Our Yearn to Return to Thanksgiving Traditions in 2021 Despite the Ongoing Pandemic

Last year, Thanksgiving went Topsyturkey. Will we return to our long-held traditions in 2021?

Probably most of us will do so now that we have been vaccinated and are still wearing masks indoors and often outdoors. We want, in fact, we crave traditions as much as we desire carbs, chocolate and sugar and a return to normalcy (whatever that means).

In 2020, the pandemic was raging, shutting down many of our in-person social gatherings. Thanksgiving took a huge hit. Nearly 70 percent of Americans celebrated the holiday differently to stay healthy and guard the health of their elderly relatives.

In addition to skipping holiday travel, celebrations were limited to those in the same household or sharing a get-together on a screen. We asked ourselves if gathering for one dinner was worth the risk of contracting the virus? At that point, there was no protection other than obsessively washing our hands, social distancing and wearing a mask. Many of us answered “No.”

Fast forward to 2021, and the advances made. Many, but not all folks, have had two vaccines and some three. However, there is no guarantee that we won’t experience a breakthrough case with the virulent Delta variant still raging. Fortunately, because of the vaccines, if we do contract the virus, our cases might be mild to moderate and not life threatening, unless we have a poor immune system. But the big question looms: do we take the plunge for the big gatherings this year, hop a plane or invite a big group into our home?  

It is so tempting to put the pandemic aside for this holiday as we fantasize about our grown kids coming to us, along with those who have their own children, though we still worry if by inviting them we are also asking their germs into our abodes.

Since humans are creatures of habit and we love—and have missed--our rituals, it might be worth the risk this year to enjoy a return to the Norman Rockwell holiday when we all eat the same food, nothing strange, and leave off any religious connection. After all, Thanksgiving is a ritual American feast at its finest. We set our tables with the good dishes, stemware, and silverware, and invite lots of guests, offer munificent amounts of food, multiple courses, arrange the fancy centerpiece. To be safe, we set boundaries—all must be vaccinated and wear a mask inside except when eating.

And if this is what our feast will be this year, then we fall back on our pre-pandemic script, which we featured in a blog several years ago when the pandemic wasn’t even a gleam in the eye for how we prepare and carry out the big day.

Barbara & Margaret’s Blueprint for an Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Feast

Day #1: Read cookbooks, food magazines like Bon Appetit and Saveur, and The New York Times online for recipe ideas. Roast beef brined? Potato latkes with caviar since Putin is still in power, faux gravy without the giblets and liver to be healthy?

The voice inside your head screams: “That’s not what you had last year. You can’t change the usual family line-up, it’s sacrilegious and been part of the family lore for decades. Do over!” 

Day #2: First trip to the grocery store. Get dried cranberries, cornmeal, whole milk, heavy cream, eggs, Libby’s pumpkin in a can, smoked salmon, raspberries, dried dates, four Pepperidge Farm pie crusts, 4 onions, a bag of celery, eight Granny Smith apples, two oranges, whole pecans in a big bag, fresh cranberries in a bag, marshmallows in a huge bag, string beans and Lipton’s dried onion soup mix.

The voice inside your head screams: “You’re not making your pie crust from scratch? You’re buying all organic, right? You’re still making that awful string-bean caserole with Durkee’s fried onions? I don’t think so with the bill for this at only $74.” 

Day #3: Cook the cranberry sauce with grated orange zest, brown sugar, a dab of Dijon mustard, cinnamon stick, add the dates when it cools and raspberries.

The voice inside your head screams:  “I like the kind in the can, you know, not this fancy real stuff!” 

Day #4: Second trip to the grocery store. Get brining bag, more eggs, skim milk, apple cider vinegar, bag of flour, box of granulated sugar, two brown sugar boxes, big box of mushrooms, cut-up bread for extra stuffing. corn meal for stuffing and muffins, three pounds broccoli, three leeks, parsley.

The voice inside your head screams: “At an additional $65, is this worth it? And what about the turkey?” 

Day #5: Make stuffing from scratch by first making cornbread. Saute onions, celery, chop pecans, add dried cranberries, sauté mushrooms, add two eggs, parsley chopped up, one cup whole milk, stir, and put in huge serving dish but don’t cook yet!

The voice inside your head screams: “Are you sure you’re making enough stuffing? You know that crazy uncle always wants to take some home and your crazier cousin always goes for thirds.” 

