Michael McCartney and his wife, Elisabeth McCartney, moved to Forestdale from Maine two years ago with their children, Patrick McCartney, grade 2, and Isabelle McCartney, a preschooler.
“For the last two years since we moved down here we’ve had everyone at our house for Thanksgiving,” Mr. McCartney said. “Immediate family on both sides—probably 13 or 14 people.”
He said this year will be different; the family will be keeping the celebration within their household. If his parents did not live with them, Mr. McCartney said, it would have been just the four of them.
While it will not be the holiday the family is used to, he said that they are dealing with it now, so that they will be able to get back to their usual event next year or the year after.
“It’s Thanksgiving and I’m going to keep the focus on how much we have to be thankful for,” Mr. McCartney said. “We can’t all be together—but we’re all still here.”
It is a situation many families throughout the Upper Cape are facing. The spike in coronavirus cases across the state and the country has many people dispensing with traditions and rethinking travel plans.
Normal gatherings of a dozen to two dozen aunts, uncles, grandparents, or close family friends have been slashed to only immediate family members. Those living alone in this region are relying more heavily on pre-ordered meals for one.
Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. has urged residents to only gather with members of their own household this holiday season as coronavirus cases continue to rise. As of Wednesday, November 18, more than 200 new cases and four deaths were reported in Barnstable County in a week.
“We are urging everyone to make a difficult choice this Thanksgiving,” the governor said at a Wednesday press conference. “The state is in the midst of a second surge of the virus,” he said, reminding residents of the travel restrictions and urging college students who traditionally come home for Thanksgiving to follow safety protocols set by the state.
For Falmouth resident Kevin Klauer, his wife, Meghan, and their four young children, the holiday usually means a large gathering of his extended family. He knew a month ago they would alter plans because of the virus, so they planned a trip to his in-laws’ lake house in upstate New York. That got scrapped, too.
“We decided to just have dinner at home,” he said. “Why introduce another element into the situation if you don’t have to, especially with the number of cases, compared to what they were in March?”
He said that while he is frustrated by the virus and the difficulties it has caused, it could be worse.
“I’m looking at this at a first-world problem,” he said.
Residents appear to be making the best of a downsized holiday and are taking stock of the good fortune they have while waiting for the time when families can come together again.
“I mean, we’re not being terrorized by Boko Haram, nor are our homes being destroyed in a hurricane, so we’ve got that going for us,” Mr. Klauer said half-sarcastically. “Our bad situation is still pretty darn good. We’ll have a small Thanksgiving at home with six of us and make the best of it…watch whatever football is on, take a walk.”
Michelle Burke lives in Forestdale with her husband, Matthew Burke, and their daughter, Madailein, a 2nd grader.
“With a large extended family, we have had to cancel all holiday plans,” she said, adding that the cancellation includes Christmas, too.
Ms. Burke said that they have parents who are immunocompromised as well as family who would be traveling from out of state. In order to mitigate the risk to their parents they have decided to celebrate together in the spring, when the weather is a little warmer and they can be outside.
For the past five years, Corinne and Robert Minshall of Falmouth have hosted a Thanksgiving dinner that included her mother, their son, and guests who might otherwise not eat a large meal that day. She said she would use social media and word of mouth through friends to invite them to eat at their table.
“I grew up with large Thanksgiving-extended family and friends and Thanksgiving was always such a great time. I wanted to give that to others,” she said.
“I ended up meeting interesting and nice people along the way,” she said. “Some have become close friends of ours. They come from all walks of life, all stages of life and through the dinner, we all learn from each other. It really opens up your world.”
Over the course of dinner, she would ask guests to sign their name to a tablecloth full of signatures from past years—a guestbook of sorts. It will remain in a drawer until another year.
“Obviously can’t take that chance this year,” said Ms. Minshall, who has an autoimmune disorder that leaves her vulnerable to coronavirus, has an elderly mother living with her and a son who attends school in person, so she felt she could not take the chance.
Instead, she is using the Facebook community forums to find people in need of a Thanksgiving meal. Her idea spread and expanded and other members of the forum are anonymously donating meals or $50 gift cards to people who have been nominated for a Thanksgiving meal.
“I am cooking for a single mom and her two kids in Woods Hole. Between working full time and making sure her kids are getting educated at home, there was not a lot of time for her to cook,” she said.
Back in Sandwich, some traditions remain while others are set aside. Maureen and Mark Wiklund typically host about 30 people amid decorations of glass pumpkins and festive table linens and plates.
This year will mark a change in their plans.
“The kids are grown,” they said. “Patrick is away at school. Chris and Katie will be with their in-laws.”
They are not sure what they will be eating themselves this year—the turkey feast was meant for a big crowd. Some traditions will likely remain, such as going for a walk at the bird farm, while others will fall to the wayside this year.
If the weather is nice, they might sit socially distanced with friends around a fire pit.
Mostly, they are thankful for the positives in their lives, especially that their family and friends remain healthy during this time.
“The new year offers promise and hope. We expect our first grandchild in February,” they said. “We live in a beautiful place. There has always been and will always be much we are thankful for.”
Laura Connery, the owner of Laura’s Home Cookin’ on Route 151 in Mashpee, said the majority of orders for Thanksgiving are for single meals.
“It shows me that most people are not getting together with families for Thanksgiving because I’ve gotten so many single meals,” she said.
Quite a few of her regular customers are from the Southport 55-plus Living Community in Mashpee.
Her own celebration will include far fewer guests than in the past. She has used her restaurant, which is closed on Thanksgiving, to hold her gathering.
“This year is definitely going to be different,” she said.
“My daughter that works here is supposed to be coming to my house and she’s the only people I’ve invited to get together this year.” Her grown grandchildren will not be there as they normally would be.
“I just don’t feel comfortable.”
Governor Baker said recently that contact tracing information shows many of the state’s recent cases are attributed to social gatherings and household transmission. That is why the governor is warning residents that Thanksgiving this year should be limited to immediate family and no more than 10 people. He is urging colleges and universities to provide free testing for any students planning to travel for Thanksgiving.
Brittany Feldott of Falmouth said her sister, who is a sophomore at Boston College, is being tested before her arrival to the family gathering this year. Her other sister, who lives in New York City, messaged Ms. Feldott two days ago as she was waiting in line for hours for a COVID test before returning to Falmouth.
For Ms. Feldott, who lives with her parents and brother who is in high school, downsizing and taking precautions were prudent. What usually is a gathering of 18 or so will be limited to eight this year, including grandparents from the Springfield area. The tradition of cooking a feast will be pared down and the yearly family trip to the movies after dinner will now be a movie at home.
“We’re not upset about it in any way, actually happy family members are being cautious and looking out for their health. When things like this are changed up, it’s an opportunity to do something new for a year and when we can gather again, it’ll be that much more exciting and we’ll appreciate it more.”