More than a quarter-million Americans who celebrated Thanksgiving last year are not here to take part in tomorrow’s festivities due to COVID-19.
I am very fortunate. Nobody who was at our holiday table in 2019 has been seriously ill nor taken away in 2020; this is reason enough to be thankful on the day set aside for that purpose. Like most families, ours will have a smaller, scaled-down gathering this year. But the precautions we take now improve the odds that we can gather in our customary numbers next year.
In some households, Christmas is the holiday high point of the year. For others, it is New Year's Day on the Western calendar, or the lunar New Year, or a religious holy day, or Kwanzaa, or something else. Thanksgiving is that one special day in our home. This will be the 37th consecutive year my wife and I have hosted a holiday gathering, having skipped only the 1983 Thanksgiving that came a few months after we were married. My spouse started shopping – or, this year, ordering – weeks ago. She began preparing and freezing some of the side dishes a full 10 days before we will serve them. I used to be the bread-baker and poultry roaster, but as our daughters grew, my responsibilities shrank. Now I just carve, clean up and feed tidbits to the pets. Our dachshund granddog presumably knows me as “Turkey Guy.”
Going home to the Bronx for Thanksgiving was out of the question when I was in college in Montana. In my freshman autumn, when I was still just 16, I was not ready to accept a new friend’s invitation to celebrate at his family’s home. I stayed in an empty dormitory and had a meal by myself at a diner-style restaurant off campus. After that experience, I gratefully accepted similar invitations from friends for my remaining college years.
When my own daughters were in college, it was very important to me – and to them – that they be able to come home. So important, in fact, that I bought them two tickets home every year. The first was on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, even if they still had classes to attend. The second would be for Wednesday, because if a Tuesday flight was canceled, there might not have been any last-minute tickets available. Once they arrived on a Tuesday flight, I would cancel the Wednesday flight. I did not begrudge paying any applicable penalty, and I knew our cancellation would be a stroke of luck for some other last-minute traveler.
Some years my daughters would bring friends from college or graduate school who could not be with their own families for the holiday. On occasion, I ran across someone to invite, too. That is not an option in 2020.
Only one of our two married daughters will join us this year. She and her husband are bringing a new face to the holiday: our first grandchild, a boy born a few months ago. They called him their quarantine project. They have been isolating for several weeks and got tested before coming to stay with us last weekend. These precautions will allow me to bring my mother to meet her first great-grandchild in person for the first time. It will be just the six of us at the table. Well, five at the table and one in a bassinet. Or four at the table, and one marching the baby around the house. We’ll have to see how it goes.
We are making another round of donations to the food banks that are doing so much to relieve suffering this year. I encourage anyone else who can donate money or (if you are young, healthy and comparatively COVID-resistant) time to these efforts to do so as well. There are many less fortunate people who need our help and whatever holiday cheer we can offer them.
Few of us will forget the minimalist holiday season of 2020. For some, it will be as vivid and lonely a memory as my first college Thanksgiving is for me. But that one solitary meal made me better appreciate the lifetime of shared celebrations that has followed. I hope yours will bring you similar happiness this year, and every year.