After my flight home to Virginia on Nov. 23, I woke up just before noon on Thanksgiving Day to catch the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade, only to be disappointed by this year yet again. Backup dancers wore masks in an unusually empty area, no volunteers walked the big balloons down the street and stationary actors waved from their floats with smiles (I assume) underneath their masks. This annual parade is quintessential to Thanksgiving, but this year, nostalgia tainted the day’s usually cheerful activities. 

Upon waking up, my mom, sister and I made waffles and fresh whipped cream while debating what to do for the rest of the day. My sister quickly escaped back to her room to study for her upcoming finals. I, on the other hand, had just wrapped up my first semester of college with zero breaks (except for that pre-Halloween Thursday when everyone lost power). I was determined to do absolutely nothing except eat, binge watch new Netflix shows and send way too many “Happy Thanksgiving!” texts.  

My sister, having chosen to spend half of her Thanksgiving cramming, missed out on a coffee run with my mother and I. And yet this typically mundane trip didn’t feel even slightly similar to past years. We were first delayed by my mom, who forgot her mask. I then faced the struggle of teaching her how to use an app to order our coffee so that we didn’t have to enter the store. While sitting on the familiar avenue of shops, I noticed heated, outdoor seating tents on the sidewalks as restaurants prepared for social distanced dining in freezing temperatures. I felt an all-too-familiar pang of sadness at that moment: I missed the simplicity of walking across campus to grab Kaldi’s coffee using my precious Dooley Dollars and passing by other students and residence halls. 

Sipping on my cozy drink at home, I was inspired from TikTok and Instagram to bake apple and blackberry crumble tarts for our Thanksgiving dessert. Although I had high expectations for myself, I didn’t make enough shortcrust pastry and there was definitely too much filling, but there’s a first for everything. 

Thanksgiving wasn’t exactly traditional, but dessert tarts were a staple at this year’s holiday feast. (The Emory Wheel/Ulia Ahn, Staff)

This year, we went to a family friend’s house for a socially distanced Thanksgiving dinner. Knowing that our dinner was going to be catered from the disaster that is Bob Evans, my sister and I decided to make our own stuffing to add something to the table that would be a bit more palatable. (Pro tip: to avoid crying while chopping onions, use swim goggles. It makes for a great picture, too). Pre-sliced turkey and styrofoam-cupped whipped cream wasn’t my idea of a five-star feast, but family and friends are the most important aspect of the holiday season … right? You win some, you lose some. 

A few days before heading over to our friend’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, we all got tested for COVID-19 to ensure everyone’s safety. I would have never imagined that nose swabs would become a part of my holiday routine. To avoid cross contamination, our host family prepared each of our meals on separate plates. We also ate at two different tables instead of sharing laughs upon a single, long table. Even with the distance, though, conversation was lively as we compared our fall semester experiences and, yes, I did go for a second serving of stuffing.

We finished off Thanksgiving Day by watching a surprising Washington Redskins victory over the Dallas Cowboys — a true Thanksgiving miracle. 

This year’s Thanksgiving was unconventional and consequently unforgettable. Although  uncharacteristic from my usual holiday agenda, the holiday made me appreciate the small traditions we could continue even during a pandemic.