Whether they carved turkeys at outdoor picnic tables, connected with family through video calls or ate stuffing in the break room of a hospital coronavirus ward, many Americans found themselves marking this Thanksgiving in ways they hardly could have foreseen a year ago.
The holes that Covid-19 has torn so viciously in millions of lives were glaring on Thursday: Houses sat quiet, dinner tables were nearly empty, even the Macy’s parade route in New York was nearly devoid of spectators. And in too many cases, loved ones were irrevocably missing.
Even so, laughter and holiday cheer still spilled from behind many a face mask, or through the boxes on digital screens. In Mississippi, a brother and sister’s hunting tradition lived on. Nurses in Houston ate from paper plates between work shifts keeping virus patients breathing.
And a 93-year-old retired toymaker in California seemed to speak for many when he described his pandemic-altered Thanksgiving: “We adapt.”
— Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Lunch on a son’s patio, then back home alone
LOS ANGELES — Edgar Burns, 93, has long been accustomed to a big family dinner on Thanksgiving surrounded by 13 relatives. But that was not going to work this year.
Born in Germany, Mr. Burns survived the Holocaust, immigrated to the United States in 1947 and spent a long career designing toys for Mattel. In retirement he has led an active life of writing, gardening and exercising. Though he lives alone, he feels fortunate that all three of his children live nearby; before the pandemic, he would usually see one of them every day.
“The family is everything,” he said.
To stay safe this year, instead of a big dinner for the holiday, the family opted for a small socially distanced lunch on the patio at Mr. Burns’s son Ken’s house. Mr. Burns wondered what Thanksgiving would look like out in broad daylight, instead of under artificial bulbs in the evening. But the change didn’t worry him.
“I’m pretty malleable,” he said. “We adapt.”
Later on, Mr. Burns saw his two daughters and their children using Portal, a video device that his grandson set up for him recently. “Sure, I would like to do more things with my grandkids, but I can’t, so I don’t,” he said. “It’s just a few more months.”
— Isadora Kosofsky
In a Covid-19 ward, Thanksgiving on call
HOUSTON — On a wall at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston is a sign that tracks how many days the medical team has been “fighting Covid-19.” Thanksgiving was Day 252 in the battle.
Located on Houston’s North Side, the hospital serves some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Most patients are Black or Hispanic, and many are uninsured. The hospital also recently began receiving virus patients transferred from El Paso, one of the nation’s hardest-hit cities.
Many nurses and other workers at the hospital saw more patients on Thanksgiving Day than they did family members or friends. On breaks between shifts, groups of three or four staff members would sneak away to the employee break area to inhale a paper plateful of turkey and casserole and a slice of pumpkin pie.
Even as they fought to keep patients alive, this unconventional family still managed to crack jokes and lift one another up between bites. Thursday was another busy day on the Covid-19 ward: One patient died in the early morning, two patients needed percutaneous tracheostomy procedures to help them breathe, and toward the end of the day, two new patients were admitted. The doctors and nurses rarely had time to look back; they were focused on getting to Day 253. — Christopher Lee
Eating apart, a family splits a pig dish
LOS ANGELES — Ericke Tan, 30, spent last Thanksgiving with her large extended family at her grandmother’s house, but this year they avoided a large gathering and came up with a different way to share a meal.
Ms. Tan, a digital marketing manager, bought a lechón, a slowly roasted suckling pig dish popular in the Philippines, and cut it in half. She delivered one half to her parents and her two younger siblings at their home on Thursday, and brought the other half to her studio apartment in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Later that night, she used FaceTime to chat with her four siblings; three live in the United States and one in the Philippines. — Rozette Rago
At dawn in Mississippi, a family’s hunting tradition
NATCHEZ, Miss. — Jimmy Riley and his sister, Alyce Riley-Reames, rose before dawn, loaded up Mr. Riley’s Ford truck and drove out to the family’s 300 acres of woodland south of Natchez to hunt.
“It’s not just about meat,” said Mr. Riley, the manager at the Giles Island Hunting Club. “I get to share something in common with my family.”
The siblings have done the same every Thanksgiving for more than a decade. For all that has changed this year, he said, “Covid has not shut that part of our life down.”
Around 11 a.m., he lowered his bow from the wild sweet pecan tree where he had been perched, and went to pick up his sister from her spot. They packed their gear and drove to their mother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, where only five family members — instead of the usual 15 — gathered for the meal. Afterward, they headed back out again to finish the day hunting.
Neither of the siblings wound up killing a deer on Thursday, but that wasn’t the point.
“Hunting ain’t just about killing,” Mr. Riley said, walking back to his car in the rain after sunset. “This is where I go to contemplate everything that is going on in my life.” — Annie Flanagan
‘It’s a little lonely’
DETROIT — Cherri Harris, 47, celebrated Thanksgiving with her daughter, Reanna Williams, 20, at her home in Detroit. They could not hold hands with extended family in a prayer circle as they usually do, but they were joined by family and friends on a Zoom call in their kitchen.
The holiday was noticeably quieter without Ms. Harris’s mother, the Rev. Darla Swint, who died of Covid-19 in April, a month and a few days shy of her 70th birthday. Ms. Harris, a former nurse, cared for her mother at home for nearly two weeks after she fell ill, until she had to be admitted to the hospital.
“It’s a little lonely, but I thank God my daughter is home from college to be there for me,” Ms. Harris said. “That meant more to me than she’ll probably ever realize.” — Sylvia Jarrus
Under a lockdown order in the Navajo Nation
LUPTON, Ariz. — The coronavirus has gripped the Navajo Nation and shown no sign of letting go, as the number of cases and deaths continued to rise this week. Trying to stem the spread, the Navajo Nation’s vice president urged everyone to stay home for Thanksgiving, and its health director issued a stay-at-home order earlier this month that lasts until Dec. 6, limiting trips out of the home to “essential activities.”
“We wish all of our Navajo people a Happy Thanksgiving holiday, and we encourage you to remain home with your loved ones throughout the weekend,” Myron Lizer, the vice president, said in a statement. “The safest place to be during this pandemic is at home here on the Navajo Nation.”
President Jonathan Nez urged people to stay home on the day after Thanksgiving as well, and to forgo Black Friday shopping trips, saying, “The risks are far too high and not worth your life.”
Lorencita Murphy, an Army veteran, cooked and baked for her family on Thursday and assembled to-go trays to hand out to relatives in their cars outside of her home, a celebration that she described as “very different” from her usual festivities.
“A few family members, friends, and no buffet,” she said. “Kind of sad.” — Sharon Chischilly
Thanksgiving on the prairie
BENNINGTON, Neb. — Bundled up on a sunny, wind-swept prairie, Barbi Hayes found a way for her family to celebrate Thanksgiving together safely. Each household prepared dishes and then exchanged the food in containers to be opened and eaten after the gathering.
Though the family’s holidays typically bring together as many as 40 people, this year there were just 10.
“You forget how important just your immediate family is when you’re trying to host for a lot of people,” Ms. Hayes said. “It really brought family back home.”
In the open air, they enjoyed each other’s company and then set off on a hike through the golden fields.
“You know, we have to have optimism,” Ms. Hayes said. “And even in the darkest times, you need hope. The year is almost over, which is good.” — Calla Kessler