Your Guide to a Happy Corona-Era Thanksgiving

Most Americans have been forced to realize that this year’s Thanksgiving will definitely be different than years past. As the Coronavirus continues to rear its head across the nation, everyone from the East to West Coast has been affected in at least one way. The divide in how to handle the virus has led to almost an exact split on how Americans plan to celebrate this holiday season. According to this study done by MoningConsult, 53% of Americans plan on celebrating this holiday season as usual, with 47% stating that they will cancel them altogether due to the virus. Regardless of how Americans do or don’t celebrate the 2020 holiday season, one thing still rings true; Americans love their Thanksgiving. Whether you’re part of the 53% or 47%, here is your essential guide to a happy Thanksgiving – even in 2020.

thanksgiving 2020

Turkey Day Stats

According to Nationwide’s numbers guide for Thanksgiving, it’s estimated that 96% of American families gather annually for Thanksgiving; so it’s no surprise that Turkey Day is also the US’s most travelled holiday. Year after year, 55 million Americans hit the road to visit family and friends for the special day. Of Americans who load up to crisscross the nation for family, a whopping 89% of them drive. Turkey Day causes such massive congestion on the road that traffic is improved 60% between the following Saturday and Sunday.
When the feast day finally arrives, Americans consume nearly 50 million turkeys across the nation. So, why do Americans celebrate this special day? And why on Earth do they eat so much turkey?

Five Fast Facts About America’s Most Beloved Holiday

Here are some tidbits about Thanksgiving that’ll give you “pumpkin to talk about” at the table!

Turkey wasn’t the main course originally

That’s right, the very first Thanksgiving which took place nearly 400 years ago didn’t have turkey at all. The meat items for the inaugural Thanksgiving were primarily venison, duck and goose. Additionally, they chowed down on seafood such as lobster, seal and swan.

Thanksgiving Wasn’t Declared a National Holiday until 1863

President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Prior to that, presidents would “declare celebration” on Thanksgiving Day, but it wasn’t formally a national holiday until ole Abe came around. It was around the time of President Lincoln’s declaration that Americans began eating turkey, too. The reason being that a large 20 lb bird is simply more practical for feeding a table of 10+ family members vs several small ducks or geese.

thanksgiving guide

It Was Originally a Three Day Affair

Thanksgiving was originally celebrated for three whole days. This was because the first feast was so large that there were three days of food to go around. It’s recorded that the Wampanoag tribe brought five whole deer to the first celebration. Among the other menu items were the duck mentioned above, goose and seafood picks.

The “Turkey Pardon” is Taken Very Seriously

In 1989 President George H.W. Bush officially pardoned the first turkey after noticing the big bird looked a little nervous during his Thanksgiving proclamation. Since then, every president has upheld the tradition. Curious what becomes of the birds saved from being the main course for Thanksgiving? Well, they go on to live happy lives. In fact, in 2005 and 2009 both pardoned turkeys went to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. What for? To serve as “grand marshal” for the annual Thanksgiving parade, of course.

thanksgiving 2020
image: Lisa NY/Facebook

Pumpkin Pie is Nearly as Important as Turkey

Pumpkin pie has been a New England favourite for centuries. So much a favourite in fact, that in 1705 Colchester, Connecticut postponed their Thanksgiving an entire week. What would cause an entire town to do such a thing? A molasses shortage which meant no pumpkin pie and you just can’t have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.

Traditional Thanksgiving Sides to “Gobble” Up

Speaking of pumpkin pie, let’s talk sides. Any Thanksgiving guide out there will tell you that they are the most important part of the meal. Here are some traditional Thanksgiving sides to feast on this year that don’t include pumpkin pie or turkey.

Sweet Potato Casserole

This burnt orange pudding-like side is made up of mashed spiced sweet potatoes and topped with marshmallows and pecans.

Recipe is by Spend with Pennies.

Green Bean Casserole

Green beans, fried onions and cream of mushroom soup baked together creating something magical. What more do you need this Thanksgiving?

Recipe is by Gimme Some Oven.

Classic Stuffing

There is nothing more Thanksgiving than stuffing. Traditionally made with onions, celery and herbs galore this bread dish is unbeatable.

