On Friday, as the travel run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday began, 2.24 million air passengers passed through T.S.A. checkpoints, more than on any other day since early 2020, when the coronavirus all but shut down air travel. Airline industry experts anticipate more pandemic records later this week. Nearly 10 percent more people are also expected to travel by car over the holiday than they did last year, according to Arrivalist, a location data company.
Across America, families that have not gathered for an indoor feast in nearly two years are planning to reignite old traditions. Many a turkey trot is back on and birds at the supermarket no longer seem to carry that “perfect for smaller gatherings” sticker.
“It’s not normal, but it’s getting closer to it,” said Mike Haggerty, 68, the president of ThunderCloud Subs, a sandwich shop, and executive director of a five-mile Thanksgiving Day race in Austin, Texas, that will draw thousands of people from across the country for an in-person run for the first time in two years. After the race, Mr. Haggerty will eat his first indoor meal with all his children and grandchildren since the pandemic started.
Last year, with vaccines not yet available and the C.D.C. pleading with people to avoid travel and large gatherings, many Americans stayed home. (Enough people disregarded expert advice and gathered anyway, leading in some communities to a Thanksgiving bump in coronavirus cases.)
But this year, approaching a safe gathering with loved ones is in some ways more confusing. People across the United States are grappling with what their Thanksgiving should look like. More than half of Americans are now fully vaccinated, but vaccination rates vary tremendously throughout the United States. In Maine, 72 percent have gotten all their shots. In contrast, just 41 percent are fully vaccinated in West Virginia.
With cases spreading in Europe, several countries, including Austria, have announced new restrictions in recent days. In the United States, cases are below their peak, but in many places are rising again. Some hospitals in Michigan are again nearing capacity. Even Vermont, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, has been grappling with a surge in recent weeks.
This year, the C.D.C. has refrained from discouraging travel and family gatherings so long as people take precautions. But figuring out how to get family and friends on the same page can be tricky and solutions to the Thanksgiving equation are varied.
Here, six people share their family plans for navigating the most normal but not normal Thanksgiving yet.
1. Splurging on an all-inclusive resort in Turks and Caicos
Who: Shivani Shah, 40, who lives near Princeton, N.J., and her 66-year-old mother and 67-year-old father.
Last year: Ms. Shah, a brand marketing manager and digital creator, was with her parents and brother inSouth Brunswick, N.J.Nobody was vaccinated so they kept it small, cooking eggplant Parmesan — their go-to main dish as a vegetarian family.
This year: Ms. Shah will spend Thanksgiving at an all-inclusive resort in Turks and Caicos with her parents, who will be celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary that same day. (Her brother is not going.)
“It’s been a while since we celebrated anything really,” she said. Given that they are all vaccinated, boosters and all — and none of them have taken an international trip since before the pandemic started — they decided to make an extravagant affair out of it.
Reminder that all is not normal: All the paperwork and testing requirements. “It’s supposed to be a stress-free vacation but we are scrambling 72 hours in advance making sure we have everything,” Ms. Shah said.
2. Staying at a vacation rental, while looking for a mountain home
Who: Felix Brambilla, 58, who lives outside Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.
Last year: Mr. Brambilla, his wife and his three children talked to his parents, in-laws and wife’s sister over Zoom while eating turkey.
This year: There will be 14 of them. Even his older daughter’s boyfriend and son’s best friend are invited. But rather than spend the holiday at their home in Coral Gables, the family will devour turkey, chestnuts, pork, rice and beans in Big Canoe, Ga. Mr. Brambilla picked Big Canoe for strategic reasons: He thinks that Thanksgiving week is a good time to put in a bid for a mountain home there.
He’s far from alone in electing to use Thanksgiving week this way. Mr. Brambilla, who is chief executive of the Overseas Leisure Group, a luxury travel operator, got the idea from several clients who told him that they would be spending their Thanksgiving shopping for off-the-grid cabins and mountain homes. Like him they’ve been outbid repeatedly. And so between playing games of Celebrity and trying the local peach cobbler, Mr. Brambilla has four appointments lined up to look at five-bedroom homes under $1 million.
He’s eager to have a home in the mountains in case the pandemic lingers, gets worse — or another pandemic follows.
“Now anything seems possible,” he said.
Reminder that all is not normal: Two weeks ago Mr. Brambilla offered $40,000 over asking price on a $650,000 home in North Carolina and someone outbid him. This solidified his Thanksgiving real estate mission.
