Hope Eye stands outside her Brewer home on Nov. 10. Eye has altered her Thanksgiving plans this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Hope Eye, a Brewer resident, typically enjoys Thanksgiving with around six or seven other people. In 2020, however, the coronavirus pandemic has upended those plans, as it has for most people in some capacity.

This year, it will just be herself, her boyfriend, her sister, her grandmother and her mother. Eye’s mother, Patience, has terminal cancer and is in hospice care, and she wants to enjoy one last Thanksgiving and Christmas with her loved ones. In order to safely do so, Eye has gone to great lengths to ensure her family’s safety.

“We’re all local to the area, we’ve got a temperature reader, we’ll all be wearing masks until we eat, and I’ve got socially distant seating all prepped,” said Eye, 27, who works in a doctor’s office in Bangor. “I have to be very aware of my own health and well-being and be careful at all times since I work in health care, and I’m taking care of my mom. But it’s an important thing for us, this Thanksgiving.”

As if the election and the pandemic weren’t enough to keep stress levels high, many families across Maine this month are also faced with a difficult discussion to have and choice to make: whether to have a Thanksgiving celebration with friends and family members, given Maine’s spiking COVID-19 numbers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people celebrate only with people from within their own households. If people do choose to invite others into their homes, the CDC recommends they invite only people who live within their own community, and to stay masked and socially distant if they will all be indoors together.

Dr. Nirav Shah, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday that he and his family typically throw open their door to lots of people for a big meal — but that that’s not going to happen this year.

“My family and I love to cook. It’s what we do. But who is at our table is going to look a lot different this year than it has in previous years,” Shah said. “It’s probably just going to be me and my immediate family and our dog. And that’s sad.”

Portland resident Cory Osborne and his fiance, Sam Albert, both come from large, close-knit families spread across Maine, and a typical family Thanksgiving for them includes at least 20 people, often more, traveling between multiple Maine towns. This year, however, both the Osbornes and the Alberts will be eschewing that big family meal in favor of celebrating in each individual household.

“The pandemic is obviously getting worse, and my mom works in health care. It’s just not going to happen,” Osborne said. “Sam and I are going to make food for ourselves and hang around the house and be lazy, and then later on we’ll all jump on a Zoom call. It’s a total bummer. We just bought this house in March, so we really wanted to host for the first time. But we just can’t.”

For some, deciding not to attend a dinner means that they can, for once, try something different food-wise for the holiday. South Portland resident Dailyn Markie and her husband, Kevin, plan to forgo the turkey and stuffing this year and instead indulge in something they both vastly prefer: cheese.

“We are making the biggest cheese board two people can eat,” Markie said. “Why suffer through and waste our calories on a Thanksgiving meal for two?”

Still others are trying out a novel work-around to share a home-cooked meal with guests.

Jacquelyn Gill, a professor at the University of Maine, doesn’t plan to invite anyone over for Thanksgiving, but she does intend to make a full meal to package and give out to the people she and her husband would normally have over.

“We do an ‘island of misfit toys’ Thanksgiving, hosting dinner for people who have nowhere to go — single folks, grad students, international students,” said Gill, who lives in Bangor. “Since that’s not safe this year in person, we’ve invited folks to stop by to pick up a meal, and then we’re going to eat together via Zoom.”

While no one knows exactly what the future holds as far as the pandemic goes, Shah is hoping that 2020 will be an anomaly, as far as the ability to have traditional holiday celebrations goes.

“It’s tough, but the world is different this year than it was last year,” he said. “Let’s hope next year looks brighter.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.