For many households, Thanksgiving Day 2020 will not be the traditional gathering of extended family and friends. In this year of COVID-19, families are instead filling their cornucopia with gratitude for the people and traditions that made previous Thanksgivings memorable.

Emmy Treichel of Lexington-Hamline is looking forward to Thanksgiving. “I already have my tablecloth on,” she said. At 92, Treichel said her children will not be coming over for dinner this year as they are maintaining social distance, but they will be sharing their favorite Thanksgiving fare nonetheless. “I have a new cranberry salad recipe,” Treichel said. “My son will arrange for a driver who will pick up and deliver (the dishes), so we’ll all have the same complete meal and we’ll Zoom our Thanksgiving dinner.”

Being alone on Thanksgiving is not something Treichel has accepted since she and her late husband moved into their house over 60 years ago and spent their first holiday away from family. She has not been alone thanks in part to a flier she saw long ago at Saint Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Frogtown. The flier asked people to host international students on holidays.

“Our Thanksgivings were always 14 to 20 people,” she said, and those gatherings always included “two to four international students.”

For Ryan and Laura Rapacz of Highland Park and their children Alice, 11, and Edith, 8, Thanksgiving will not include the usual gathering of her friends from high school. Last year, with spouses and children, the gathering was so large that the group met at Bap and Chicken on Grand Avenue at the invitation of owner and friend John Gleason. This year, each family may have to arrange curbside pickup to keep the tradition going.

“I imagine we’ll be blending some of our old Thanksgiving traditions on a smaller scale and forging some new ones,” Ryan said. In the past, the family of four participated in the Highland Turkey Trot. This year they may just take a run along river road. “Then we’ll make dinner together as a family,” Ryan said.

Laura and the girls are planning to do some baking with pumpkin puree given to the girls for Halloween by her mother. Both girls love to bake, she said. They will also be playing games, enjoying a fire and connecting with other family members by Zoom.

 

Thanksgiving
Laura (far left) and Ryan (far right) Rapacz, with their children Edith, 8, and Alice, 11, celebrated Thanksgiving last year with several longtime friends and their families at the Bap and Chicken restaurant on Grand Avenue. This Thanksgiving the same group will be meeting via Zoom.

“We talk about traditions,” Ryan said. “Who likes to do the turkey, our uncle’s marshmallow-soaked sweet potatoes? But all of those may not matter as much. It will be nice for the four of us just to be together, having a couple of familiar foods. We’re going to be looking for whatever glimmer of normalcy we can find.””

“We talk about traditions,” Ryan said. “Who likes to do the turkey, our uncle’s marshmallow-soaked sweet potatoes. But all of those may not matter as much. It will be nice for the four of us just to be together, having a couple of familiar foods. We’re going to be looking for whatever glimmer of normalcy we can find.”

“Our Thanksgiving celebration has long been a blend of family traditions,” said Duchesne Drew of Highland Park, the president of Minnesota Public Radio. That family includes wife and MPR news host Angela Davis, their two teenage children and Drew’s mother. “I typically make the turkey,” Drew said. “Angela and my mother usually make a ham as well as side dishes—lots and lots of side dishes: Angela’s grandfather’s sweet potato casserole, green beans, collard greens, my mom’s macaroni and cheese, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, dinner rolls and more.

“Angela and I are transplants, and we spent years working in newsrooms with lots of other transplants, so we’ve often hosted folks who didn’t have family in town,” Drew said. “That won’t be happening this year because of COVID, but making room for others at the table is a tradition I’m eager to reinstate when it’s safe to do so. I vividly remember the invitations I got from new friends when I first moved here. Those invitations, those meals, were part of what helped me come to see Minnesota as home.”

 

“I started making Thanksgiving dinner at 15 years old for my mom and two brothers,” Perry said. “Later, we included others who had no family to spend the holiday with. Our Thanksgiving table is set with china and silver from Shane’s family and a few heirloom pieces from mine…. As far as traditions, my sister pointed out that lumpy gravy seems to be a constant.”

Ann Farley Anderson of Macalester-Groveland grew up in Saint Paul. Her husband Bob Anderson is from Madison, Minnesota. When Ann and her five siblings were young, they did not have any aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents in the area. “We always celebrated Thanksgiving with our immediate family and sometimes the friends of my parents,” Ann said. “My parents’ friends became our closest thing to family throughout the years, and probably our biggest tradition for Thanksgiving was having dinner with them.”

Now with her five siblings scattered, Ann and Bob will be grateful for whatever family connections they can make that day. “There are so many families dealing with sickness and death out there,” Ann said. “Whoever we get to share the day with, we’re blessed if family and friends are well during these strange times.”

Mary and Shane Perry of Lexington-Hamline will also have a new look to their Thanksgiving this year. Shane’s mother lives with the couple. They also have children and close friends who live nearby. This year, however, “the gathering will be smaller,” Mary Perry said, in keeping with Governor Tim Walz’s recommendations. “We’ll have a memorable Thanksgiving, but it’ll be different.

“I started making Thanksgiving dinner at 15 years old for my mom and two brothers,” Perry said. “Later, we included others who had no family to spend the holiday with. Our Thanksgiving table is set with china and silver from Shane’s family and a few heirloom pieces from mine. Shane says a special prayer of thanks for the abundant blessings in our lives. As far as traditions, my sister pointed out that lumpy gravy seems to be a constant.”

Gingi and Bill Hickey of Highland Park are planning a smaller but no less meaningful Thanksgiving as well. They had planned to have an outdoor celebration on the patio and in the garage with portable heaters and their children, spouses and grandchildren distancing and wearing masks. But with the new COVID safety recommendations, Gingi said, “I’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner and delivering the meals on doorsteps. The silver lining, I suppose, is there’s less pressure for my food to turn out perfect.” Gingi said.

“Thirty years ago, my oldest daughter came home from kindergarten and told me that Thanksgiving is a time of mourning for Native Americans,” Bill said. “Since then, on Thanksgiving, we’ve focused on a spiritual heritage that celebrates gratitude for life, love, liberty, friends and family. When my son-in-law joined our family, he shared a short, beautiful prayer he got from his grandma, and we now use it to toast all of our gatherings: ‘We are thankful for the food before us, the family and friends beside us and the love between us.’”

— Anne Murphy

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