Thursday, November 19, 2020

No thanks? Why we need this Thanksgiving -- Nov. 19, 2020 column


A few days ago, my neighbors added to their Biden-Harris and Ruth Bader Ginsburg yard art with a sign over their front door that reads simply: “Gratitude.”

Around the neighborhood, a few inflatable turkeys, pumpkins repurposed with wooden turkey heads and feathers, and cheery “Gobble Gobble” signs remind that  Thanksgiving is upon us.

But for many, Thanksgiving 2020 seems to have lost its luster. Some suggest postponing or canceling the holiday altogether. I get that in a pandemic and recession, we’re tempted to say, “No thanks,” that it’s easy to be more focused on what we are missing than what we have managed to hang onto.

No question, this has been a terrible year, a time of unbearable sadness and grief.  We have lost 250,000 Americans to COVID-19 and thousands more suffer lasting symptoms. The virus has devastated the economy, taking away jobs and the livelihood of millions of Americans.

But while this Thanksgiving must be different -- smaller and more poignant, virtual and outdoors around a fire pit or indoors with the windows open – we can still  practice gratitude.

We have rarely needed this holiday and the coming season of lights, music and cheer more than during the long, dark days of our plague year, our annus horribilis (Latin for “horrible year”), 2020.

Yet the Thanksgiving tradition in New World began in hard times. Virginia’s Berkeley Plantation claims the first official Thanksgiving in 1619, after the settlers had endured a year of unimaginable suffering and loss. English puritans traditionally gave thanks with a time of prayer and fasting, not feasting.

In 1621, pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass., shared a harvest meal with about 90 Wampanoag Indians. But calling the Plymouth meal the “first Thanksgiving”?

That was a clever marketing tool in the 18th century to boost New England tourism, says David J. Silverman, history professor at George Washington University and author of the 2019 book, “This Land is Their Land.”

President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving during the Civil War in the forlorn hope of drawing the country together after the Union victory at Gettysburg in 1863.

This year, many people seem to have skipped right over Thanksgiving and landed on Christmas. My corner drugstore in Alexandria installed Santas in its front and center windows before Halloween.

Before anyone tucked the first pumpkin pie in the oven, Christmas arrived on the plaza in front of City Hall in the form of a tall, stately white-lighted holiday tree.  A smaller tree brightens the riverfront. On King Street, white lights illuminate bare tree branches, and red bows and greenery adorn lamp posts.

Alexandria will even collect trash and recycling Thanksgiving Day, rather than take a typical “holiday slide.” That, though, was the choice of collection workers, who prefer to start their pickups at 6 a.m. Thursday so they can be home that evening and off Friday with their families, the city said in a news release.

The holidays won’t be the same this year. We will be distant, actually or socially, wear masks and wash our hands often.

But that shouldn’t stop us from remembering advice attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson to “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”

There are real signs of hope. Promising coronavirus vaccines are in the pipeline. Moderna said its vaccine was 94.5% effective in early tests, and Pfizer announced its vaccine is 95% effective with no serious side effects.

Scientists and medical personnel are true American heroes, going to work every day to save lives. Now we need President Donald Trump, Republicans and the federal government to step up and help President-elect Joe Biden plan for the vaccines’ distribution and the transition to a new administration.

Meanwhile, we can be glad not to live in the little town of Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, Alaska, at the state’s northernmost point.

On Wednesday, the sun set there at 1:30 p.m. Alaska Standard Time -- not to rise again until Jan. 23.

That’s right – 66 days of what’s called polar night, when the sun does not rise above the horizon.

With everything else happening, we at least will have sunrises and sunsets and the hope of brighter days ahead. Find your gratitude.

© 2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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