Home for the Holidays

Winter 2021/2022 Issue
After a big dip in 2020, almost as many Americans traveled for Thanksgiving this year as did in 2019. However, there is still some evidence that holiday gatherings remained smaller than they were before 2020. These smaller gatherings could benefit less scalable commodities this season, from Christmas trees to turkeys.
December 20, 2021

The holidays of 2021 have looked and felt much more familiar than last year. For many Americans, tables are a little fuller, guests have come from further away, and squabbles have resumed about why there are twenty different deserts for twelve people. The figure below shows the number of people going through airports the week of Thanksgiving. In 2021, more than double the number of individuals flew Thanksgiving week compared to 2020. In one survey, the total share of Americans who indicated that they were traveling in November rose from 26% in 2020 to 38% in 2021. More than two thirds of Americans indicated that they planned to spend Thanksgiving with friends or family outside their households.


Americans Flew Thanksgiving Week Almost As Much in 2021 As They Did in 2019

While we know that more Americans traveled Thanksgiving week, this doesn’t tell us whether Americans went back to typical gatherings of a dozen or more family members per meal. Luckily, there is a tradition that modern Americans engage in each Thanksgiving that is almost as common as cranberries and sweet potatoes: looking up “how long do I cook a turkey” on a search engine. The figure below shows Google Trend data for various size turkeys relative to 2019. Last year, we found a surge of interest for birds under 10 pounds, suited for smaller family gatherings. In 2021, there was still some residual interest in these smaller birds, though nowhere near last year’s record levels. These data do suggest that many smaller gatherings persisted, though not at the same rate as 2020. Last year was also a record for another search term, perhaps showing just how many Americans tried their hands at cooking a turkey for the first time: “I think I burned my turkey.”


Search Interest for How To Cook Small Turkeys Fell Dramatically Between 2020 and 2021

For America’s farmers and ranchers, what does this mean for total consumption? Some data suggest that smaller gatherings actually meant more consumption: Americans bought a record amount of poultry the week of Thanksgiving 2020 and spent almost 20% more than in 2019. Meanwhile, although complete data for Christmas trees are difficult to obtain, select USDA offices also indicate that Christmas tree prices surged in the last year. Due to the smaller and more frequent gatherings of 2020, scalability was an important factor in total cost. That many Americans are still opting for smaller gatherings suggests that non-scalable goods will continue to see strong sales in 2021. In other words, the record search interest for fruit cakes we witnessed in 2020 could appear again in 2021.

Of course, this will differ on each holiday dining table. Some families changed nothing about their holiday habits over the last two years, while others are still operating very differently in 2021 than they did in 2019. However, many Americans have shown they are ready to celebrate once again. Wherever you are, whoever you celebrate with, Farmer Mac wishes you a happy holiday season.