Junior Lilah Shorey zooms with her family on Thanksgiving. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Shorey)

Students, teachers celebrate Thanksgiving amid pandemic

Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrated the last Thursday of every November, is always met with festivities.

Families usually gather together for a a meal that features a variety of traditional foods.

The majority of schools close school for the week surrounding the holiday.

Although many students and teachers have changed their plans due to the pandemic, holiday cheer remains.

“We were going to go down to my grandparents’ house, but then it changed due to COVID-19,” said sophomore Grace Eberhart.

Her father has to work, so her family has chosen to stay home to avoid the risk of spreading the virus.

Eberhart still plans to carry out Thanksgiving traditions with her immediate family.

“We normally make turkey, green bean casserole and stuffing — all the normal stuff,” she said.

Although Eberhart prefers ham to turkey, her family rarely switches.

“It’s normally always turkey unless I convince my parents to make ham. That’s very rare,” Eberhart said.

Thanksgiving food is also a tradition in senior Layla MoheyEldin’s celebration.

“We always have the cranberry jelly from a can — you cut along the ridges,” she said.

Her family also makes green bean casserole, although they substitute cream of potato soup for cream of mushroom soup.

“Nobody in our family likes it and we still make it. It’s tradition, so we all have a little bit then don’t eat the rest,” she said.

Another change to the traditional menu is with the turkey. MoheyEldin’s family usually opts to cook a turkey breast instead of a full turkey, as her family doesn’t like dark meat.

Her favorite Thanksgiving food is pecan pie.

“I could eat that all day and never get sick,” MoheyEldin said. “I would get physically sick, but I’d never be sick of it.”

MoheyEldin’s plans for Thanksgiving dinner have been changed by the pandemic as well.

Seventh grader Ellie Josephson celebrates Thanksgiving with her family and also decorates her house for Hanukkah. (Photo courtesy of Lanie Josephson)

In other years, her family would invite extended family — aunts, uncles, grandparents and her great-uncles family — or travel to others’ houses for the day.

Instead, their gathering will only have people from her household — her two brothers and her parents.

MoheyEldin is also looking forward to the time off.

“You get four days off and your parents are off work, too,” she said. “It’s all a fun, nice time when you get to eat and hang out together.”

High school chemistry teacher Victoria Conner is most excited about the break from school during the week, when she can get some rest and spend time with her family.

In normal years, her extended family would visit each other. She and her son, freshman Kasmer Conner, would also participate in the Run to Feed The Hungry.

Because the Run To Feed The Hungry is virtual this year, Conner and her son will do their own walk that morning.

Due to COVID-19, Conner will have Thanksgiving dinner with her family in Sacramento and Zoom calling her relatives on the East coast.

“I think it is a good tradition to keep alive even though it’s virtual this year,” she said.

Senior Jack Goselin also will be spending time with family this Thanksgiving.

He plans to meet with his uncles and grandparents in Sacramento at his grandparents’ house.

Goselin’s family usually makes traditional food for the holiday.

“We make dark and white meat off the turkey. Cranberry sauce is a specialty,” he said.

Even with the pandemic, his family’s plans haven’t changed. Although they’re concerned about COVID-19, they still want to go ahead.

While freshman Gulzar Sohal’s family doesn’t always make traditional Thanksgiving food, he’s looking forward to spending time with family.

Usually his family makes Punjabi food, but plans vary from year to year.

His favorite Thanksgiving food is the homemade cake his first cousin makes every year.

This year, he’ll be gathering with his parents, brother, grandparents and his dad’s brother’s family.

Originally, he might have gone to Fresno with family, but now he’ll be staying with family closer to Sacramento.

Sohal is looking forward to spending time with people he hasn’t seen recently.

High school Spanish teacher Patricia Portillo plans to spend time with family differently.

She and her family usually travel to Los Angeles to meet with extended family.

“We have a special dinner at my sister-in-law’s house with my mom and my siblings,” she said. “We probably have about 30 people, and it’s a lot of fun.”

A visit this year would be too complicated, Portillo said. 

“It’s just too many people to quarantine and to make sure we’re all safe,” she said.

She also has older relatives that would be at high risk for COVID-19. 

“My mom is 70 right now, and my husband’s mom is 89,” Portillo said. “My husband is the youngest in the family, so he also has a couple of sisters who are over 60. People are vulnerable.”

Instead of their usual gathering, Portillo plans to have a smaller one with the people in her house. Her nephew, daughter Gabi Alvarado, (’19), husband and international student Jacqueline Chao (’19).

Her favorite part about the holiday is spending time together with family she doesn’t see often and getting to enjoy their company.

Despite the many changes due to the pandemic, most families will be able to celebrate together, whether in-person or on Zoom, maintaining the spirit of Thanksgiving.

— By Samhita Kumar

Originally published in the Nov. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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