3. Eating outside with the extended family, and heaters
Who: Mia Selvaggio, 31, of Great Neck, N.Y.
Last year: Ms. Selvaggio,whoworks asa social media manager, spent Thanksgiving with her mother, father, brother and boyfriend at her parents’ house in Huntington, N.Y. Even though the numerous cousins with whom she normally spends Thanksgiving live a short drive away, they decided not to invite anyone outside their immediate-family bubble.
This year: Around15 people will eat dinner on her parent’s backyard deck with space heaters they are borrowing from the family restaurant, Robke’s Northport. They are choosing to eat outside because not everyone is vaccinated; one family member had a bad reaction to a flu shot in the past and was concerned something similar would happen again. Another family member is simply skeptical that the vaccine is safe.
She and her brother initially disagreed about whether it was OK to eat inside anyway. He thought it was fine.
“Eventually we got on the same page,” she said.
Reminder that all is not normal: She’ll refrain from kissing and hugging people as they arrive or from inviting anyone into her parents’ dining room even if it gets chilly.
4. Traveled to see family with her toddler, but back home already
Who: Carly Martell, 34, who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
Last year: Spent Thanksgiving with her husband and then 2-year-old son.
This year: Ms. Martell, a project manager for Amazon, missed traveling for Thanksgiving and was eager to spend the holiday with her parents and sister, who live in New York.She did not feel comfortable taking her son onto a crowded plane, though, because he’s not vaccinated, so they decided to travel and celebrate two weeksearly. Ms. Martell, who used to work for Southwest Airlines, believes in avoiding holiday travel even before the pandemic.
She was relieved to end up with an almost empty plane from Chicago to Buffalo, N.Y., where her parents live, and on Nov. 13, they sat down for the traditional meal, which included turkey and ham. She and her husband will eat steaks on Thursday.
“Even if it wasn’t the actual holiday, it gave us some sense of normalcy and I’m glad we did it in a responsible way,” she said.
Reminder that all is not normal: She spent several months having her son practice wearing a mask, rewarding him with high fives and other incentives to ensure that he’d keep it on during the flight.
5. Back on the road, performing magic tricks at a resort
Who:- Eugene Clark, 56, who lives in Oxford, Mich.
Last year: Before the pandemic Mr. Clark, a family magician “specializing in comedy magic, but not the big illusions,” put 40,000 miles on his car a year for about 10 years straight. He worked around 300 shows per year at private parties, festivals and corporate events. Typically all holidays were booked.
“All of that disappeared so quickly,” he said.
Last Thanksgiving was in some ways the most relaxing Thanksgiving he’d ever had. He spent it at home with his wife and two children.
This year: He is driving to Trevor City, Mich., a resort town on Grand Traverse Bay, to perform at a private Thanksgiving event for several families at a resort there, and resurrect his skills at making pilgrims out of balloons.
“I feel like I’m in the ‘Twilight Zone,’” he said, noting that it’s been so long since he’s performed that he has gone blank on some tricks.
Reminder that all is not normal: The families he is performing for have requested that he wear a mask. He said he supports this rule, but because his voice will be more muffled, he will have to enunciate more.
6. Eating in the nursing-home dining room with friends and family
Who: Gerry Alston, 76, who lives in Baltimore.
Last year: Ms. Alston spent Thanksgiving alone in her room at the Maryland Baptist Aged Home, the nursing home where she has lived since 2018. Not only were visitors prohibited, residents were not permitted to eat together because vaccines were not yet available. The home played festive music over the intercom, but that was the extent of the celebration. (These strict protocols helped enable the Maryland Baptist home to remain free of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic.)
This year: Now that all the residents are vaccinated, they will be able to eat together. Ms. Alston’s son Kevin Coger, 57, said he’s planning to visit his mother. Even as recently as this month, he had to keep his visit to an outdoor porch area, so this will be their first indoor meal together in a long time. He’s also looking forward to giving his mother, who is in a wheelchair, multiple proper hugs.
“It’s my favorite holiday.” said Ms. Alston, who added that her biggest holiday frustration has less to do with the pandemic and more with her health; she wishes she was still in a position to prepare the meal herself. “I’m not bragging, but I’m a good cook,” she said.
Reminder that all is not normal: For Mr. Coger, it’s the masks. Even though he works for Baltimore City Health Department and understands why people should wear them, “I’m still getting used to that,” he said.
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