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The New Thanksgiving Traditions We’re Embracing

by NANCY DOYLE PALMER

As weary as we are of the terms “unprecedented times,” “new normal,” and simply the words “challenging” and “uncertain,” Thanksgiving is when we must take a collective breath as a nation and reflect on gratitude.

It’s when we combine the deeply personal—family and food, with community—care and service to others.  And if we’ve learned anything in 2020 it’s how much we need all of these things together. And don’t forget traditions, which have been upended for months now.

We reached out to some noteworthy Americans to share how this year’s Thanksgiving will be different and what new traditions have come to the fore. Safety, Zoom and hope are this year’s watchwords.

To me a big part of gratitude is remembering what brings joy—and this uniquely American holiday can be a traffic jam of politics, culture, and strife. And pie. So take that breath, watch this classic skit from SNL 2015 and read on!


“Thanksgiving might look a little different this year, but I’m still looking forward to celebrating, especially because my family has a lot to be thankful for. Earlier this year, both my husband John and my dad recovered from coronavirus, and we are so fortunate. And we understand the importance of staying safe this holiday season. Traditionally, we celebrate the holiday here in Minnesota with John’s family – all of his five brothers—and yes, there is usually some kind of hot dish! This year, John and I will celebrate over Zoom with his family members in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon. Then, we will eat pumpkin pie via Zoom with our daughter in New York City. That’s the advantage of a Zoom Thanksgiving—we’ll be in four states in two hours!” —Senator Amy Klobuchar

***

“Although this Thanksgiving will be spent apart from family members that we typically celebrate with, my husband and I are amending some traditions and adopting a few new ones to keep the holiday spirit alive. Growing up, I always looked forward to the 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning which my family participated in. Although we cannot continue that tradition this year, my husband and I will be doing the Peloton Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day which we are inviting family and friends to do with us—see here for more information on the event. Despite the fact that we will not be together physically, I think this will bring us together and provide a fun event to look forward to. Additionally, we are very much looking forward to focusing on spending time with our twins this year in their last week as one-year olds! I’m sure there will be lots of toasts over zoom and many phone calls throughout the day to stay connected with our family.  As much as we’d love to spend time in person with everyone, we know that giving thanks to health and happiness from a far is the safest for all of us during this time!” —Gray Malin, photographer

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“I think generally speaking people will be more inclined to add new traditions to their holidays.  This time is teaching us all how to be more nimble and expansive in our thinking and expectations.  I also think that people will do more cooking at home for the holidays, as we have all been doing more cooking and have learned new things that make cooking celebration meals less intimidating.”  —Carla Hall, American chef and motivational speaker

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“Doing what it takes not to spread Covid-19 is the only new tradition I’m interested in starting this year. It’s enough. And besides, after almost nine months of trying to keep everyone and everything on the rails, I am content to just let Thanksgiving work itself out. I know there will be turkey because we already ordered one, and I will make our family’s usual spinach casserole because there will be an uprising if I don’t, and…yeah. Whatever. I miss my family terribly but seeing them is not an option, so whatever we do will be fine. Thankfulness lends itself to using whatever we have on hand.” —Carolyn Hax, Washington Post advice columnist 

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“Ann and I are blessed with a large family, and we cherish our holiday traditions. While a large in-person family gathering isn’t possible this year, technology thankfully will allow us to spend time together in a virtual way. This Thanksgiving, we plan to gather online as a family—our five sons, our daughters-in-law, and our 25 grandchildren—for home church services and to share what we are thankful for.” —Senator Mitt Romney

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“It’s our first year settled into what will hopefully be our permanent family home. I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life moving every couple of years and professionally living out of a suitcase. So, I’m really excited to start the tradition of making traditions! And I was really hoping this year would be the year our families came to us.  We actually have a proper dining room table, and I was dreaming the new set up would transform me into Martha Stewart or one of the luxury lifestyle gurus that inspire/torture me on Instagram. I’d have a tablescape. Matching linen napkins tied with decorative twigs; loose cranberries strewn just so to give you that just not so feel. Low lighting and candles dripping wax. I was going to make pies from scratch: lemon tart, pumpkin spice, cranberry orange. We’d have an oven-tanned, crispy-skinned turkey with stuffing. Cornbread, homemade biscuits, buttered carrots, sautéed green beans, and cream soaked mashed potatoes. Enough to feed the entire block. There’d be a fire and mulled wine, cider for the kiddo. A Christmas story playing on the TV upstairs. Ha!  Who am I kidding, even if it was a normal year, my influencer dream would still be a pipe dream. So, I’ll take some tradition starting baby-steps. I’ve bought a wreath. I’ll bake a pie. Maybe we’ll have half a turkey or a couple of legs and breast. Enough for 3. We’ll still make all the sides for obvious reasons. Tony, Teddy, and I will eat early. Snuggle on the couch and watch Sesame Street. Nap. We’ll miss our family, but it will still be lovely. Lovelier still knowing we’re keeping everyone safe.” —Katy Tur, NBC News correspondent and MSNBC anchor

NANCY DOYLE PALMER

Nancy is a Washington DC based writer who has written for The Atlantic, O, The Oprah Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine and The Huffington Post for many years. She’s also written several screenplays, one currently in development.

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