For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to gather together, share family stories, renew connections, and partake of an amazing variety of homemade food. While Americans celebrate with their own traditions during this annual time together, many immigrant Latinos and Hispanics have also opted to incorporate Thanksgiving into their own families. And as with all things Latino, they typically take it to the next level – more family, more food, just more! – but 2020 has thrown many of the elements of a big family gathering into the danger category. In anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday, the CDC has issued new Holiday Recommendations to try to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 during a time of national celebration. The struggle will be to stay safe while honoring traditions. Perhaps this year is a perfect time to create some new ones.
How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in 2020
Each family unit should remain in their own “social bubble” – this means individuals that live in the same home and may include a very small number of close friends that also limit their external contact. That part is key – the people in your social bubble have to agree in advance to only interact with each other in order to limit possible exposure to the virus. Once that is agreed upon, we can acknowledge that there are ways to help keep ourselves and others safe within our social bubbles and still stay connected WITHOUT hosting a houseful of people. With WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, among others, we have plenty of methods to see and hear each other while staying physically distant.
This year, agree that “virtual” is best for everyone and send out a Virtual Thanksgiving invitation. Set up a time to meet online, show each other your favorite dishes, and tell those wonderful stories, all while having the kids “Zoom-bomb” the video chat! They’ll sneak in and out of sight, giggling in the background, and the grandparents, aunts, and uncles will ooh and ahh over them all the same. In fact, the older kids may be the ones to set up the chat for you! Keep the chat going while everyone enjoys their meals in their own homes. Mobile phones make that easy and can even be passed around the table so that everyone can feel closer and continue to interact. Remember, the idea is not to keep people apart; it’s to keep everyone healthy and safe while maintaining connections.
This IS the perfect time to connect as an extended familia, and for Latinos that encompasses close friends as well as family members. The importance of strong family and friend relationships cannot be understated, so being apart will be hard. We like to hug and kiss, laugh and sing, maybe even wrestle and play with the kids. Remind yourselves and your virtual guess that this is temporary, for everyone’s healthy and safety, and hopefully we can feel comfortable getting together in person soon, but not quite yet.
Speaking of Food
If your family tends to stick to the classics like mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and turkey, add something new this year – something with Latino flair. Here are just a few flavorful ideas:
Stuff the Turkey
With chorizo, bacon, beef, or pork. Try this Mexican-inspired stuffing with all the meats and more! Or try this Mofongo Stuffing recipe consisting of fried and mashed plantains, pork rinds, garlic, and sweet chili peppers – a Puerto Rican favorite recommended by Chef José Enrique.
Latino-Inspired Side Dishes
As plentiful as the classics. If you prefer your plantains fried, this recipe is super simple for your first attempt. Try this quintessential Puerto Rican dish, Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pidgeon Peas), as a replacement for mashed potatoes. This Mexican Street Corn Casserole reminiscent of elotes offers all the taste of authentic street food corn-on-the-cob without the mess. Add tamales, tortillas, beans, and a variety of specialty salsas, and you’ve just upgraded your classic Thanksgiving meal with some major Latino flavors! But don’t forget the desserts (yes, plural!).
Desserts – Yes, please!
By all means, have the usual pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies, but why not try one or more of these Hispanic treats? Have a Mexican-style Rice Pudding (Arroz con Leche), Ecuadoran Caramelized Pumpkin (Dulce de Zapallo), Tres Leches Cake, or even throwback across the pond with this Classic Spanish Flan.
The “Thankful” Part
Being connected is an important part of family relationships, perhaps even more so with Latinos. Being physically close is a major part of the Hispanic community. This is often illustrated with extended families including grandparents, aunts, and uncles living with their grown children and their offspring, as well. However, with Coronavirus affecting Latinos at three times the rate of whites, and with outcomes being worse regarding recovery, being together is also very dangerous. Be thankful for being able to connect virtually, for sharing a meal together in your family bubble, and for reflecting on the beautiful memories of past Thanksgivings and future celebrations. We’ll get there, together – but for now, we are all safer apart.
Reminder: Coronavirus doesn’t care that you are celebrating and it will take every chance to spread. Be alert and stay vigilant, following the most recent recommendations from your local health department and the CDC.