Dear Wayne and Wanda,
Thanksgiving has always been a big deal for my family. We all get together at my parents’ house and it’s a daylong deal with football, movies, tons of food and just fun.
Obviously things are different this year and my family can’t agree on how to handle it. If all of us siblings, spouses and children were to show up, that would be 10 people. Mom and Dad’s house isn’t large. To me, this feels like too many people in too little of a house, and if past family gatherings were any evidence of how it would go, we’d all wear masks for an hour or so and then chuck it and feel comfortable and the masks would go bye-bye. Looking back now at times when we’ve been lax, I feel lucky no one was ill and spread COVID to others.
With COVID numbers spiking, it’s my opinion that we should not gather for Thanksgiving this year and I intend to celebrate at home with my husband and two kids. My two siblings, however, are determined to stick to tradition. My sister is 33 and she goes out all the time still with her friends, and also works in a restaurant. My brother is 38 and has a partner and toddler. He works at home and he and his partner attend church every week, have a few couples in their social bubble, and their toddler has play dates with two other toddlers.
I think they’re being reckless and insensitive and putting our elderly parents’ health at risk. They think I’m “living in fear” and ruining Thanksgiving. Any tips on how to navigate this?
Where do your parents fall in this debate? Are they in the “we only live once and could die any day so to heck with rules let’s just do whatever we want and pour some gravy on it” camp? Or are they in the “we should do our part to minimize COVID spread and stay home and not have anyone over and I’ll give you some links to restaurants doing turkey takeout” camp? More likely, they are somewhere in between.
While there are people living through COVID-19 in an extreme way — either socializing with free-wheeling abandon or isolating to the extreme — most people fall somewhere on a spectrum somewhere between outright defiance and severe caution. For instance, your sister works in a restaurant; she’s around lots of people frequently, but surely adheres to her employer’s mask and hygiene best practices. And your brother attends church; but does he mask up and stay apart from others? To them, their lives may not feel dangerous at all, and in fact, they are protecting themselves, even though their behavior to you appears to be risky.
Take a deep breath and know this: any family dynamics shaken up by the Thanksgiving debate are being affected only because you care about each other and at its core, this debate is about feeling sad about not spending the holiday together like normal. Nothing is normal these days, and all of us are feeling emotional impacts of rattled traditions and toppled routines. It’s unsettling, it’s weird, and it’s even harder when we can’t fall back on our usual comforting touchstones, like family holidays. But we all have to make the best choices for ourselves, and for you, if that’s staying home on Thanksgiving, your family should support that.
So let’s break down the true meaning of Thanksgiving. (We’ll save conversations of its origins, whether the day should be celebrated, and the commercialization of the holiday and its infamous day after for a different space and time.) Sure, Thanksgiving can mean tradition: family and food, friends and football. But the true essence of Thanksgiving is recognizing all the things in your life that you have to be thankful and grateful for, right? And it sounds like you and your family’s bounty runneth over, big holiday gathering or not.
You’re all healthy in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that is responsible for claiming more than 250,000 American lives and hospitalizing and isolating hundreds of thousands more, keeping many families and friends apart this Thanksgiving. You all clearly love each other, silly sibling arguments aside — a lot of families wish that was the smallest of their problems. You all are doing well enough not to worry about your next warm meal, a vehicle that may not make it across town, or if your homes’ couches and cozy blankets will be there for you to melt into with your respective food — and drink — comas. That’s living the dream compared to a million newly unemployed citizens, families that are hanging on paycheck to paycheck, those who are homeless, and countless others who simply aren’t so fortunate right now.
How about instead of fighting about maintaining a party streak, you all take a reality check and recognize how well-off you are to have these types of “problems?” And maybe use some imagination: like everyone cooks up a family favorite dish or two, portions them out for each group (mom and dad; single sis; bro, wife and toddler; and your crew) and everyone puts on their masks and delivers and/or exchanges them with one another on a specific schedule? You still see each other (kinda), you still share a meal (in a sense), and no one has to worry about infecting mom, dad, a child, a family member, or an extended bubble buddy. Or dial it up a notch and donate meals in the days before Thanksgiving to those in need. I bet your brother’s church can direct you to some places that would feel lucky to have those gifts to share.