Growing up, Thanksgiving was the next best thing to family reunions. People who I only saw during the holidays would show up—unknown second and third cousins, childhood family friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents – everyone. When we first began, the food spread would span the length of the dining room at my aunt and uncle’s house: multiple tables filled with different kinds of meats (a turkey, a smoked turkey, a ham, sometimes BBQ), a plethora of sides (mac and cheese, various casseroles, salads and dinner rolls) and a sea of desserts (pies to cakes to dainty treats). It was truly a feast to be rivaled. But more than that—
The family shows. And by shows, I mean presentations by the children. Performing songs, bad dance routines, and even included my attempt at a magic show, which my cousin Mikey spoiled at every turn.
The adults would gather in the kitchen at the island, reminiscing about old stuff, and getting in lively debates. I’m so glad my mom had the wherewithal to have her camcorder at these events, recording these moments. Some of my fondest memories are of my grandma in her jean outfit, jacket shirt and hat with matching pants, telling us all about her point of view. There really wasn’t anything quite like it.
I miss those days terribly. Family, from the very beginning, had a strong presence in my childhood. Even if it was just once or twice a year (Mother’s Day or the Fourth are other big food and family holidays for us), they were memorable, and they were cherished. Some families do massive family vacations. My family did food.
I realize not everyone has had that experience. Not everyone has as large of a family as I do. I think if you start small, you may not notice it as much. But pre-Covid, I already started to notice a difference.
Over the years, the family started to thin out. From moving across state lines or Father Time calling someone home, our Thanksgiving celebrations gradually grew smaller. I have family now up and down the East Coast as well as out in Nevada. Not many are left in my hometown. What makes it all so stark for me? At one point, most of my family (Aunts, Uncles, cousins and Grandma) lived within a ten-mile radius. You could pop over at someone’s house whenever—no special occasion required. The holidays have felt a bit small for me even before this year.
Then of course there is my Grandma.
It took me years to get over never having one of her sweet potato pies again. We lost her the week before Mother’s Day in 2009. I know she wrote the recipe down somewhere, but to this day, I have never found it. And the attempts at trying to re-create that delectable pie have been futile. That, along with her hugs and love are all just incredibly fond memories; memories that I cherish.
For those of you that have a beloved elder still around, if you don’t live with them, and haven’t quarantined, I must urge you to wait. It’s hard staying indoors; I get it. I’ve been out only a few times myself this year. But I’ve also been tested for Covid half a dozen times. And that isn’t an exaggeration.
The last few years, I personally only spent every other year at home for Thanksgiving, as I was out of state celebrating with my (then) boyfriend and his small family. Back home, Thanksgiving had shrunk to my Mom, brother, sister, and occasionally, my Uncle. But now, things are different; now we have the pandemic.
For my family, our gatherings have grown smaller due to other circumstances. This year, it will just be the four of us, the people I already live with. As it should be.
Still, we are in the age of technology; there are ways to cope with being physically isolated from loved ones. If one wishes to celebrate this holiday, there are a few things I’d recommend to make it less lonely:
Remember Everyone Who is Out There is Reachable
Gather others who are in isolation, family or friends.
Cook Together, Virtually
Have everyone pick out a dish that they wish to prepare LIVE on Zoom or Skype. Once the dish is settled on and ingredients gathered, set up a digital meeting. Prop up your laptop or tablet in a good place with a view of you and your kitchen, and talk and have a good time while making stuff.
Consider How You Buy Ingredients
Have your groceries come via delivery service.
While I understand the pain of having someone else pick out your produce, take a chance; it’s better than going out. Or conversely, as long as you mask up well, take a quick jaunt to the store. There’s typically crowds, but with Covid, I’m (hoping) this won’t be as big of an issue. And good lord, I just remembered Black Friday. I wonder how that will fair…
Do Drive-by Sharing
If everyone is local, have a drive by pick up of plates, if you so wish it. I had a friend who had a drive by baby shower, which allowed her to receive gifts while social distancing.
There are many creative ways to be safe, and still have fun celebrating. This will also help prevent an incredibly tough and depressing AF Christmas.
It’s a tough time for us all. A home cooked meal can help ease feelings of loneliness and depression, so can reaching out to people who are also isolated. Do what you can, and remember what the spirit of the holidays is all about.