Annie Yan

Forget the cranberry sauce, this Thanksgiving is a recipe for disaster.

It’s the season of giving thanks, and in that spirit, I’d like to thank the COVID-19 pandemic for halting family Thanksgivings this year. In no way do I want to diminish the absolute shitshow that this virus started. I don’t want to devalue the lives lost, the plummeting mental health or the financial strain. However, I am eternally grateful that I don’t have to sit across from my conservative relatives a few raw weeks after the presidential election.

I truly believe that society’s annual jump from Halloween to Christmas is criminal because Thanksgiving is clearly the superior holiday. Thanksgiving requires no monthlong preparation — all you have to do is eat and go to bed early — so it never disappoints. I appreciate the quintessential Americanness of devoting a day to being grateful for what you have then spending the rest of the weekend buying things you don’t need solely because they’re on sale. Most of all, I’m a basic bitch who enjoys rewatching every “Friends” Thanksgiving special, putting on a cute fall outfit and eating way too much of my grandma’s mac and cheese.

In my family, Thanksgiving is a Big Deal. Over 60 people pack into my cousin’s house every year. We have multiple turkeys, pounds of mashed potatoes (homemade with a hint of pecorino Romano cheese) and piles of sweet potato biscuits imported from North Carolina. The desserts are equally plentiful — even though everyone is way too full to sample four different kinds of pie. Football blares from the television, children shriek from the basement, alcohol and tryptophan combine, leaving everyone simultaneously loud and lethargic.

Even though I love Thanksgiving, I’m happy there will be no celebration on Thursday. COVID-19 cases are rising throughout the country, and these festivities represent the antithesis of public health guidelines. Canceling Thanksgiving will keep a lot of people safe. If current vaccine trials prove promising, we can pick back up next November — it’ll be a genuine callback to the first Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims celebrated not dying of disease.

There are more personal reasons I’m okay with avoiding Thanksgiving. Within my extended family, I’m pretty much the lone liberal, the sensitive snowflake, the tender turkey (to stay on theme). I would find it really hard to be grateful while my relatives mourn Donald Trump’s loss or espouse his false claims of election conspiracy. It’s been a long semester, a long year. I don’t want to dedicate the first half of our only break preparing for an argument I can never win, and I don’t want to spend the second half bitter, thinking up clever comebacks when it’s too late to use them. Sure I could stay silent, but I know myself well enough to understand the futility of that effort. It’s easier to just do away with the entire holiday. Dramatic? Sure, but I’m tired and anxious, and also a bit dramatic.

I want to say that my family canceled Thanksgiving this year solely in response to the terrifying rise in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks. That would be a lie. A slew of other logistical factors would have left the event without a venue or the typical guest list. Regardless of the pandemic, the holiday wouldn’t proceed as normal. In fact, the pandemic probably didn’t contribute to the decision at all.

That’s when I realized that my relief over avoiding political conversations was merely one facet of a broader ideological argument within my family. Though COVID-19 has often felt like an unconquerable enemy, even the virus is subject to the rampant bipartisan division in this country. The sad reality is that most of my (Republican) relatives don’t take this virus seriously. They go out without masks. They laugh at public health guidelines. They say it’s no big deal if they contract COVID-19.

I’ve barely left my house for anything more than a run since March — and honestly, since this semester started, I’ve barely made time for that. I’ve always been introverted and a bit cantankerous, but my friend joked that lockdown has expedited my inevitable ascent to the role of northeastern Boo Radley. I’m not claiming that I’m a saint or that all of my behavior has been perfect — and I recognize that my ability to continue isolation is a privilege — but I have been careful because my temporary inconvenience will never take precedence over someone else’s life.

I have much more profound reasons to be grateful for a suspension of holiday celebration than avoiding an argument. I always knew that giving up on giving thanks this year would be better for my mental health, but I am only now starting to understand how it benefits my physical health as well. The sheer size of my family combined with certain individuals’ flagrant disregard for the gravity of this pandemic could quite literally have deadly consequences.

As Yalies return home and families throughout the country congregate, I’m sure this holiday season will see a number of superspreader events. With new cases already exceeding 100,000 each day, I’m terrified to see how the most wonderful time of the year will fare in the face of so much death.

Though it didn’t happen, there’s a reason President Trump insisted on ending the pandemic by Easter Sunday this year. Humans are social creatures — we thrive on community and celebration, and we feel injusticed when COVID-19 ruins our holidays, weddings or graduations. I understand the pandemic fatigue and the impulse to disregard medical advice and be together. As we enter this holiday season, this time for family connection, we must remember that COVID-19 has no respect for our festivities. The virus has no love or creed, only the biological imperative to replicate itself over and over until there’s no one left to infect.

The holiday season is a time for helping others, and the only way to help our community is to follow proper precautions. We must build each other up by locking ourselves down. It won’t be easy to isolate on the days we’re meant to spend together, but if we truly care about the holidays, we won’t throw tantrums over postponed parties. We’ll wear our masks and we’ll stay inside and we won’t mob grocery stores trying to buy a bird with dry, flavorless meat. Nobody actually likes turkey anyway — there’s a reason people only eat it once a year.

Jordan Fitzgerald | jordan.fitzgerald@yale.edu