Gratitude and food: Navigating Thanksgiving in a pandemic

Thanksgiving+dishes+crowd+the+stove+on+Nov.+25%2C+2021+in+preparation+for+a+Thanksgiving+meal.+Many+families+returned+to+their+Thanksgiving+traditions+after+pandemic+cancellations+last+year.+However%2C+precautions+were+still+taken+by+many+families+due+to+the+current+state+of+the+pandemic.

Photo credit: Lucy Williams

Thanksgiving dishes crowd the stove on Nov. 25, 2021 in preparation for a Thanksgiving meal. Many families returned to their Thanksgiving traditions after pandemic cancellations last year. However, precautions were still taken by many families due to the current state of the pandemic.

By Lucy Williams, Senior Reporter

Annually, on the fourth Thursday of November, millions of families around the country gather to share gratitude, eat a home-cooked meal and celebrate the fall season. In 2020, the staple that is Thanksgiving was canceled in many households or was celebrated differently than in past years, in an effort to avoid the COVID-19 virus during the pandemic.

Health officials all over the United States implemented many different protocols during the Thanksgiving season last year in efforts to stop the spread of the virus. Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, provided health suggestions to Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2020.

“Given the huge surge in cases across the country this past week, we strongly recommend that you only celebrate the holiday with people from your household and that you not gather at all with people from outside your household to eat this meal … even if you’re outdoors,” Ferrer said in an episode of the LA Public Health Podcast.

Two weekends ago, The Oracle conducted a survey with the Archer community regarding their Thanksgiving plans last year and received responses from 20% of students, faculty and staff. Many people exercised the protocols recommended in Los Angeles, with 65% of the Archer community’s family gatherings having been fully canceled. Although 29% of the community still went to gatherings, many people decided on smaller gatherings and took precautions.

“I normally spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my extended family, but, during the pandemic, we did our immediate family. It was just my brother, my mom, my dad and I,” sophomore Kayla Bruce said. “We zoomed together on Thanksgiving just to check in and connect with the [extended] family.” 

The cancellations physically brought families apart, but for some, mentally brought them together. Assistant librarian Denise Hernandez said she still felt gratitude in spite of the distance.

“If there was one great thing, I think [the cancellations] made people more grateful for each other and finding the ways to connect via Zoom,” Hernandez said. “It made me realize what’s special and appreciate what I do have. I’m grateful that I was very comfortable in my home and that we still had our jobs and all those little luxuries within our house.” 

Many people in the U.S., including seventh grader Charlotte Kamdar, faced close-to-home COVID-19 cases while trying to gather last year.

“My family plans were going to go as normal because we all quarantined together and we all live very close. We were quarantining, but, on the day before Thanksgiving, one of my aunts got COVID,” Kamdar said. “We only [gathered] with one side of the family instead. It was much smaller that year.”

This year, families had an important decision to make in regards to gathering for the holiday. When asked about extended family gatherings this year, 50% of the Archer community felt safe attending gatherings again. However, 75% felt that precautions — smaller gatherings, vaccinations for the eligible and masks inside — were still necessary to keep loved ones safe from the virus. Thirty percent of the community decided their choice would be staying home for Thanksgiving.

“There’s still a whole population of kids who aren’t vaccinated. I feel better safe than sorry. I’m grateful that everyone I know was vaccinated, so it gives me some level of comfort,” Hernandez said. “But when we go to Thanksgiving, there will be a couple of children there. While we’re indoors, I plan on keeping my mask on for their safety and the safety of their classmates.”

Traveling started back up this year, as 30% of the Archer community planned trips for the holiday. Out of the travelers, 15% of the community left Los Angeles, 15% traveled out of California, and 4% of people said they traveled out of the U.S.

“My family is actually doing something very different,” Kamdar said. “We never travel for Thanksgiving. However, we’re going to Pioneer Town in Joshua Tree this year.”

Many people expressed the sense of relief and excitement they had for a normal family gathering during Thanksgiving this year. Hernandez spoke to preserving the health of loved ones who are not able to be vaccinated or who are elderly.

“We can’t be too careful, especially because my grandfather lives with us,” Hernandez said. “We want to do our best to take care of him in that situation.”