Lifestyle & Culture

Thanksgiving in the Time of Covid

November 22, 2020

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We asked, you answered!

MyLittleBird wanted to know how people were facing our big national holiday—the one we all celebrate—in the Covid climate. Family arrangements, menus, logistics: We wanted to know it all. Here’s what some of you said. 

Remember these from the 1950s? The Vermont Country Store has them.

I SENT each household in my family a set of those Pilgrim and turkey candles from the Vermont Country Store with a note saying something like “if we can’t all be around a table together at least we can all gather around the same creepy Pilgrims.” They’re so nostalgic from our youth, but I’m not sure why because as soon as you light them their faces start to melt and they look very creepy!

—Diane Weeks
Falls Church, Virginia

WE’RE PLANNING a meal with family and friends, each cooking in our respective kitchens, driving to exchange dishes on the doorsteps and making a toast on Zoom at 4 pm. Together apart.

—Catherine Antoine
Washington, DC
WE WANTED to include my mom, who is 78, in our Thanksgiving, so my husband and the two girls and I have opted to eat outside around the fire pit. I thought it would be depressing to eat our usual Thanksgiving dinner under campsite conditions, so we’re ordering takeout instead of cooking. (If it rains, I’ll deliver dinner to Mom in a picnic basket and we’ll FaceTime during the meal.)
Since we’ll be outside, I’m going to serve hot drinks instead of wine—I just found a recipe for spiced apple cider hot toddies online. I figure we might as well lean into the weirdness of the situation: I ordered a kitschy vintage Thanksgiving tablecloth for the outdoor table and naturally I’ll be wearing a mask with a beak and wattle on it.
—Nicole Arthur
Arlington, Virginia

ORDINARILY I’d be with one of my children, and my friend Steve would be in Brookline with his daughter and her family, but it definitely doesn’t seem wise this year. So I’m going to stay here. Steve and his dog will come here for a late afternoon meal (which I have actually ordered from Fresh Direct). My favorite side dish for turkey (or pork or game or even sausages)—is drained and well-rinsed sauerkraut braised with a sautéed sliced onion, grated apples (or even chunky applesauce), a little white pepper and white wine. It’s addictive. It’s my sole T-giving tradition.

—Judith Weinraub
New York City

If Thanksgiving dinner is outdoors, hot toddies are the appropriate quaff. This one is from The Spruce Eats (see story for a link to the recipe).

WE ARE ONLY eating with our three college kids. Usually have parents and siblings here but abandoned that this year. Hoping to meet up with some friends for a distanced gathering in Rock Creek Park over the weekend.

Can’t emphasize enough how careful people need to be these next 4 months until the vaccines gets distributed. Mostly because hospitals are full or filling up, so if you get sick, the options for acute Covid care are shrinking.
—Sian Spurney, MD
Chevy Chase, Maryland
WITH NO family to entertain this Thanksgiving, my husband and I both ‘fessed up to each other: We hate turkey. After 37 years of marriage, we each felt free to admit it. Amazing what revelations can come out of a worldwide pandemic.
So we ordered an “everything but the turkey” menu of side dishes for two from a local caterer, along with a hearty cassoulet of chicken thighs, sausage and cannelloni beans.
And we forever banished that bird from our family table, even when the relatives come back.
—Jacqui Salmon
Charlottesville, Virginia
SINCE THANKSGIVING is canceled at my brother and sister-in-law’s, it is just Howard, David and me. I did look into take-out because I have never made a turkey, but the sizes are all too large for three people. And what if you like dark meat? The turkey breast just isn’t as satisfying. So we thought since the holiday is so weird this year, why even have turkey? Howard is going to make a prime rib. It is one of our favorites, more so than turkey. We will have garlic mashed potatoes, spinach casserole and a pumpkin chiffon pie as a nod to the holiday. Hoping to make them all. Not much else going on anyhow. I did ask my son if he minded a Thanksgiving without turkey, just to make sure it would not be a traumatic event. No problem for him either. Will try to make the evening a little special. Might take out the china and eat at the dining room table.
—Caren Sniderman
I AM STAYING local in NYC and eating outdoors at a restaurant with three or four close friends who have been in my Covid friend circle. If it’s a cold day, I plan to bring animal-free fur blankets from my brand House of Fluff for all of us to snuggle under!
—Kym Canter
New York City

THERE WILL be small gatherings. At our house, four at most. There will be menu items that involve traditional ingredients, but the small number of diners permits us to cook them in new ways. Maybe a stuffed turkey breast, some use of pumpkin in a savory like a soufflé, small elegant desserts, top-quality wine that we couldn’t afford for a crowd.

—Neal Barkus
Shepherdstown, West Virginia

OUR QUARANTEAM will be celebrating separately out of caution so it will just be me and my husband on this probably rainy Thanksgiving. I scored a turkey breast, which we’ll bolster with acorn squash, wild rice (my mom’s recipe), a straight-from-the-’50s pineapple-cherry gelatin salad (in memory of my sweet, very Southern mother-in-law, and apple strudel (made in Germany) courtesy of the neighborhood Aldi’s.

