Thanksgiving in a Time of Pandemic

For the first time in about 100 years the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of a health pandemic. While the last pandemic was centered on the Spanish Influenza, this year’s uncomfortable guest at the dinner table is COVID-19.

COVID-19 is like that distant relative that no one really remembers how they are related to, yet can’t wait to get away from each year at the big family gathering. Like that distant relative, COVID-19 also has a way of showing up when least expected.

Depending on one’s political and scientific leanings, they either believe that COVID-19 is something horrible, or they think that it is a myth created by the same people who invented one sentence proverbs inside folded cookies.

No doubt people on both sides of the political COVID-19 spectrum will argue their case until their faces are redder then canned cranberry sauce during Thanksgiving meals together. After all, one of the things people are often thankful about on Thanksgiving is the right to have their own opinions.

As a former Boy Scout I was taught to always be prepared regardless of the situation. As the son of a mother who believes ham is not a Thanksgiving meat, I always keep an emergency ham in the freezer.
Photo R. Anderson

The way those arguments will occur will vary this year. Some people will have large in person gatherings as in years past, others will have smaller gatherings, and others still will have virtual gatherings using video conferencing software.

While there will be plenty of arguments about COVID-19 protocols and government overreach at the dinner tables across the country tomorrow, there will also be people who will spend the holiday alone because their families are either unable to join them, or in some cases because a family member passed away over the course of the year.

While this will not be a typical Thanksgiving for many people, that does not mean that there aren’t things to be thankful for.

One of the biggest things I am thankful for this year is my health, the health of my family and loved ones, as well as the fact that I have a job that thus far has proven to be pandemic proof; which means I have the resources to put food on the table.

The pilgrim narrative of coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts to avoid religious persecution and forming a thriving colony despite odds stacked against them, and huge death tolls, is something many of us were taught in school. The reality of that event differs slightly from the Norman Rockwell meets Thomas Kincaid narrative, but nonetheless people came, they gave thanks at some point, and they stayed.

On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation.
Photo R. Anderson

While Thanksgiving is often portrayed as something coming out of a land of the pilgrim’s pride and unity, it actually became a holiday much, much later during a time of huge division within the United States. On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation that said:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

The first Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 was set aside as a time to care for those in strive. Fast forward 157 years, and we are still a divided nation with many people in strive. The current strive does not come from a physical war, but from the economic and medical side effects of a response, or in some cases, lack of response to a health crisis.

Sadly, more and more people each day are losing their health, their jobs, and their ability to put food on the table for their families. It is incomprehensible that the richest nation in the world has so many people with food insecurity who wonder where their next meal will come from.

I am so grateful for the various food banks and other organizations that work around the clock to ensure that people are able to provide food for their families. I am also ashamed personally at how little I have helped in that cause despite having been blessed with so many resources myself.

But, while I am grateful for those organizations, I am also angered by the fact that so many people are in a position where they have to utilize those services. In many cases people are having to go to a food bank for the first time in their life.

Ensuring that people have food to eat should not be a political thing. It should not matter whether a person votes blue, red, or purple. We are all the same on the inside and we all require food to survive. The sooner people realize that, the better society will be as a whole.

Years ago when I worked for a weekly newspaper, I had the opportunity to write a feature on a food bank that was set up in an old rice drying silo. Sadly, the food bank burned down a few years ago since rice silos are extremely flammable. While that food bank is gone, there are thousands of organizations across the United States handing out help to those in need, as well as looking for help from those wanting to help those in need.

If watching Hallmark movies nonstop for the past four weeks has taught me anything it is that a) there are only three plots to Hallmark movies that are recycled again and again b) every town needs a gazebo and a decent Christmas tree farm c) no one ever takes anything with them when they move away from their parents’ house since their rooms are basically sealed off as a time capsule for them to return to after their big city boyfriends dump them and d) every one pitches in to help when the town needs them.

While I am certainly glad that the world has more depth then a Hallmark movie, the concept of chipping in and helping each other in tough times is one trait in those movies we should all want to immolate. Another trait being installing hot chocolate stands everywhere.

Although a staple of many Thanksgiving feasts today, it is doubtful that turkey was on the table at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. Instead, fish was likely the protein on the pilgrim’s plates.
Photo R. Anderson

The first settlers in the new world had to rely on themselves and their Native American neighbors in order to make what we now know as the United States of America successful.

Of course, once a beachhead was established and more settlers came, the Native Americans were treated horrifically. Additionally, slavery is another shameful stain on the whole democracy and all men are created equal thing that we all ascribe to as part of the American ideal.

So yes, there are so messed up, horrible examples of Americans being absolutely brutal to each other and those around them dating back to even before there was an America. Those chapters in the history books often get glossed over in favor of the happier narrative. And in the years to come the era of job losses and food insecurity that is happening right now in the middle of a health pandemic may be rewritten to try to put a more positive spin on things, versus showing America once again as the divided along ideological lines, flawed experiment in democracy that it is from time to time.

However, while we are in the middle of this mess, there are people wondering where their next meal will come from and how they will pay bills without a job. Let the historians figure out what lens they want to use at a later date to describe the last four years as well as the four years to come. For now, there is chance for people to act like those larger than life characters the history books teach about, instead of the flawed, divided founding fathers they were in reality.

Thanksgiving is upon us and there is much to be thankful for. There is also much left to do to ensure that everyone has a Thanksgiving to remember, even if that means having to wait 50 days to kick the crazy uncle with those wacky theories out of the house.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to figure out a way to help a food bank.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s Note: For anyone wanting to help out with a food bank, or for anyone needing the services of a food bank, they can visit FeedingAmerica.org for details on food banks in their area.

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