How to celebrate Thanksgiving under the new normal

As large gatherings and travel are not advised for this year’s Thanksgiving, many families will be connecting with relatives and friends through technology. | AJPress Illustration by Jillian Penalosa

THANKSGIVING is on Thursday, November 26 this year, and families are gearing up for their grocery runs and are planning their menus. While the holiday is known for traveling to see loved ones, gathering with relatives and friends around the table, and passing large plates of food, the traditional ways of celebrating are not advised as coronavirus cases continue to spike across the country.

For nearly the past year, holidays and special occasions — from Easter to birthdays — have had to adapt under this socially distanced time by going virtual or moving outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its holiday guidelines, which include avoiding potluck-style gatherings; not convening in crowded, indoor spaces with individuals not part of your household; and avoiding singing or shouting, especially indoors.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued travel advisories urging residents to stay local and to limit mingling with others outside of their immediate household. Those who come from out of state or another country are advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.

In the Golden State, large gatherings are still prohibited and must follow requirements such as: no more than three households and should be limited to two hours or less; outdoor gatherings in counties in the restrictive purple tier; higher-risk individuals (e.g. older adults and those with chronic medical conditions) are strongly urged not to attend; and limiting removal of face coverings to only when eating and drinking and maintaining 6 feet apart from others.

Despite the restrictions, there are creative ways to still mark this season of gratitude.

Keep the Thanksgiving meal attendees limited

Though Filipinos generally enjoy any reason to gather in numbers, the pandemic is forcing families to make the tough decision of who can attend their respective feasts on Thanksgiving Day.

For Jennifer Estacio, who runs the online Flip Family community, the Thanksgiving feast will begin earlier this year with intimate gatherings with both sides of the family.

“Since some of our families want to travel safely we will celebrate with one side a little earlier than Thanksgiving and have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “Then the other side of the family we will celebrate on Thanksgiving. We get to have all our favorite Thanksgiving dishes twice and not overeat on Thanksgiving Day!”

Roline Casper, a chef and restaurant owner in Vacaville, California, starts Thanksgiving morning fulfilling orders for customers, but closes early so she and her staff can spend time with their families.

“As Filipino Americans, we have a few friends and family over for Thanksgiving because we enjoy sharing food with others and enjoy their company.  We always make sure to pray and give thanks before we eat.  However, this year will be just my immediate family due to the current pandemic,” Casper said.

Divide cooking tasks among family members

Pacing out the cooking process and having family members contribute side dishes can help mitigate any stress on a day that is meant to be joyous.

For Val Fishbain, co-founder and president of Spread The Love, this year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be intimate with her family along with her sister’s family and their mother. Their feast will have a duck at the center instead of turkey, while her husband contributes a cauliflower mash, mom makes pancit and lumpia, and sister and brother-in-law bring over a potato salad and roasted beets.

At Casper’s house, the Thanksgiving feast will feature traditional dishes with Filipino ingredients and flavors: an oven-roasted turkey with tamarind leaves, calamansi and other herbs/spices; apple persimmon  stuffing; pochero, baked ube with cinnamon, cloves, and walnuts; and roasted whole kalabasa  with coconut ginger cream.  For dessert, they’ll have leche flan and baked spiced apples with homemade maple ice cream.

Filipino food crafts by Flip Family | Photo courtesy of Jennifer Estacio

Host a virtual party

Though social distancing is the norm, that doesn’t mean connecting with one another is lost. For the holiday, Zoom announced that it will lift its 40-minute time limit on meetings so “your family gatherings don’t get cut short.” Families that can’t be together in person can use technology to swap recipes and cook together, enjoy the feast together virtually, or play interactive games. Estacio’s Flipp Family has introduced various Filipino food and culture-related crafts and activity books that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Order from a local Fil-Am business

Though preparing a feast complete with the turkey as the star of the table is a traditional part of the holiday, families who don’t want to spend the day in the kitchen can choose to support a local Fil-Am restaurant offering meal packages.

In Southern California, several chefs and businesses have special family-style entrees and desserts to-go: Seafood City Market’s Grill City has several party kits complete with a meat option like cebuchon and a tray of pancit and leche flan; LASA is offering pamilya meal kits with crispy pata, pancit, pies and more; Petite Peso in Downtown LA is selling platters from kare kare to sans rival meringue cookies that can serve 6-8 people; Ma’am Sir and Obet & Del’s Coffee are collaborating on ube passionfruit cheesecake and banana bibingka loaf cake with a pandan glaze; and Tatang and AJ’s Tex Mex & BBQ have two meal package options that include a whole smoked turkey, crispy pata, ube swirled mashed potatoes, and more.

In Northern California, Fob Kitchen has lumpia trays that feed between 10-25; pop-up Pinoy Heritage has a kamayan dinner kit ($50/person) featuring lechon turkey leg roulade, sisig stuffing, seafood ginataan and cassava cake; and Oakland-based Sweet Condesa Pastries is selling turon, halo halo, ube and calamansi pies.

Share what you’re grateful for

At the heart of the holiday is going around the table to share what you’re grateful for. Despite the ongoing pandemic and a host of challenges that 2020 has presented, families take this moment to express gratitude.

For Fishbain, this year has been about living simply and shifting focus on important things like family time.

”So very grateful for the pandemic forcing us to stay in, live within our simple means and pay attention to really important things in life such as love and family. The pandemic also forced us to look out-of-the-box when it comes to learning options for our kids. We took them out of their elementary school to be in a homeschool learning pod (six neighborhood kids) that we created ourselves. Now they are thriving and learning so much from a credentialed teacher without having to do distance learning on the computer. I trust that we’ll figure things out again when it’s time for them to go back to school,” she said.

Casper’s restaurant, Roline’s Uniquely Filipino, has weathered COVID-19 restrictions and the Vacaville fires in recent months.

“I am grateful for my family and team members for being safe and healthy, customers are supporting us and keeping our restaurant open, and at the same time, we were able to donate and give back to our community. My cookbook came out in March at the height of COVID-19 and was a #1 new release on Amazon. No matter how challenging the circumstances present themselves to be, I am thankful each day to have the strength to move forward and be resilient,” she said.

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