For years, Erin and Charles McFall, of Conyers, have made it a family tradition to head over to Stone Mountain Park every Thanksgiving.

As season pass holders, the couple and their four children, now ages 7, 9, 14 and 15, would spend back-to-back weekends during the holiday season enjoying all the attractions at the 3,200-acre park.

But, this year, it’s a Thanksgiving like no other, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts holiday traditions for millions of Georgians.

While Stone Mountain is open, there are no small live shows around the amusement park. Instead, a giant stage has been erected for families to watch live performances from many yards away. Elves, snow princesses and Angelina, the snow fairy, aren’t nearby for pictures. Santa, meanwhile, is behind plexiglass.

“It’s like visiting Santa and the elves in prison,’' said Charles McFall, who visited the park last weekend to check out the attractions. “It’s not the same.”

With COVID-19 cases rising, on hiatus for many families are cookie-decorating parties, ice skating and outings to the movies.

Mara Block often enjoyed taking the children to see the latest Disney film on Thanksgiving Day. This year, her north Decatur family decided to forgo the tradition, to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus.

“It’s going to be different,” said Block, whose children are 9 and 12.

For most people, there was no slipping out after the leftovers were put away Thursday to launch Christmas shopping; malls and almost all big box stories were closed.

The Macy's Pink Pig ride at Lenox Square mall in Atlanta has been put on hold, one of the many pandemic-related shifts made in the holiday shopping scene this year. MATT KEMPNER / AJC
The Macy's Pink Pig ride at Lenox Square mall in Atlanta has been put on hold, one of the many pandemic-related shifts made in the holiday shopping scene this year. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

At Lenox Mall, Macy’s Priscilla the Pink Pig, the beloved miniature train that provided rides to children beneath a 170-foot, 1950s-themed Pink Pig Tent, isn’t operating this holiday season.

Georgia Aquarium postponed its Winter Waterland, with its light and music show and appearances by SCUBA Claus, until next year.

The most difficult disruption for many, however, was not being able to share their Thanksgiving dinner with others as they had enjoyed in the past.

For the last 49 years, the Atlanta charity Hosea Helps held large events where people in need would sit down and be served a Thanksgiving meal. While they were there, they could also get haircuts and health checks.

On the event’s 50th anniversary, the meals were served outside of the Georgia World Congress Center, for pick-up only. Traffic was backed up along Andrew Young International Blvd. by people heading to the center, where masked volunteers loaded boxes of food into cars. People also lined up outside the facility to pick up take-out meals.

A volunteer loads boxes of food into cars outside the Georgia World Congress Center during the annual Hosea Williams Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, November 26, 2020. Because of the pandemic, this year's dinner was to-go. This marked the 50th year the nonprofit Hosea Helps has been aiding those in need with the event. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
A volunteer loads boxes of food into cars outside the Georgia World Congress Center during the annual Hosea Williams Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, November 26, 2020. Because of the pandemic, this year's dinner was to-go. This marked the 50th year the nonprofit Hosea Helps has been aiding those in need with the event. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

While there were no haircuts or health checks, volunteers handed out hygiene kits.

ExploreMore photos from 50th annual Hosea Williams Thanksgiving Dinner event

For other people, Thanksgiving gatherings at home were small, with some metro Atlantans spending the day without seeing extended family and friends.

Scott Engel, of Marietta, was having a quiet Thanksgiving with his 8-year-old daughter at a restaurant where they could eat outdoors. “”It’s going to be a pretty low-key Thanksgiving for the most part,’' he said.

Scott Engel, shown here on a trip with his daughter to an animal sanctuary in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is having a quiet Thanksgiving with his daughter at a restaurant where they can eat outdoors. (Courtesy of Scott Engel)
Scott Engel, shown here on a trip with his daughter to an animal sanctuary in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is having a quiet Thanksgiving with his daughter at a restaurant where they can eat outdoors. (Courtesy of Scott Engel)

Credit: Courtesy of Scott Engel

Credit: Courtesy of Scott Engel

Virtual turkey

Many families that seldom skipped a Thanksgiving feast together turned to virtual dinners to connect.

Brian Tolleson planned to use Zoom to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with his immediate family, including his brother, Kevin, who lives in Sharpsburg, and their mother, who lives in Peachtree City.

But the separation has been rough, he said, especially for his mother, Carolyn Tolleson, whom he describes as the “queen of the holidays.”

Even when he lived in Los Angeles and New York, he said he would come home for the holidays to be with family. “It really means a lot to her,’' he said. “We’re native Atlantans, so we always made a big deal of Thanksgiving.”

As boys, Tolleson said he and his brother would spend the entire day enjoying Thanksgiving festivities. The Tollesons would go to witness the lighting of Rich’s Great Tree, which was on the roof of its flagship downtown department store. His mother was employed at the department store in those days, he said.

“We would spend the whole entire day and night on Thanksgiving eating dinner as a family,’' he said. “Our families would prepare all the favorite family recipes and then we would go downtown for the lighting of the tree.”

Carolyn Tolleson, who lives alone, said at one point this year she tried to bargain with herself to have a traditional family get-together, saying each person could undergo a test before gathering for Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, she decided against it.

“We just decided we’re not going to take any risk,” she said. “When COVID leaves, then we can all gather and enjoy each other’s time together.”

Many of those with loved ones in senior care facilities also decided the risk was too great.

Camilla White waves to her mother, Lillian Barber, as she drives by during the Thanksgiving Day outdoor parade at the assisted living home Oaks at Douglasville on Thursday, November 26, 2020.  (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Camilla White waves to her mother, Lillian Barber, as she drives by during the Thanksgiving Day outdoor parade at the assisted living home Oaks at Douglasville on Thursday, November 26, 2020. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Camilla White is upset that she could not spend time with her mother, a resident of an assisted living facility in Douglasville, because it did not allow families to visit on Thanksgiving. Instead, the facility hosted an outdoor Thanksgiving parade, urging families to decorate their vehicles and make signs that the residents could enjoy.

“It hurts, but for her safety, I agree with the decision,’' said White. “Everybody has to adjust and become very creative to stay together as one. The love has to explode right now so that families can stay together.”

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