American Consequences - November 2020


alone in your respective household pods. It runs – and trots, and heels, and stands still with its nose poised haughtily aloft – from noon to 2 p.m., eastern time. You can keep in touch via text, pick your favorite breeds and place high-stakes bets so that you have something more important than politics to bicker about as the meal begins. A simple scavenger hunt might do well to occupy the younger set: Ask every kid to scamper outside and find a bright yellow leaf... then, hurry and look for a red one! If the party skews older, consider a scavenger hunt with family photos and other memorabilia – or, if you’re really at a loss, perhaps a round of Trivial Pursuit: The Drinking Game. The controversial colonial circumstances of the first Thanksgiving make its straightforward, historical celebration less than kosher in 2020. But it’s not hard, from where we are now, to see how Lincoln’s canonization of Thanksgiving made for good wartime politics As with any event, it’s important to designate a master of ceremonies, host, or moderator – although I believe “matriarch” is the traditional term – whoever knows the most people in attendance well enough to draw them out or quiet them down, as needed. Timing, too, is crucial. More so than at a live family gathering, where stragglers reliably roll in late and groups

splinter off as the day winds down into evening. A couple kids might be lying on the floor with the dog while another two wander off on a lantern-lit walk to hear ghost stories from that one spooky aunt, leaving all the uncles to doze in front of the big football game. But there’s really no room for the long lingering goodbye within a group Zoom call. At this point, we’ve all seen it attempted, and we know we’ll never see it succeed. One convenient wind-down method could be to keep onscreen whoever’s doing dishes – provided the screen’s perched at a safe distance from the dishwater – to replicate the competitive spirit of jockeying for helpfulness points. (It’s a tradition in some families, I swear!) And since it’s bound to be a smaller- than-usual gathering, the dishes won’t take very long at all even if you’re only pretending to do them together. Lingering after a holiday meal is a natural impulse... It’s a way to stave off goodbye and savor every second until the achy moment when you dry the last serving dish, close the laptop, and turn around to face the first of many such gloomy twilights in what’s poised to be our nation’s loneliest winter on record. All of which – both the industrious inclination to tidy up right away, and the long cold winter and generally uncertain future that lie in store for all of us – remind me of my dad’s enduring issue with the Thanksgiving myth: What even is Thanksgiving, really? It had long been celebrated almost exclusively in New England on various dates in the fall and winter to commemorate that famous three-day feast.


November 2020

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