Silver Linings at a Covid Thanksgiving

By: Sandy Churchill

The year 2020 will go down in the history books as a wacky, upside-down time when nothing was normal, “socially-distant” became a buzzword, Zoom became a lifeline for school and work, and all of us became fashionably “masked.” While we did our best to take health precautions, adapt as much as possible, and even deign to feel hopeful in times that the numbers of diagnoses or death rates dropped, many of us hadn’t embraced all this “adjusting” when it came to the holiday season.

For many of us, the trifecta of the autumn-winter season kicks off with Thanksgiving, soars into Christmas and Hanukkah, and culminates with a rockin’ New Year’s. And what is at the core of all of it—besides precious traditions and favorite generational recipes? People! Our family and friends are what sustain us through the ups and downs of life, replenishing our waning spirits even more when the Covid woes wear us down. So what are we to do with all the depressing crowd regulations about indoor gatherings, mask requirements, concerns for high-risk and elderly relatives, and all the limitations on travel?

The gloomy prospects hit our home as well. We had to turn down grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and future in-laws from our traditional 30+ Thanksgiving celebration. The steady realization of all the not-happening memories this year felt like the scene in the movie A Christmas Story, when the Bumpus’ dogs devour the Thanksgiving turkey and the narrating adult Ralphie says: “The heavenly aroma still hung in the house, but it was goneall gone! No turkey, no turkey sandwiches, no turkey salad, no turkey gravy, turkey hash, turkey a-la-king, or gallons of turkey soup!  Goneall gone!”

That “gone, all gone!” black cloud was a stark, slap-in-the-face acknowledgement, that yes, even Thanksgiving, this year would change. There was no way around it. And for our house, we LOVE holidays and welcoming family and friends for get-togethers all year, so the reality of closing our home to these beloved guests felt spirit-crushing to say the least.

So where are the silver linings in this scenario? Remarkably, there are several. One sister is joining another sibling for a cozy four-person dinner. My parents headed out of state to share the celebration with the folks who couldn’t travel to us for Thanksgiving. Our cherubic chipmunk of a baby grandson will be joining us as part of our eight-person festivities, which feels cozy and small but offers new opportunities for small celebration activities this year. Our oldest daughter reminded me that we can spend the post-dinner afternoon playing strategy board games—spanning Caravan, Splendor, Dominion, Point Salad and Century Spice Road, among others. We’ve replaced the mammoth move-the-furniture, three-day house overhaul (to accommodate three dining tables) with more relaxed discussions about favorite side dishes and some calmer planning in front of a crackling hearth fire. Things seem less frenzied, and more focused. We are looking forward to the day itself—sharing some favorite smaller-scale dining, playing games with our immediate family, participating in a Zoom call with another 15 members, and savoring what we can of the spirit of gratitude.

Covid can keep us home, keep us apart, keep us masked, and fill our thoughts with worry for sure. But Covid cannot keep us from feeling grateful for life’s small blessings.

This time of year, as with the Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Winter Solstice season, is one of intentional blessing—both giving and receiving. We have chosen to celebrate often over the coming months, in small gatherings, through surprise “blessing baskets” dropped off at a friend or relative’s home, and myriad “good deed” moments to serve a stranger, lift up another’s spirits, and spread a little extra cheer. And after the turkey or apple pie are gone, lights are up, trees are decorated, isn’t blessing each other at the heart of it all?

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