Americans will pack football stadiums, flock to parades and gather more freely Thursday for family feasts, grateful to celebrate Thanksgiving Day traditions again after the pandemic kept many at home last year.
The holiday dates to the early 17th Century, when pilgrims from Europe and Native Americans gathered to share the autumn bounty — a celebration of goodwill before the genocide that was to come. Nowadays, the approach of the long holiday weekend typically ignites a frenzy of travel as scattered families come together for holiday meals.
With COVID-19 deaths and infections soaring last year, many people shared turkey dinners over Zoom. Now that vaccines have made the pandemic more manageable, an estimated 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving, up 13% from 2020, according to the American Automobile Association. Air travel is expected to recover to about 91% of pre-pandemic levels.
Families are excited to bring multiple generations together again.
"I love the craziness of cooking for a bunch of people and having all the hustle and bustle around the table, and everything that goes along with that," said Tanya Primiani, who will host 12 people in at her home in Silver Spring, Maryland. "There will be so much gratitude this year."
Midnight after Thanksgiving also marks the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, offering a snapshot of the state of the economy.
Retailers started promoting online holiday "deals" as early as September this year, because the ongoing supply chain threatened to delay imported merchandise. But bargains are modest, with retailers cutting prices 5%-to-25% Friday, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.
An occasion to count one's blessings, typically over a turkey dinner with mounds of side dishes and desserts, Thanksgiving also prompts an outpouring of donations to the poor and hungry.
Like many organizations, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank offered an annual free food drive this year, allowing anyone in need to pick up a free meal kit ahead of the holiday.
Victoria Lasavath, the food bank marketing manager, said the pandemic exacerbated food insecurity in Los Angeles County. The organization and its partners now serve 900,000 people a day, triple the number from before COVID-19, she said.
Thanksgiving "can typically be a very joyous time of the year for us all. However, for our food insecure neighbors it may bring about a different type of uncertainty," Lasavath said. Still, Americans are cautious with COVID-19 infecting 95,000 people a day. More than 777,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States, according to a Reuters count of official data. But deaths are now measured in the hundreds per day instead of the thousands.
With hospital intensive-care units no longer overflowing, restrictions on social gatherings have eased. That means fans will pack three National Football League stadiums on Thursday, restoring a spectacle that is part of the Thanksgiving tradition. Last year there were no fans in the stands.
Likewise, spectators will return to New York City's 95th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade after last year's pageant was scaled down and closed to the public.
Other cities have parades, but the New York event is televised across the country, enabling some 50 million viewers to gawk at the oversized helium balloons depicting cartoon characters and toys, the longest measuring 22 meters (72 feet).
New York police do not provide crowd estimates, but the Macy's parade is one of the city's largest annual events along with New Year's Eve and the LGBTQ Pride parade, whose boosters claim millions of in-person spectators.