Longtime readers of this column will know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I am so moved and transformed each year by a season devoted simply to giving thanks and being grateful.
Our annual get-togethers for Thanksgiving and Christmas are a cherished tradition. They’ve changed as we’ve gotten older and had children of our own, but our families always joyfully gather for the holidays.
This year our holidays will probably look a little different. Maybe very different.
I know that some people say this virus is no big deal.
The facts show us that it is highly contagious and still much more deadly than the flu — about 10 times deadlier than the average flu over the past few years.
And cases have been spiking since early October, after having dropped into September.
We’re now back up to 1,000 deaths a day across the nation. That’s half of the height of the death count during the earliest days of the pandemic, so it could be worse, but 1,000 unnecessary deaths a day is nothing to celebrate or feel relaxed about.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife, Trudi, recorded a short broadcast in which they urged all of us to avoid large gatherings or celebrations with people outside our immediate household.
With a vaccine expected early next year and with improved treatments becoming more widely available, the governor said we’ll only have to modify our holidays once.
These were urgent, informed requests that came before subsequent executive orders. The governor was speaking to us as grown-ups, and I hope we take his words to heart with maturity. It’s tempting to say, “I want what I want when I want it, and forget about this silly virus,” but we can be better than that.
I don’t love the idea of a virtual Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I’d rather forego some of the celebrations one time to protect my loved ones so that we can get together safely next time.
It’s certainly a disappointment to miss a beloved holiday gathering, but let’s keep the long view in mind, friends. More than 240,000 Americans who died of COVID-19 won’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
Let’s do our part to make sure that a happy get-together over mashed potatoes and turkey in November doesn’t spread infection that might leave a chair tragically empty at Christmas.
Since this spring, we’ve been learning about how COVID-19 is more serious and dangerous for folks who are older and with common health problems like obesity.
It’s why I’m so glad we have the opportunity to reduce our risk of spreading the disease by wearing masks.
We’ve tried to find a balance in our household between shutting off contact completely, and going about life without any precautions. For instance, we’ve tried to find relatively safe social activities for our children.
A few of them have resulted in close calls.
There was the sleepover that left both kids (and the rest of us) with a sore throat and cough that, fortunately, tests showed was not COVID.
And the birthday party trip where, literally as the party was finishing up, a parent of one of the participants received a positive COVID test. For better or worse, I had been a bit of an obnoxious nag before that party, insisting that everyone wear masks in the car for travel and throughout the rest of the event. The other parents were gracious and patient with my insistence, and it turns out that maybe the fact that I’m a pain-in-the-neck might have reduced or maybe even eliminated spread at that event.
Near-misses like these are why we’re having serious discussions about what Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings will look like for our family in the weeks ahead.
A virus goes viral. That’s what it does. But we’re not forced to be victims. Humans can think through our actions and change our destinies.
I urge you to think through what you want your family’s future to look like, and plan your holidays with the long-term in mind.
Putting in-person celebrations on hold for a year might actually open up new ways to celebrate. What about writing letters of thankfulness and mailing them to folks we think about but don’t normally see? Or maybe we can be intentional this year about creating gift packages to mail to shut-ins.
Instead of seeing our relatives once a year at big holidays, what if we picked one to call every week?
We could increase contact and build stronger connections, even as we temporarily forego old traditions this one year.
As for me, I’m taking my love of Thanksgiving and Christmas songs and putting more effort into making recordings of them to share with folks online under the hashtag #ThanksgivingSongChallenge.
These songs of Thanksgiving offer a good reminder that we can count what we’ve lost during this madcap year, or we can count our blessings.
As Bing Crosby crooned, “I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.”
Brian Mittge is grateful for health and family, even if he can’t always have them both in one place right now. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.