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TGIF: Thanksgiving significance blooms in the pandemic era

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

Thanksgiving 2020 is finding many families revising their favorite holiday traditions. At least, that’s the situation in our family, and I trust others are doing the same. Family gatherings may not be cancelled entirely, but if COVID-19 precautions are being followed, they will be muted.

Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing during this divisive election year. At least, the opportunities for family discord while eating turkey and dressing will be minimized. Arguing over politics can’t help your digestion. What’s more, Grandpa will probably have a large carving knife within arm’s reach.

OK, that scenario is extreme. Still, there aren’t many silver linings to see because cases of the coronavirus continue to spread, hospitalizations mount, and the death toll rises.

Happy COVID Thanksgiving, indeed.

From a community standpoint, the most significant change for Brown County will be the absence of the annual Thanksgiving Feast, usually held at the Mabee Center at Howard Payne University. The event, which would have been held for the 37th consecutive year on Thursday, was an early casualty on the community’s holiday schedule. There’s no way an undertaking of such scale, with hundreds of people involved, could be conducted safely.

Meanwhile, agencies like Good Samaritan Ministries and others will be shouldering an even greater burden this year. Let’s practice the “love thy neighbor” thing with zeal.

Various adjustments will ripple across family dinner plans throughout the United States, and unfortunately, also across local and state economies.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been the busiest travel time of the year, but the friendly skies will be less crowded this month. Those who expect to be with family or good friends this holiday may choose to make those trips by private vehicle instead of commercial transportation. My prize for punning headlines goes to the New York Post: “More Americans are tabling their travel plans.”

The menu for Thanksgiving dinner should be familiar, but even that has not gone unaffected by the fallout from the virus. The disease hit workers in poultry and other meat producing operations particularly hard this spring, and they’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Meanwhile, the demand for smaller turkeys is expected to skyrocket, as families scale back the size of gatherings. If you’ve waited this long to choose your bird, you may find selection limited.

I’ve observed that warnings of commodity shortages can become self-fulfilling prophesies. If panic buying results, a minor hiccup becomes a full-blown crisis. If we don’t get scared of shortages, and instead buy only what we need as it’s needed, the chains of supply will adjust. Things will work out fine.

Next up: the rush to stores for bargains on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving now only one week away, might not be as chaotic as before. Retailers — understanding the concern many shoppers have about shopping in large crowds — have been extending their Black Friday discounts across several days, if not weeks. You don’t have to shop online, or join the early risers Friday morning, to get the best deals.

Also, it’s been a horrible year for many of our local businesses. Each dollar we spend with them is nothing less than a vote “in favor” of their continued existence. Whether or not you shop on Black Friday, go shopping on another day. Or two. Or more.

In 2020, the situation surrounding Thanksgiving — and the entire holiday season for that matter — provides Americans an opportunity to focus more on the true significance of these observances and less on their trappings. Many annual traditions are either being suspended — like the Thanksgiving Feast — or turned into drive-through and remote events.

Health officials throughout the nation have traced much of this month’s surge in virus cases to the cumulative effects of large gatherings of people. It apparently started around Halloween and continued with sporting and political events. COVID-fatigue is real, leading us to forego even basic precautions like wearing face coverings and avoiding crowds.

Regardless, we can all be safer if we’re more purposeful about being thankful this month, and then in December turn anew to matters that are most important to us spiritually. That usually results in caring more about others, even at the expense of personal convenience. 

As the years pass, I’m finding that such intangibles are what we should celebrate the most anyway. Please, stay safe.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.