The Bidens Will Return to Nantucket for a Thanksgiving Tradition with Wonderful and Painful Memories

The Biden family has spent the holiday on the Massachusetts island since 1975 but missed trips the year the president's son Beau died and in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Joe and Jill biden
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock

The president and first lady will return to Nantucket for Thanksgiving this year, continuing a family tradition that they skipped in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Late last week the White House confirmed local reports that Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will visit the Massachusetts island for the holiday like they've done since 1975, including as vice president and second lady and while Biden was a senator from Delaware.

The White House said the Bidens will travel to Nantucket on Tuesday night after celebrating Thanksgiving with service members in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Monday and then attending a "service project" in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. (The president will also make a speech about the economy and addressing inflation, which has become an increasingly pressing issue for his administration.)

Last year, as public health officials warned Americans not to gather on the holiday because of COVID-19, the newly elected president and his wife spent Thanksgiving at their home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with daughter Ashley Biden and her husband, Dr. Howard Krein.

The president credited the hundreds of millions of vaccinations that have happened since for a change in holiday plans in 2021.

"Last Thanksgiving, for the first time, it was just four of us — my wife and I, our daughter and her — and my son-in-law. Later this month, our tables and our hearts are going to be filled, thanks to the vaccines," Biden, 78, said on Nov. 3. "We've made incredible progress over these past nine months, but we have to keep going. The pandemic is not yet behind us but we're getting there."

AP Photo/The Cape Cod Times, Jim Preston

According to a 2020 Boston Globe story about the Bidens' love of Nantucket, the family's visits were "full of takeout clam chowder, games of fireside checkers, and sprawling lunches at family-friendly taverns."

Biden wrote an essay in Nantucket Magazine that year about trips to the island, including the first in 1975, when he and his wife decided to spend Thanksgiving together with his kids rather than accepting one of several family invitations.

"No matter which family we chose, we were going to hurt somebody's feelings, which was the last thing either Jill or I wanted to do," he wrote in an "Ode to Nantucket."

"We had Thanksgiving dinner at the Jared Coffin House, a 130-year-old inn built back when Nantucket was a commercial center of the whaling industry," he wrote. "The next day we had lunch at a restaurant called the Brotherhood of Thieves, went to the little movie house in town, tossed a football on the beach, and drove back into town to watch the annual lighting of the Christmas tree."

His son "Beau had proposed to Hallie at the tree lighting in 2001 and they were married at St. Mary's church, in the heart of downtown Nantucket, the next year," Biden continued. "Hallie always suspected it was Beau's way of locking them into Biden Family Thanksgivings for all time. And it worked."

It was also in Nantucket during Thanksgiving 2014 when then-vice president Biden said Beau urged him to run in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.

"It was the conviction and intensity in Beau's voice that caught me off guard," he wrote. "At one point he said it was my obligation to run, my duty. Duty was a word Beau Biden did not use lightly."

President And Mrs Biden Return To The White House
From left: President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden walk on the Ellipse on May 23 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty

After Beau's death from brain cancer in May the following year, Biden decided not to run, and the family skipped their annual tradition because he couldn't bring himself to visit the island just six months later, according to The New York Times. Instead, the vice president brought the second lady and family with him on a diplomatic trip to Croatia and Italy.

"He hopes the change in scenery in a part of the world that does not celebrate Thanksgiving will allow the family to avoid the emotional pain that a long weekend in Nantucket might have brought," the Times reported. "The vice president has been exceedingly candid in describing his grief, which played a factor in his deliberations over whether to run for president."

In 2016, the Bidens returned to Nantucket.

"I knew how hard it would be to come back, but this year, the grandkids had asked," Dr. Biden wrote in an essay for Oprah Daily in March. "They wanted to be together and feel normal again. So, Joe and I said yes."

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