Essays · Family · Friendship

It’s Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

We are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic. At least, many places are. Some have been amazing at getting their acts together (I’m looking at you, a whole lot of places in Asia, Pacific Islands, Africa). But the two countries I’ve called home in my life – the US and the UK – have been utter shit shows at the national level. Just embarrassing, devastating, vile. And the US has actually been a bit worse on this, if you can imagine. The UK government at least has provided some financial assistance through its furlough program. In the US it was just a one-time check for $1,200, served with a side of anti-masker ‘fake news’ polemic. Yikes.

In the UK, the focus right now is on getting us to Christmas. Managing the migration of university students back home, opening up retail after our current lock-down ends so people can spend money and save shops that have struggled since March. There are even rumors of a new scheme to get people back in restaurants in the new year (never mind that the previous version likely killed a bunch of people).

But let’s talk about Thanksgiving in the US, though this will apply in just a few short weeks when Christmas rolls around. I get the impulse. These are the holidays. In the US for many people this is a time when they get together with family and friends, share an amazing meal, and just enjoy each other’s company. It’s the only time of year when many people get a four-day weekend. We’ll put a pin on what the holiday itself represents historically (because again, yikes).

Thanksgiving hasn’t been a holiday I spend with my parents and sister since 2000. Since I was 21, I have spent every Thanksgiving with friends, or the families of friends. Mostly it was because of the travel – I was pretty much always a plane ride from my parents’ home, and flying out in late November and then again for Christmas just didn’t make sense, financially or otherwise. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with so many wonderful friends and their extended families, in Omaha, in Pittsburgh, in Seattle, in NYC. The NYC ones are especially memorable, as I celebrated with dear friends who were also work colleagues, and we all had to work that Friday. So we’d eat and drink a ton, roll ourselves home, then wander into the office at 9 AM the next day, hungover and bloated. It was great.

So while I don’t have the huge extended family experience that many people do, I do have the fondness of time spent with my dearest friends. I love those conversations, the sharing of food I might not cook myself (ugh, Kathleen, I miss your corn pudding). And even though I’m in London now, in any other year I’d be connecting with my friends here to figure something out so we could celebrate ourselves.

But this is not any other year. There is a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone. We’re at the end of an election where 70 million people voted for someone who has directly had a hand in so many of those deaths, via horrible policies and the complete disregard of science. Vaccines are coming but, and I cannot stress this enough, they are not here yet. Nothing has changed – we can all still get sick, and we can all still pass it to other unwittingly. COVID does not care about your desire to eat turkey with friends and family. It isn’t going to take Thursday off.

Look, this year has been ROUGH. It’s been months upon months of disappointment, not seeing loved ones, and trying to protect those we care about. It’s shown fractures in relationships; many people — myself included — have reconsidered friendships over decisions made during this time. I absolutely understand the desire to have some sense of normalcy this year, at a time that can be hard during a ‘normal year.’

But if you’re planning to have Thanksgiving with anyone except your household or support bubble, please reconsider. I want there to be future Thanksgivings. I want us all to get through this, and saying ‘oh, it’s just one day, it’s not a big deal’ isn’t going to get us through this. Please, consider making your own food and firing up the old Zoom once again. It won’t be the same. It sucks. Absolutely. But you know what sucks more?

Killing someone you love because you gave them COVID.

Hopefully you’re convinced, and have decided that Thanksgiving with your household or support bubble is the way to go. But how do you tell those you love, who aren’t taking this as seriously as you are, that you won’t be joining them for dinner? Especially if the ones who most want you to join them are the ones most at risk, such as our older parents or grandparents?

You thank them, you let them know you appreciate them. You offer to set up the Facetime or Zoom call. You ask for their stuffing recipe, and share your apple pie recipe. You promise to be there once we have the virus better under control. If they say that they don’t care if you get them sick, you remind them that YOU care, and that they shouldn’t want to put you in that position in the first place. They might understand, or they might not. It’s going to suck, like so many things this year have sucked.

To be clear — the biggest jerks here are the national (and at times state) governments. They have refused to take this seriously, disregarding emergency response plans. Treating masks / face covering requirements as though they are some infringements on freedom instead of a way to protect oneself and one’s community. Governments in the US and UK have failed to provide the financial support needed to allow people to stay home if at all possible. It sucks that this now is down to individual decisions, but it’s where we are.

I get the anger, the rage, the frustration. I get just being fucking tired of it. But, as hebontheweb says:

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