The highlight, though, may be the Zoom call with beloved classmates from the Convent of the Sacred Heart at 91st Street in NYC (since the pandemic stole our real-time 60th anniversary).
—Patricia Dane Rogers
Alexandria, Virginia
OUR OUTDOOR Covid pod has decided, given a wet Thursday forecast, to turn our regular Tuesday Night Follies into Thanksgiving— three couples and two little kids around a firepit on a neighbor’s patio. On the day itself, we’ll probably roast a turkey breast or a couple of legs to make the house smell like the holiday, and we’ll add our share of the leftovers.
—Alison Howard
Reva, Virginia

I LIVE with my brother and sister and we’ll be doing the usual—turkey, stuffing, creamed onions, carrots and some other veggie, and cranberry sauce, plus, for dessert, pumpkin pie and my favorite, mince pie. My sister is the cook and pie maker. I clean up. We also make sure we have Beaujolais Nouveau to toast the season. We may “shake things up” by eating in the dining room and using the good china. We also usually eat at the normal dinner time. When I was young we always had a crowd for dinner and ate midday.

For the past few years, we’ve just gotten turkey pieces since the whole bird is too much for us. This year we got the last package of turkey thighs when we went shopping! (We make stuffing fritters since there’s nothing to stuff.) There were lots of whole birds. Seems like everyone is paring down.

We’ll be calling friends and relatives, but no Zooms are planned.

—Barbara Carroll
Queens, New York


OUR THANKSGIVING tradition is 30 family members gather at my sister-in-law’s house. When you marry into the family it is written in the ketubah that Thanksgivings are at Nancy’s. This tradition helps if the spouse is not Jewish because their family gets Christmas. Anyone can add a dish, but nothing can be taken away. My nieces make most of the side dishes, Nancy makes the sauerkraut (Baltimore thing [Ed. note: more sauerkraut!]). My twin nephews put the marshmallows on the sweet potatoes (although they are 40 now and I think they passed the tradition to the younger kids). [Husband] Marty bakes bread and cranberry sauce. He also spends the day outside frying turkey. Most of the family usually joins him because there is wine, homemade potato chips and anything else he can fry up. It is so much fun and loud.

This year he will fry the turkey probably alone. We have onion rings and French fries that he will fry up as well. My nieces will make the sides. There will be a drive-by exchange of the turkey and sides. My kids live out of town and I will miss them. If I have time I will organize a Zoom call with photos from the past Thanksgivings.

All I can say is 2021 at Nancy’s is going to be a real bash!

—Renée Comet
Washington, DC

WE HAVEN’T SEEN our kids or 3-year-old grandson in a year. Everyone’s staying put for the holiday—and no one’s happy about it—but the risk of getting the virus is even scarier.

It feels less like Thanksgiving this year than just Thursday night dinner. I know I’m making a past fave for the two of us of seared duck breast with cherries and port sauce (yup, just a typical Thursday), but unsure about the rest. Pumpkin pie for dessert, the only thing my husband says is immutable. And rooting for the Cowboys.

—Candy Sagon
Herndon, Virginia


MY HUSBAND and I are baking stuff for our two distant grown sons and sending it via priority mail [last Saturday]. We will make turkey and squash soup (at least) for the two of us—not eating with anyone else but will Zoom with our sons on the day and enjoy some of the baked goods together, I hope.

—Susan Okie
Bethesda, Maryland

WE’D LOVE to have a full house on Thanksgiving, but this year it’s not what the CDC recommends.  And . . . we still believe in science. So, we are going to my daughter’s house out in the country. It will be just us, Christine, Steve and the two boys. I’m bringing apple crumb pie, mashed potatoes, gravy and the sweet potato casserole. Christine and Steve are fixing the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the green bean casserole. We won’t suffer for lack of food; however, I expect she will have a lot of leftovers. We are delaying having pumpkin pie until our Christmas celebration.

—Jeanne Spofford
Sterling, Virginia
FOR YEARS we’ve hosted Thanksgiving since we have the largest house, and it was easy to get my parents here. I always did the turkey, though never just a plain old roast turkey. I’ve brined, marinated for days, covered with spice mixtures for days, made Middle Eastern turkey, Southwest turkey, you name it. One of my jobs was also at least one stuffing, again not traditional. Everyone else usually has to bring something to round out—green things, another stuffing, pecan pie, etc. Everyone also has had to bring their own containers to take home leftovers. Alas, this year it’s just Arnon and me: We’ll just be getting back from Florida (family duties) and feel the need to quarantine the entire week of Thanksgiving. And no one is going anywhere anyway, are they? We’re even reluctant to see our son and his family right now, even though they are close enough to visit. So we’ll all do our own thing, and set up a Zoom get-together so we can all at least see each other, even if we can’t touch. Frankly, although we are still being very careful, we are all pretty tired of this, aren’t we? And I won’t even get into the lack of leadership which has allowed this disease to fester and spread for nearly an entire year already.
By this time next year, 2020 will just be a bad dream. Stay safe. Stay well.
—Nancy Gold
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
IT WILL be just [daughter] Julie, BF Paul (who is there 50 percent of the time) and [grandson] 15-year-old Ryder. So five of us. Not the usual 20 at our son Brian’s in Annapolis. There will be a smallish turkey, but big enough for leftovers, traditional stuffing (called “filling” in my husband’s hometown of Meyersdale, Pennsylvania), mashed potatoes, and we usually try a new side or salad. I usually make six or seven pies, no pumpkin as no one likes it, but may make three of our favorites, which are lemon, coconut cream and apple. Julie makes a delicious homemade cranberry sauce, and we make a Lichty traditional cranberry ice (sorbet), which keeps a long time and is something Ryder (allergic to dairy and eggs) can eat and loves. We will Zoom with Brian and family, and I will miss his deep-fried turkey and Leigh’s wonderful meal. Will also miss the large gathering of family and friends, but we need to be with Julie this year in a very small gathering.
—Carol Lichty
Laurel, Maryland