Recipe is by Averie Cooks.

Cranberry Sauce

This dish screams holiday season. You can smother this deliciously tangy sauce on everything from turkey to cream-based desserts.

Recipe is by Cookie and Kate.


Yes. We have decided alcohol can function as a whole side dish. After all, it’s an epic feast day, so why not go the whole nine yards? Popular picks for Thanksgiving are typically spiced cider and mulled wine.

Origins of the Great American Thanksgiving

In order to understand America’s most famous holiday, you need to know its history. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists who’d taken up shop all across Native American land shared a feast with the local Wampanoag tribe. That’s the short version, but the long one is better. When the Mayflower ship sailed from England to modern-day Plymouth, Massachusets it had over 100 passengers aboard. They were looking to start new lives and break the chains of religious suppression they’d been suffering in England. After 60 days at sea, the settlers made it to Cape Cod where they only had more trouble. Met with a brutal Massachusets winter, most of the pilgrims stayed on board. By that spring, only half of the original passengers moved ashore with the rest succumbing to disease outbreaks.

Once they’d settled ashore, an Abenaki Indian surprisingly greeted them in English. Eventually, they were introduced to another local, Squanto. Squanto, who belonged to the Pawtuxet tribe did the pilgrims a favour for which they’d never be able to repay. He taught them how to live. Native to the land and knowing the risks, he taught the settlers how to grow crops, catch fish and how to avoid poisonous plants.

Most importantly, he helped them forge an alliance with the local Wampanoag tribe. Around this time the pilgrims were gearing up for their first harvest thanks to Squanto. In honour of the successful harvest and to show thanks, Governor William Bradford decided to organize a celebratory feast and invite the Wampanoag tribe to partake. The two groups, while wildly different, enjoyed a massive three-day feast that would later be known as Thanksgiving.

One of the Only Warm Gestures in America’s Darkest Chapter

The pact with the Wampanoag remained in place for 50 years and is now recognized as one of the few examples of harmony between colonizers and Native Americans. It’s no secret that most colonizers were unbelievably brutal to their Native counterparts. Many textbooks will have you believe that Native Americans and Europeans lived in harmony when, in reality, it was quite the opposite. Europeans came to the Americas ready to spill blood for a new life, and that’s precisely what happened. The “New World” as it was then called was a place of an opportunity for some and a place of stolen land, pillaging and destruction for others.

Nowadays Thanksgiving conjures up images of roast turkey and spending time with family. At its core, though, it’s a time to be grateful and a time to remember one of the most peaceful things to occur in what was otherwise a very dark chapter in American history. It’s a time to take stock on what you have. For the pilgrims, that was the help of Squanto that led to a bountiful harvest and unification with the Wampanoags. What is it for you?

thanksgiving guide 2020 plymouth

Thanksgiving Bucket List Item: Lodge Like a Pilgrim in Plymouth

Plimouth Patuxet is home to a 17th-century village which serves a living history museum. Guests can tour the grounds and feel as if they’re looking through a 1600’s lens of Plymoth, Massachusets. Visitors can learn about the local native and pilgrim culture, purchase souvenirs like traditional pottery along with other fun activities.
Best part? Plimouth Patuxet also hosts an annual Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving Traditions From Charity to Extreme Consumerism


Any American who has ever celebrated Thanksgiving knows how important the ritual of the wishbone is. After all has been scoured from the turkey, someone is chosen to remove the wishbone. Once it’s clean and dry, two family members have a tug of war with either side of the wishbone. Both grab their respective sides of the bone, make a wish and pull. Whoever winds up with the larger half will have their wish made true!

