Americans Share Alternative Ways They’re Celebrating Thanksgiving Amid Coronavirus

by : Emily Brown on : 26 Nov 2020 16:24
thanksgiving alternate 1Pahoua Yang Hoffman

While much of the world is now focused on the possibility of a family get-together in December, Americans today are busy with another of the biggest holidays of the year… Thanksgiving!

I may be British, but with family and friends living in America I’ve experienced my fair share of Thanksgivings, so I know how much of a big deal it can be.


Families who often don’t see each other for months on end travel from far and wide to reunite, eat their body weight in food, watch football, play games and ultimately pass out in a turkey-fuelled food coma.

Thanksgiving foodPixabay

As with the rest of 2020, unfortunately the coronavirus outbreak means Thanksgivings are likely to be far from normal this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that residents avoid travel and large gatherings, instead suggesting that celebrations only take place with those in your household.

The concept of having a simple day spent with those you eat dinner with every night might seem a bit underwhelming for a holiday as highly anticipated as Thanksgiving, but just because you can’t see friends and family in person doesn’t mean you can’t still have an epic celebration.


Pahoua Yang Hoffman, from Minnesota, typically celebrates the holiday with around 25-30 people. Speaking to UNILAD, Pahoua described her family as ‘blended Hmong-Jewish, but definitely Minnesotan’. She and her husband normally enjoy sharing the day with her three siblings, their partners, children, her mother and mother-in-law, and close friends.

Pahoua Yang Hoffman and familyPahoua Yang Hoffman

The day usually involves a deep-fried turkey, with the ‘first seating’ starting at 1pm followed by a ‘second seating’ a few hours later for those who couldn’t make it earlier, and anyone who’s already in the mood for seconds. The family enjoy playing board games, gossiping, making plans for Christmas and, of course, taking naps in the living room.

This year, Pahoua is having a Thanksgiving for two. Though the family only live 20 minutes from one another, everyone is celebrating in their respective homes, from which they will connect via Zoom call to ‘play virtual Yahtzee’.


Pahoua explained:

We couldn’t take the chance because my college-aged niece is coming home from Connecticut on a plane a few days before Thanksgiving. That, along with an intergenerational group with older adults, made it too risky for a large gathering in person.

Deep fried turkeyPahoua Yang Hoffman

To ensure the family still get to share a meal, Pahoua plans on cooking and delivering food packages to her family members – something everyone planning a quiet holiday could do, whether it means sharing with neighbours, close friends, or those in need.


Though it would be easy for the family to meet up, Pahoua stressed that it is important to have a small gathering this year ‘so that we can keep everybody healthy, including our healthcare workers’.

Pahoua added:

We know our hospitals are at maximum capacity. We want to see each other for Christmas and we know that sacrificing Thanksgiving might make that possible.

Family in the living roomPahoua Yang Hoffman

At the time of writing, more than 12.4 million Americans have tested positive for coronavirus since the outbreak began.

There have been more than a quarter of a million deaths in the country as a result of the virus – more than the number of Americans who died in combat during World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, in Iraq and in Afghanistan combined, USA Today reports.

Pahoua knows that this Thanksgiving will be different – she won’t be able to hug her family or enjoy the ‘long Minnesota goodbye’ – but she has admitted there are a few silver linings to the lack of people.

She explained:

Selfishly, I’m looking forward to a small Thanksgiving for two people, although I will be making regular dishes and dropping them off at peoples’ homes. The clean-up will be a breeze, and I’m looking forward to bingeing shows and movies on Netflix.

Thanksgiving foodPahoua Yang Hoffman

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Though fun, there’s no denying that Thanksgiving can be a bit of a chaotic time, so this year could be seen as an opportunity to strip back and really enjoy some of the simpler things it offers, like good food and entertaining TV – without having to stress about hosting, cleaning, or getting stuck in holiday traffic.

Catching up with family can be done over Zoom, and, as Pahoua points out, staying apart now may mean families can be together again sooner. She ‘can’t wait to go back’ to her usual Thanksgiving, but she knows that sacrificing today is the best thing to do if it means her loved ones can stay healthy.

Lisa Quigley, chief of staff to US Congressman Jim Cooper, is planning to Zoom with family and friends as she enjoys a much quieter Thanksgiving with her husband, sister- and brother-in law.

Lisa Quigley and familyLisa Quigley

The mum-of-two typically celebrates Thanksgiving at home with relatives and friends from Nashville and California, having previously hosted up to 30 people around the table.

Lisa told UNILAD:

I’m a dreadful cook, but set a very cute table. Sometimes we are inside. Sometimes we are outside. The meal is midday, and it starts very early in the morning with a traditional charity run in Nashville called the Boulevard Bolt.

To ensure she and her family stay safe this year, Lisa and her husband will sit distanced from his sister and her husband on their screened-in porch while ‘bundled up against the chill’, eating turkey on trays.

There will be no charity run, no extended family and no cute table, but Lisa looked on the bright side as she pointed out there will be ‘lots of wine, conversation, good cheer, and thankfulness that several of us survived COVID-19, and the most vulnerable members of our family have not become ill at all’.

Thanksgiving tableLisa Quigley

Some US states have introduced tighter restrictions around the holidays, with New Mexico introducing a stay-at-home order and Washington planning to ban indoor gatherings with people from different households unless they have quarantined.

Chicago is calling on residents to restrict social gatherings to 10 people, while Philadelphia has banned all indoor gatherings of any size of people from different households, Associated Press reports.

Like Pahoua’s, Lisa’s Thanksgiving will be quiet, but she knows staying safe will mean a greater chance to enjoy a ‘HUGE celebration next year’, adding, ‘If we are all careful this year, next year will be great! We can’t wait to get back to family gatherings and travel.’

Thanksgiving table with familyLisa Quigley

With fewer family members to entertain, Lisa is expecting to watch a lot of Netflix this coming weekend – something that may even becoming a new Thanksgiving tradition when the family are able to gather once again.

As well as kicking back with some good TV, playing games over Zoom and delivering food packages, the CDC has offered up a number of ideas for an alternative, coronavirus-friendly Thanksgiving.

The organisation suggests using the quiet time to take advantage of online shopping sales, sharing recipes or cooking methods over Zoom, or participating in a gratitude activity, such as writing down things you are grateful for and sharing them with your friends and family.

Man on tabletPixabay

Being away from family and having to forgo traditions can be tough, but staying safe now is vital in the long run. Choosing to stay apart at Thanksgiving could stem the spread of coronavirus and ultimately save lives, in turn ensuring the dinner table is as full and cheerful as always when the next get-together is able to take place.

A safe Thanksgiving doesn’t mean a dull one, so make the most of everything the day still has to offer! Happy Thanksgiving!

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Featured, family, Now, Thanksgiving, Turkey, Zoom


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