THIS YEAR there are plenty of things to worry about, but some things that have dropped off the list. Number 1 this week: I am not trying to juggle 10 different Thanksgiving-dinner wish lists. No need to make cranberry sauce for Uncle Lewie: He’ll be at his house this year, not mine. Deep-Dish Apple Pie is a goner too—my kids never ate it. And if we want ham, we’ll have it. The same goes for the mac-and-cheese my niece didn’t like—we truly can have it “our way.”

Don’t get me wrong: I bought the big dining room table so there would be room for everyone. I pride myself on making sure there is at least one “favorite” dish for every guest. Next year, I’ll be right back, taking requests and making memories with the whole family.

—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Herndon, Virginia

MY THANKSGIVING this year will be the same menu, but we have had some changes at home. My husband passed away from cancer on March 30; that and Covid are changing our normal table of guests—we had a rotating guest list every year (sometimes kids’ friends who couldn’t get home for the holiday), which we really enjoyed. My kids are local, but not sure we can all gather. My eldest daughter, Ariane, and husband are expecting a baby in six weeks, so they just decided to stay home (Rockville, Maryland). My middle child, Kara, lives in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington DC with a roommate and I’m hopeful she will come home. My son, Cullen, is at home with me right now and we are planning our traditional menu. We will be delivering our “family dinner” to my oldest and maybe my middle daughter in case she decides to stay at her home.


Silver Palate turkey, with the addition of brining the night before (kosher salt, fresh coarsely ground pepper, fresh rosemary  and citrus [oranges]—husband’s recipe)
Silver Palate stuffing
Homemade turkey gravy (lots of wine and butter)
Garlic mashed potatoes with heavy cream
Broccoli-cauliflower casserole (cheddar cheese sauce w/breadcrumb topping)
Homemade cranberry orange relish
Carrot souffle (my kids call it carrot crack)
Mixed green salad with candied pecans/goat cheese

I have to admit that I always buy a big turkey, because the leftovers are the best.

—Shawny Burns
Olney, Maryland
WITH OUR TWO daughters abandoning their plans to visit (thank you, Covid), the two of us have decided not to decide how to celebrate. In other words, we’ve come up with three options (for now) and will decide as we get closer to the date:
Plan A: Dine outdoors at a nice restaurant; we already have reservations but may be skunked by the weather, which is predicted to be cold and wet.
Plan B: Order a traditional Tday meal for carry-out from a local restaurant or
Plan C: Forget that it’s Thanksgiving entirely . . . and grill steak tenderloins.
Of course, we’ll Zoom sometime with the daughters for our traditional sharing of thanks and grievances (a family tradition). In this latter category, of course, we will gripe about not being together for Thanksgiving. On the other hand, we’re still thankful we’re healthy and have Zoom.
—Caroline Mayer
Arlington, Virginia

I’VE BEEN going to the same multi-family feast for more than 30 years. A year ago we were 18 people spanning three generations. No banquet this year. [Friend] Donna and I just decided that each of the four family units would offer a specialty food at noon on Thanksgiving, outdoors and masked. Kind of like a restaurant pickup, with everything bagged up and ready to take.

Di will make Burkey’s caramel sauce to pour over our respective sweet potatoes.
Donna wants to make apple pies, though she’s never baked one before.
I’ll do Annie’s Key Lime Pie and Aron Groer’s chopped liver.
We’re hoping the fourth principal will give us each a bottle of bubbles. We’ll alert her soonest.
As for the actual turkey dinner, one of my few trusted bubblemates is preparing everything. Best news: She’s partial to white meat; I only eat dark. Plus I’ll get excellent leftovers.
On the “pay it forward” front, I’m helping prepare and deliver traditional dinners to 10 Dupont Circle Village members. Our longtime band of volunteers will collectively deliver meals to 55 people on Wednesday, twice last year’s number, owing, in part, to canceled celebrations they usually attend.
—Annie Groer
Washington, DC

One thought on “Thanksgiving in the Time of Covid

  1. Nancy G says:

    It’s a strange Thanksgiving, to go with an absolutely awful year. The day itself cannot be ignored, but we are all certainly not looking at it traditionally. Stay safe everyone. This too, shall pass.

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