited. The country is currently under a “light lockdown,” and in Berlin, the rules state that a maximum of two households are allowed to meet at a time. (If she breaks the rules, Ms. Valentine said, there is a risk that someone could report her to the police.)
or people living alone, that could mean a two-person Thanksgiving. But for those with big families, it could mean dinner for 10. “I talked to some people who were feeling off about that,” Ms. Valentine said. After all, many of them, Ms. Valentine included, have not seen relatives and friends in America for over a year.
Ms. Valentine hopes to fly back to the East Coast next month, in time for Christmas. Given flight cancellations and the rise of infection rates, she is preparing for an extended stay. “I am taking my dog, my computer and basically setting things up in a way that if I need to stay longer, I can,” she said.
Uncertainty aside, she is excited to return. “I can’t wait to go back to America, I’m not going to lie,” she said. — VALERIYA SAFRONOVA
Americans of all stripes have had plenty of reasons to burst into tears this year, but few of them have matched the explosive force of the 2020 Kohl’s holiday ad. “Give With All Your Heart” depicts the cozy friendship that grows between a little girl and her elderly neighbor as they communicate through their windows with hand-drawn signs — until one day, without warning, the neighbor’s half of the conversation goes silent. Reatha Grey, a Los Angeles native, portrays the neighbor (whose return at the commercial’s end is marked by a fresh sign, a new hospital bracelet and the sobbing relief of viewers). — CAITY WEAVER
The following interview was edited and condensed.
Caity Weaver: Have you made your Thanksgiving plans yet?
Reatha Grey: My plans just fell through last night. I was going to go over to my grandson’s family’s house because they have big holiday parties. At first I was excited about it, and I thought “Oh! I want to go and be around people!” Then they started talking about how the Covid was rising, and I thought “Oh. Maybe I’ll just have them bring me a plate out to the car.”
So when I got the cancellation, I was kind of relieved. Having 30 or 40 people over your house is probably just not a good idea right now. And certainly not someplace that I should be.
CW: What are your rejiggered plans?
RG: I was thinking about doing Zoom calls, believe it or not. I went to a Zoom wedding this weekend and it was great! I was thinking, at first, “I don’t know, a Zoom wedding — how fun could that be?” But they were in the backyard, and they filmed them doing the vows. And it was very sweet to watch. I’ve seen more stuff over Zoom over the last few months than I probably would have gone to in person.
My grandmother used to tell me this, and I didn’t really know what she meant, how she was getting lonely. And all of her friends were going away. And as I get older, I realize, you start losing friends. That was one of the things about the commercial that kind of touched me. You don’t get to go out and meet people that much anymore. And I kept up with technology, so I do Zoom and FaceTime and all that stuff. But there’s nothing like an old-fashioned handwritten note. And I thought, that would be nice, to look out my window and have a friend that’s kind of a pen pal.
CW: What were your Thanksgivings like growing up?
RG: I miss our family Thanksgivings. We had wonderful Thanksgivings when I was a child. The children did a talent show at the holiday dinners. Most of my relatives are in-laws. I come from a small family but we became a big family with all these in-laws.
It’s California, so we never had bad Thanksgivings or Christmases. The kids could play outside. It was always a beautiful day. I didn’t understand people from the East Coast that would put on all of these layers of clothing to go to Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners because I had never experienced winter.
CW: You were a real California baby. Were your parents born there?
RG: My mother came here with her family her last year of college. They moved out here from Tennessee. My grandmother’s generation came out, also from Tennessee, but she was raised in Louisiana. Everybody came from someplace. My father came from Missouri. That’s, I guess, why it was kind of a small family — because they had all moved from their original places.
My mother’s father was a doctor. And he came out here from Tennessee and opened the practice here in Los Angeles. It was one of the first Black-owned full-service doctor’s offices. He had an office on Figueroa Street. They had an X-ray machine in there, their own lab.
The reason he became a doctor is because his father died out in the country, because there were no Black doctors at the time. The white doctors weren’t going to come out in the rural area. And so his father ended up dying because he wasn’t being treated. So that’s how my grandfather decided he would become a doctor.
CW: What is your Thanksgiving dish of choice?
RG: My grandmother would make sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and I don’t know what all was in it. I never got the recipe. So get the recipe!