Parades, Football and Marathons

Many families on Thanksgiving partake in watching at least one parade, football match or other entertainment. The New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is absolutely legendary and garners approximately 3 million revellers on the streets and 50 million home viewers annually. This year will be quite different, though. Due to the pandemic Macy’s has officially cancelled the parade. The NFL hopefully plans to broadcast a game between the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans on Thanksgiving Day but whether or not that will actually happen is in the air.
Good news is there will always be marathons! Thanksgiving Day is usually full of your favourite movies and shows on repeat. Most famous choices for Thanksgiving Day marathons are the Harry Potter series and every Christmas movie imaginable.

macy parade thanksgiving guide

Turkey Trots

Taking place for over a century, turkey trots are a time tested Thanksgiving Day tradition. This long-distance footrace usually takes place on Thanksgiving morning or afternoon. They typically span anywhere from 5k to a whole marathon and are practised all over the nation. It’s a fun family activity that participants usually dress up or at least get in the spirit for. Amusingly, Dallas, Texas’ 2011 Turkey Trot set a Guinness World Record for most people dressed as a turkey.

Whether or not turkey trots will go on this year is hard to say. It will vary city to city with places like Tampa plan to going full steam ahead with a virtual trot, and others choosing to cancel. The nation’s largest turkey trot which takes place in Chicago is also going virtual. You can see their guide to this year’s Thanksgiving trot here.

Giving Back

Thanksgiving is, after all, a day of thanks. Many families make sure to give back in one way or another on the special day. Some volunteer at soup kitchens while others donate clothes or canned goods. It’s a great time for families to get involved in their community while bonding over Thanksgiving at the same time. Either way, gratitude is shared all around. Itching to help out your community? This charitable Thanksgiving guide has a few ideas. 

Black Friday

Possibly the most ironic thing to be associated with Thanksgiving is Black Friday. This massive shopping holiday is the definition of consumerism and has grown exponentially popular in recent years. Every year over 100 million people take out their wallets to shop Black Friday sales either for Christmas gifts, personal treats or just because. In recent Black Fridays, it’s become a full-contact sport with videos of people fighting over flatscreens and play stations continuing to make rounds every year.
An obvious change to this years holiday season, including Black Friday will be the increase in an already booming industry, online shopping. According to Spend Me Not, 2019’s Black Friday boasted over 93 million online shoppers who generated sales of 7.4 billion dollars. Black Friday is also responsible for a whopping 30% of all annual retail sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.


What Does a Corona-Era Thanksgiving Look Like For Americans?

Well, it’s hard to say. With the United States currently at over 8.5 million cases and growing, the virus doesn’t have an end in sight. The upcoming elections only seem to divide the country further with some states wishing to lockdown again. Optimistically speaking, the holiday season will serve as a time where people can thoughtfully and safely celebrate their gratitude, but its anyone’s game.

You Can Still Celebrate in Your Own Way

MorningConsul’s study showing a nearly 50/50 split on whether Americans plan to celebrate this holiday season tells us it can go either way. However, while Thanksgiving will certainly be different, that doesn’t mean it’s cancelled. One positive thing to come from this year’s pandemic has been the realization of what matters. Families who do choose to celebrate together this year will likely appreciate their time together much more than in 2019. Those who opt to stay in will have more time to reflect on how much they love their families and appreciate the season. As unpredictable and uncertain as Thanksgiving may seem, there’s still hope for a great holiday season.

The pandemic has also forced the hospitality sect to find ways to keep up with the crumbling industry. Wyndham has recently introduced a Thanksgiving-style resort bubble and places like NYC’s Four Seasons are offering unprecedented offers while maintaining health and safety. Recently the CDC warned against large holiday gatherings saying that they pose “varying levels of risk.”

From Zoom to Contactless Delivery, You Still Have Options

One thing to keep in mind is if you plan to do Thanksgiving differently this year due to the virus, you have options. You can have a small dinner with those who live in your household or prepare traditional recipes and drop them off without contact at family and friends. Additionally, you could go fully virtual via one of 2020’s biggest celebrities – zoom. With a virtual Thanksgiving, you can host all the family and friends you want without the risk of exposure. Plus, if those unavoidable political talks come up, you can always just close the laptop.

Regardless of what your plans are this Thanksgiving, we wish you a happy holiday season. After all, Thanksgiving is what kicks off the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Melanie Hamilton

Melanie is an avid traveller with a passion for history and global foods. She is currently based in Tbilisi, Georgia where most of her time is occupied with qvevri wine and Soviet history. Having do-si-do'd her way across Europe and Latin America, she's enjoyed some of the world's most exciting places firsthand and can't wait to tell you about them.

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