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  • Jan Flynn

Thanksgiving 2020

On celebrating at a distance

Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday of the year

I love everything about Thanksgiving. It’s the one holiday everyone can get behind, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of same. It’s entirely inclusive and apolitical (apart from the regrettable sugarcoating of its historical origins, but I will leave that to others to discuss, as they inevitably will). It’s all about gratitude, one of my very most favorite things, and food, another of my all-time enthusiams. It’s far less freighted with stress than Christmas, it involves no gift-wrapping, and it’s as liberated from commercialism as any American holiday manages to be.

Even if it is followed immediately — and, increasingly, superceded — by Black Friday. Which I deplore and eschew, but that’s another story.

I love setting the table ahead of time, with the fanciest stuff I can find in my cupboards. I adore the snap in the air outdoors on Thanksgiving morning, the aroma of sauteeing onions and mushrooms, the ritual of basting the bird through its hours in the oven. Pie-baking. Cranberry-squishing. The frenetic rush to whip up a respectable, lump-free gravy while the turkey rests.

Most of all, I love the chatter and camaraderie of gathered loved ones. Even the more challenging ones — admit it, we all have them. At Thanksgiving, everyone has a place at the table, whether they’re the vegan tree-hugger who brings his own walnut loaf or the Maga-hat wearing uncle who equates volume with fact.

But this is Thanksgiving 2020

And the country is spiraling into a third wave of the pandemic that threatens to be worse than the previous two spikes. As of this writing, the death rate, while horrifying, is still below what it was in the spring. But the case count graph is heading up a hockey-stick curve, which means deadlier weeks are bound to follow.

I know it’s a drag to confront and a lousy topic of conversation during holiday season. But it’s reality. Every credible expert, public health authority, and infectious disease specialist is putting out the same plea: this year, stay home. Restrict your gathering to your own household, unless you’re prepared to feast outdoors, and even then you should do so in limited numbers and at a safe distance from one another.

Because the single worst thing you can possibly do at this point in the course of Covid-19’s continuing rampage is to get a bunch of people together for a long, maskless meal indoors. Especially inside a private home, where there are no air scrubbers or filtration systems like the kind deployed in many office buildings, restaurants, or commercial airplanes.

The traditional Thanksgiving, from the bustling kitchen to the football-watching sofa zombies to the whole gang cozying up to the same table, is a gold-plated invitation to the coronavirus to spread through your loved ones, your community, and the communities your guests return to at the end of the day. You might as well set a place for the Grim Reaper at the head of the table.

I know, it’s a buzz-kill. But there’s a bright side

My family is spread out over four Western states, and Thanksgiving typically involves us either hosting houseguests or traveling — all part of the fun. But not this year. It’s a bummer, no doubt about it, but my husband and I choose to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t. We can Face-time, we can Zoom (I know, I know. We’re all Zoom-weary. But it’s a far different experience with your loved ones than with your work colleagues). We can share our repasts remotely, and by this time we’ve all become highly skilled at virtual relating.

We don’t even have to wrestle an entire turkey into the oven if we don’t want to — this might be the year for a couple of succulent Cornish game hens, or even a perfect roast chicken, which is hard to beat. Nobody will be bringing the inevitable side dishes which I confess I loathe: marshmallow-topped yams pureed to baby-food consistency, glutinous canned green beans in congealed mushroom soup, anything involving Jell-O.

Yes, I’ll miss the gathering aspect. But I won’t miss the crowded airports, the weather-delayed flights, the packed trains, the crawling traffic. And everyone gets to sleep in their own bed, so there’s that.

But here’s the real kicker

By bowing to the demands of the moment, we have the satisfaction of knowing we are approaching this holiday in the most responsible, loving way we can. Being mature adults, we are capable of denying ourselves some passing, if treasured, pleasure in favor of protecting those we cherish.

Yes, it’s a sacrifice. Some of us have elderly or seriously ill family members, dear ones whom we can’t count on being around for the next Thanksgiving. But if the alternative is to expose them to a virus that could mean a solitary death in an ICU, out of our reach and comfort, the choice becomes, while not easy, simple.

Not only that. The news from Pfizer about the effectiveness of their vaccine is very, very promising. It means there could be light at the end of this tunnel, at last. But there’s still a lot of tunnel left to go: even the most optimistic forecasts acknowledge a host of logistical challenges in any vaccine’s widespread distribution, and we could have as many months to wait for the end of the pandemic as we’ve already endured.

But at least we can glimpse the horizon. And that means it is absolutely not time to relax our vigilance. On the contrary: now that we know there is an end in sight, we can summon the resolve to do what it takes to make sure we — and those we care about, which I hope includes everyone — have the best possible shot at being alive to see it. None of us wants to be the last soldier to die in this war.

Our Thanksgiving will be quiet this year, but it will be meaningful

My husband and I plan to share our meal with one other couple, bundled up and outdoors, seated at separate tables on the patio, with masks in place every moment we’re not actively eating or drinking. It’s one of the perks of living in California that we can even contemplate such a thing — but if the weather is too wet or dismal, we’ll scrap that plan and eat our respective dinners in our own homes.

No, it won’t be like other Thanksgivings. But this year is not like other years. Our intention is to tell stories about how we survived 2020 to our someday grandchildren. In person. When we can gather under one roof without risking everybody’s health.

That time will come. My Thanksgiving wish for you, and me, and everyone, is that we’re alive to celebrate it. And that will be something for which to be deeply grateful.

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