Jenna Petersen knew she was pregnant during last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, but she hadn’t told her family yet.
This year, she was looking forward to sharing her daughter Maren’s first Thanksgiving with her mom and dad.
“It was going to be special,” Petersen said.
But after Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday announced new restrictions on social gatherings, Petersen and her family canceled their small, in-person potluck.
Surging rates of COVID-19 and new state guidance have led families across Washington this week to reevaluate their plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. For families still looking to celebrate together over stuffing and gravy, the governor’s new orders require people who aren’t living in the same household to either quarantine for 14 days or quarantine for seven and then test negative for COVID-19 before gathering under one roof. Naturally, these restrictions don’t apply to people who live in the same household.
Since the restrictions were announced, The Seattle Times has heard from more than 200 people across the region. Some are sticking to their original plans. Many say they never had plans to begin with, thanks to the pandemic. Others, like Petersen, are canceling in order to follow the governor’s orders.
Stephen Hall of Port Townsend was going to a nearby relative’s house for a scaled-down meal, but after the governor’s announcement Sunday, Hall called his relatives to cancel.
“It’s not what I’d want in a perfect world, but a lot of times things happen that aren’t what I want,” he said.
Now, he’s planning a turkey dinner for one.
With daily COVID-19 case numbers breaking state records in recent days, many told The Seattle Times that while the restrictions seem necessary to stem an ongoing third wave, they also just wanted to have one day to get together and feel normal.
“Here’s another grief and loss moment of the holiday season that is meaningful to all of us,” said LaVonne Dorsey, a licensed mental health professional in Seattle. “People are having a hard time with finding hope.”
In addition to restricting indoor social gatherings, the governor announced a list of business shutdowns, including the closure of indoor dining, gyms and movie theaters starting this week.
After hearing the news, Geoffrey Wukelic of Capitol Hill was more surprised at what didn’t make the governor’s shutdown list: retail stores.
Wukelic’s brother, Corey, works in retail and was bracing to be out of work. But with stores staying open, requiring Corey to continue leaving his home for work, Wukelic’s family has decided to hold Thanksgiving dinner outside rather than indoors.
Wukelic’s parents will host a small meal on their deck in West Seattle with just their immediate family, maybe five or six people. They’ve ordered five outdoor heaters and a canopy that comes with temporary walls, hopeful it will make sitting in chilly weather more bearable.
“It’s OK,” Wukelic said. “It’s 2020, you know?”
Unlike some holidays that have been easier to adjust to in a pandemic, “a virtual Thanksgiving doesn’t really work” as well, said Dr. Simon Bronner, now at the University of Wisconsin, whose work has focused on folklore and traditions. “Because the whole point is the meal and the idea of gathering around this symbolic bird. …
“There’s this conflict about wanting to have some type of ritual to keep us going or to forgo the ritual because of the risks that you take with it,” Bronner added.
Mickey Huynh, 44, emigrated with his family from Vietnam when he was 12. To celebrate their first year in the U.S., Huynh’s uncle cooked a turkey and made mashed potatoes and cranberries.
“I’d never seen a turkey that big before,” he said.
For the last 32 years, ever since resettling in Olympia, Huynh and his four siblings gather together with their families to cook a turkey and give thanks for the lives they’ve made in the U.S. “This year is no exception to it,” he said.
Huynh and his family have decided to proceed with their plans to celebrate together, all 17 of them, at his home. They’ve taken this pandemic seriously, he said. Most are working from home. But to be told how to celebrate Thanksgiving, he said, is just too far.
Serena Padilla was never planning to share in an in-person Thanksgiving. She works at a small business in Ballard, sees the general public and didn’t want to risk exposing her family to the virus.
“I’ll have a sad, lonely Zoom dinner,” she said, “with all the food I can find energy to cook.”
This year has asked a lot from people, but being away from loved ones during times when people traditionally come together can pack a harder punch.
“It’s not natural for us as human beings to be locked in our houses for months on end and not be in connection,” said Dorsey, the counselor. Since Washington’s first stay-at-home order started in March, Dorsey has seen a wave of former clients return to her for anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation.
“People are struggling,” she said.
Since her mom died last year, Anna McLane of Lynnwood has been riding out this pandemic alone in the home they used to share.
If she can follow the governor’s orders to quarantine, she’ll try to spend Thanksgiving with loved ones. “But I don’t know if I can handle two weeks by myself,” McLane said. (Technically, Inslee announced the new restrictions with 11 days until Thanksgiving.)
If these restrictions continue through the end of December, what she’ll miss the most, McLane said, is the little traditions, like helping friends string lights on their Christmas tree.
“I’m going to get through this,” she said. “And being alone on the holidays, while hard, is not the worst thing that could ever happen to me by far.”