Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This year won’t be my first Thanksgiving without seeing my family. Since I moved to Vermont, I have chosen to go home for Christmas and not Thanksgiving. It’s always been impossible to afford both. However, this year, I won’t be going home for Christmas either. The pandemic is just too bad in Alabama, and I don’t want to take the chance of getting the virus and spreading it to my parents. I think this will be the second time that I have spent Thanksgiving on my own. Since I moved to Vermont, I have spent most years having Thanksgiving with friends or coworkers. Last year, I spent Thanksgiving and my birthday with my friend Susan in Manhattan. It was one of my most memorable Thanksgivings and birthdays. For once, I got to spend those two days with someone who loves me unconditionally for who I am. With my family, it’s always on the condition that I don’t speak about being gay.
This year, the United States (and to a certain extent, the whole world) is in the middle of what disaster-preparedness experts once believed would be a worst-case scenario. A highly contagious virus with unpredictable symptoms (sometimes mild, sometimes fatal) is raging worse than ever in the United States. The curve is not flat, nor is there even a curve. It’s a line that is starting to point straight upward. More than 1,000 Americans are dying every day, on average. Soon that number will likely hit 2,000. Over one-quarter of a million people have died. That number may rise to over 300,000 by Christmas, or more if people gather together from multiple households over Thanksgiving, which will see the United States have thousands of super-spreader events. It doesn’t look like there is a lot to be thankful for this year. However, 1 Chronicles 16:34 tells us, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."
I know that few things sound nicer for many of us than sitting around eating with friends and family after so much isolation and worry over this seemingly never-ending year. But from an infectious-disease standpoint, the guidelines at this moment are stark and frank:
· Limit activities to those essential to life.
· Don’t gather socially.
· Don’t travel.
Many doctors, public-health experts, and some civic leaders (though not enough) have begged us in recent weeks to follow these guidelines. They have asked us not to celebrate Thanksgiving in anything resembling the modern American way—with multigenerational gatherings that involve travel and prolonged conversations over an indoor meal. Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving on October 12. In the days and weeks following Canada’s Thanksgiving, coronavirus case numbers immediately started to rise. From November 12-19, Canada reported three of its five highest single-day totals in the entire year, all within the span of a week. Canada’s COVID-19 surge since after Thanksgiving is a warning for Americans.
In any other administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would issue guidelines to Americans. In a coordinated effort with the president and coronavirus task force to advise and coordinate with governors, mayors, and citizens. Instead, there is a messaging void. The president has spent his time golfing and tweeting about the election being stolen from him, including saying dead people voted when the families of over 250,000 people are mourning the death of loved ones from a virus he has done nothing to control. He has effectively quit being the president and at the same time trying to hang on to the false belief that he won the election. He has broken with his task force and refused to concede or transfer power to incoming experts, leaving them without vital information. The CDC has a barely adequate page of new “considerations” for holiday celebrations that the agency’s officials have neither publicly announced nor explained in news conferences.
If people don’t stay home and have Thanksgiving with only the members of their households, this virus will spread exponentially, and thousands more will die. The truth is that we will likely need to be more vigilant with each passing day this winter, not less. The virus knows no difference between holidays and workdays. Our default should be to treat Thanksgiving as a day when the health guidelines are no different from any other day. As the prevalence of the virus increases, things that were previously low risk become more dangerous. This is why it’s so important to follow the directives of not gathering indoors or traveling. It’s never been advisable during the pandemic to socialize with people outside your bubble who can’t manage to wear masks and keep their distance, but it’s especially ill-advised now.
No family member should put pressure on others to gather. Many people will likely join reluctantly because they do not want to be the ones who are no fun or to keep others in the family from acting indignant or insulted. That’s what my parents are doing by going to my sister’s in-laws for Thanksgiving. Just simply say no. Say that you are thankful they are currently safe and healthy, and you would like to keep it that way. If you don’t, it might be the last Thanksgiving you do see your family. Remember, the risk of such gatherings is not limited to those who gather. Each transmission of the virus can possibly spread to dozens more, and those dozens will spread it to dozens more, and the spread goes on and on. We are all in this together, and we can’t forget that.
Take the opportunity to think about what you love most about the day. Focus on how to re-create that, and even build on it. Maybe learn to cook one of the dishes that someone else usually brings to dinner. Think of the people you actually look forward to seeing, and call them. Think of the people you don’t look forward to seeing, and don’t call them. Maybe most important, this year is an opportunity to bond over the moral certainty of the moment. At its core, Thanksgiving is a day of giving thanks for the blessings of the past year. While there may not be a lot to be thankful for when it comes to 2020, 1 Timothy 4:4-5 tells us, "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer." This year, families, friends, and communities can work together to achieve something meaningful and good: ending the pandemic. All you’re asked to do is eat food at home.
Whatever you do, have hope that next Thanksgiving, if the news of an effective vaccine proves as promising as it sounds, we can go back to whatever traditions draw people to Thanksgiving. We can hope and pray that this is a one-time deal. Next year will be an opportunity to be thankful for the fundamentals of the holiday that we tend to take for granted in normal years.