Next, make the broccoli/leek soup.

Voice inside your head screams: “I can’t believe you’re not making your usual apple-butternut squash soup. This green stuff looks like slime from the bottom of the sea!” 

Day #6: Buy placemats, place cards, candles, candy, buy an extra candle for you to pray it will be perfect and everyone will get along. Bill: $75.

The voice inside your head screams:  “You’re putting me next to whom at the table? I can’t stand him and anyway he’s left-handed and our elbows bump.”  

Day #7: In the morning, make a crumb cake with jam from Martha Stewart’s food magazine; make Julia Child’s apple tart; tweak the soup with sautéed onions, leeks, and a dab of flour so it looks and tastes better. In the afternoon, fetch your aging mom or other relatives; fighting traffic both ways.

The voice inside your head screams when they walk into your house, “You didn’t clean off the counters enough. Your kitchen’s a mess! What were you thinking? What will the guests think?” 

Of course, your relatives make comments; that’s part of the tradition just as much.

Day #8: In the morning, get the fresh turkey and fresh salmon, get a fresh French bread just in case, get more avocadoes, frozen spinach, some fresh leafy greens, and a big wedge of Gruyere cheese. You never know who’s become a vegan or vegetarian overnight.

The voice inside your head screams: “We all hate turkey; why are we having it again? We don’t even make turkey tetrazzini or a pot pie so what’s the point?”

In the afternoon, let your daughter whose idea it is to brine the turkey take charge, and find a place for all in the refrigerator.

The voice inside your head screams: “Good luck squeezing all this in and closing the door. Next time buy the bigger refrigerator model or a second one for the garage. Oh, yes, that’s right, you don’t have a garage. Next year build the garage or organize Thanksgiving out at a restaurant and wait for the reaction to that!” 

Make the sweet potato casserole with the pecan top, and top with little marshmallows for more of a sugar high!

The voice inside your head screams: “You really thought you were going to skip making the casserole without the marshmallows. Furgetit!”

Hit the liquor store one last time and add an extra bottle of vodka and gin.

The voice inside your head whispers quietly: An extra cocktail will mellow me out; go for it Maybe, two bottles for a really mellow you!” Bill: $150. “If only the time put into this were in billable hours.”  

Day #9, Thanksgiving Day: Get up early, set the table, start the turkey, make the mashed potatoes, have the grown kids make the spinach gratin they wanted, get ingredients ready for the gravy, get the grown kids whose idea it was to make the biscuits to start them so they’re hot and flaky, take a shower, change out of the clothing you’ve now worn for five days straight and without washing your hair or face. Who has time?

Curtain’s up, 2:30 p.m., Welcome guests with cocktails, a glass of Prosecco, deviled eggs, cucumber hors d’oeuvres, and old-fashioned onion dip, crudités, chips, a smile, and your apron. Quickly remove the apron. Take the pecan pie your other daughter made, and ooh and aah. Dinner’s READY: 3:30 p.m.

Sit down to your gorgeous table, wait for the compliments to start (you hope!). 4:00 p.m. offer seconds. (Nobody touched the soup.) 4:15 p.m. bring out the desserts. 4:30 p.m. everybody’s finished and all head to the TV. 4:45 p.m. start washing the dishes. 5:30 p.m., grab two Extra Strength Tynenols for your migraine that’s starting. 7 p.m. say goodbye to guests who are visiting and not staying overnight. Look sad even though you’re thrilled. You can beg them to return next year to make your act more convincing. 8:00 p.m. Get undressed (the first time in five days and you smell too), take a shower, hop into bed, turn off the lights.

The evil voice inside your head suggests: “Look at travel sites for Thanksgiving away next year.” The nice voice inside your head reminds you: “You’ll never have the guts to do it. Just don’t forget–no broccoli/leek soup under any condition.”

Keep your energy and focus on being joyful and thankful despite the big dent in your budget. The memories you make at holiday time this year have more to do with spirit than substance. And say an extra prayer before you nod off that nobody got a breakthrough case of the pandemic. Mark the calendar and celebrate in 10 days with the leftover vodka or gin. (You did buy extra, didn’t you?).


  • Betsy

    Love it! So amazing, we’re so connected in our experience, you’re spot on!

  • Phyllis

    This is funny. Love the voices in your head. Used to be this way. Now I’m mellow

  • Estelle

    My family loves my broccoli leek soup!🤣

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