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Planning a pandemic-safe Thanksgiving

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

It is a different and most unusual kind of Thanksgiving for the extended families of Zanetta Crocker, Ernie C’de Baca and many others – smaller than their normal groups of about 20, more understated, less commotion and maybe not quite as much fun.

Across New Mexico, many are heeding the call from public health officials and the governor to refrain from large, mixed family Thanksgiving gatherings as the infection and death rate from the COVID-19 virus surges.

Crocker and her husband, Jason, decided to play it safe by observing the holiday by themselves, though they’re not happy about it.

And it’s not just in New Mexico. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued updated national COVID guidelines and said, “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household.” Meaning it’s best not to set a place at the table for relatives from out of state, children away at college or friends.

“Traditionally, we’d get together at my mom’s here in Albuquerque and have all the family over – aunts, uncles, siblings, children, grandchildren – close to 20 people,” she said.

Virus changed everything

And with that many, there’s usually more than one large turkey, a ham, and all the normal trimmings, plus specialty dishes that specific family members are known for. For Crocker’s mother, it’s mashed potatoes with red chile, her “special stuffing,” and a macaroni and cheese casserole. Crocker’s sister is known for her green bean casserole and Crocker’s daughter brings the sweetness with pumpkin and pecan pies.

“It’s a big deal because it’s a time when everybody is actually able to get together and plans on it. We don’t do this a lot throughout the year, so Thanksgiving is that one time when everybody makes it a point to be there and figures it out within their schedules,” said Crocker, who works in the community liaison office at Calvary Church in Albuquerque.

This year, however, the COVID pandemic has changed everything, including family holiday dynamics.

“We definitely want to be careful, especially around the people we love,” she said. “My mom and dad are getting older, and we definitely don’t want their health to be compromised.” Neither does she want to be in a situation where “some people may have the virus and don’t know it because they don’t experience any symptoms.”

Crocker said she and her husband are resigned to setting the table with a small turkey as the centerpiece for the two of them, or possibly not cooking and ordering out instead.

“Honestly, it’s just very frustrating and sad and it’s disappointing,” she said.

The C’de Bacas

Like the Crocker family, Ernie C’de Baca normally attends a large family gathering of 20 people or more for Thanksgiving.

President and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, C’de Baca said his wife, Geri, has four sisters living in Denver, Fort Worth, Nambè and Rio Rancho. His mother-in-law lives with the sister in Rio Rancho.

All of them, including children, grandchildren and cousins, usually gather at one of the homes for Thanksgiving.

“As much as we love to get together at Thanksgiving, with my mother-in-law, who has underlying health concerns, there’s no way we’re going to do that,” he said.

Instead, C’de Baca and his wife will spend Thanksgiving with their son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren, and will enjoy an audio-video Zoom chat with the rest of their extended family.

“Hispanic families tend to be large and tight-knit, and there’s a lot of hugging and closeness. That’s what we’re all about,” he said, “but we’re keeping our distance, and culturally it’s really hard for us.”

Governor’s reduced group

Even Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is not happy about the COVID safety directives that she herself issued.

“This year it’s just the First Manny (fiancé) and me at home, doing what I desperately hope everyone is doing – avoiding gatherings and having Thanksgiving with our own household,” she told the Journal.

“We’re going to do dessert over Zoom with the whole family: my kids, Manny’s kids, and my brother and his family, all joining in separately and remotely. And we’re going to try to include my mom, which is harder because a staff member where she lives will have to help get her set up. We always have pie, and this year I made pies for everyone that will be dropped off at people’s doorsteps so that we can all enjoy our usual Thanksgiving pie together, even though we’re apart.”

Lujan Grisham said this year is especially difficult because it will be the first Thanksgiving that her mother won’t be present, “but it’s important to keep her safe so that she can be with us next year.”

While recognizing that the restrictions can be both difficult and sad, the governor said, “We’re doing it to keep each other safe, so that we can be together next year and it will be even more special.”

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