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More Travel, Less Cooking: What Gen Z & Millennials Have Planned for Thanksgiving

What’s in store for Gen Z and Millennials for their second pandemic Thanksgiving? We’re looking at their plans to see how “normal” the holiday will look for them…


YPulse’s recent Thanksgiving Plans report found that the majority of Gen Z and Millennials in the U.S. plan to celebrate Thanksgiving next month. But we did see that the number who plan to celebrate has not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, and COVID is still (obviously) on their minds, with a third saying their usual Thanksgiving plans may be cancelled because of COVID. 

But what are those plans, and are they closer to “normal” than they were last year? Our Thanksgiving report dives into 13-39-year-olds’ plans for holiday, how they compare to years prior, the return of some traditions, and what they plan to buy to celebrate. We found that while many plan to stay home this Thanksgiving, the number who have travel on the books has in fact increased compared to 2020:

The number of Gen Z and Millennials who say they will be spending the holiday with friends and/or family has returned to near-2019 levels, and the number who say they’ll be travelling to be with those family and friends has increased from 17% in 2010 to 22% this year. While that’s not quite up to pre-COVID levels, it’s a sign that things could be closer to normal this year. However, those who say they plan to travel for vacation for Thanksgiving actually increased even more, surpassing the number who had Thanksgiving vacation plans pre-COVID. Millennials are more likely than Gen Z to say they have plans for vacation travel. This could be a sign that the pent up wanderlust that we’ve been talking about is indeed impacting their plans (and purchasing). 

So travel clearly more of a possibility for young consumers this Thanksgiving, but what will their actual Thanksgiving day consist of? Our survey shows:

Thanksgiving is a food and drink-centric holiday, so naturally  cooking, baking, drinking (which was asked only among 21+ consumers), and eating foods from their family’s cultural heritage are the top planned activities for the holiday. But the number of Gen Z and Millennial who are planning to cook and bake for Thanksgiving has actually decreased compared to last year, clearly not a bounce back to pre-pandemic norms. What’s going on? Well, the number who say they’ll be hosting family and/or friends for the holiday has also not rebounded, and our survey also found that more than half of 13-39-year-olds say they’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with fewer people this year because of COVID. Cooking and baking is less of a necessity with gatherings less common, and less crowded, than they were in 2019. 

One activity that has seen an increase in plans compared to last year is Black Friday shopping, with more than a quarter of young consumers planning to start that shopping on Thanksgiving day itself. But YPulse’s new Holiday Shopping Plans report shows that far more people plan on Black Friday shopping that weekend, with 60% of Gen Z and Millennial saying they plan to shop on Black Friday. Online shopping will likely dominate for the weekend. 

Looking at both generations, Gen Z is much more likely to plan to bake, play games, and shop Black Friday for Thanksgiving, compared to Millennials. Meanwhile, Millennials are actually more likely than Gen Z to say their Thanksgiving plans will be cancelled due to COVID, which could be why Gen Z is more likely to have a variety of plans for the holiday. Millennials are also significantly more likely than Gen Z to say stores should stay closed for in-person shopping this year because of the pandemic, further highlighting the generational divide in COVID anxiety. 

Overall, while Gen Z and Millennials’ Thanksgiving plans haven’t necessarily gone back to “normal,” there are some signs of progress, but brands should expect that many Gen Z and Millennials are planning for a more subdued and smaller Thanksgiving, and menus to match. However, this could be a big opportunity for QSR brands, and any others who can deliver (literally and figuratively) easy or fun Thanksgiving meals for those who won’t be spending the day in the kitchen. 

YPulse Business users can access the full Thanksgiving Plans behavioral report and full data here.

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.