Thanksgiving 2020 will be different.
While the pandemic is surging, we are tightening our public health belts to bring the infection rate down. It’s difficult to imagine outside get-togethers during the winter rainy season. It’s painful to recall past family Thanksgiving gatherings, sitting at long tables. This year, most nuclear families will be alone or with a few others in their bubble. Some people, who may have traveled to see family in years past, will be on their own. Many of our community members are struggling with financial insecurity and worry about how they will pay their bills. It’s healthy to acknowledge that this is a hard time.
Last year, my wife, Diane, and I spent Thanksgiving with our daughter and her family in Southern California. It was lovely playing with our granddaughter and soaking up the sun. But this year, the two of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving alone.
It’s important to acknowledge our sadness, our fears, and our frustrations. It’s natural to feel sorry for ourselves from time to time.
It’s also a time for us to gather our strength and determination. Indeed, it’s a time to celebrate gratitude — to make note of the small and big things that bring us joy. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks.
So how can we make this a holiday to remember during the global pandemic?
Have each family member make a list of what they appreciated this year. Little kids can make their list more artistic, with sparkles and crayons. I’m going to write my list as a poem. Write a song. Choreograph a dance that expresses gratitude. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate life.
Zoom in family and friends. This year, our iPad will sit on our Thanksgiving table, and we will include our geographically distant family in our yearly ritual, but this time virtually. Every year before we start eating, we go around the table and share our tribulations over the last year. Layla, almost three years old, was thankful for ice cream! Me too!
Do something different. Be festive! Decorate your house, put up lights, hang paper turkeys from the ceiling, play loud music, dance and sing with your kids, eat something totally different, bake a pink cake, dress up, wear costumes, tell jokes and eat dessert first. Shake it up! We are all hungry for novelty as our pandemic days have so much sameness.
Send small gifts to friends and family. My son-in-law owns a distillery that is struggling during the pandemic. I sent a bottle of his gin to all of my family members. I send care packages to my kids and money for take-out dinners. During this time, these concrete expressions of love and thoughtfulness are deeply appreciated.
Donate to good causes. This year Diane and I have donated more money to the good causes we support. We support food pantries that help our less fortunate neighbors have the groceries they need. I am particularly concerned about children in our nation that don’t have enough to eat.
Get outside. I feel thankful for living in such a beautiful corner of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I love to watch hummingbirds hover. I have a pair of Steller’s jays that live near me, with their spikey hair on their head. During the winter, flocks of robins eat small red berries from a tree in my front yard. I love to walk in the early morning and watch the sun rise, turning the night into day. I sometimes stare at a mighty tree across the street, tall, and filled with branches, with red and orange leaves that will soon fall to the ground. And of course, there is always Puget Sound, reflecting the vast sky, rippling with waves and energy.
Mother nature reminds us to be thankful for the ultimate gift — life.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.