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By Shelley Murphy
November is a hard-working month. Its calendar boasts Election Day, the end of Daylight Savings, Veterans Day, and it is National Gratitude Month.
This month also celebrates my favorite holiday on its fourth Thursday.
The nation’s observance of Thanksgiving is traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth when Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans gathered for a communal feast and gave thanks for their survival and plentiful harvest.
The Thanksgiving holiday is the one I look forward to all year. This November, however, the pandemic is upending my Turkey Day traditions. In the spirit of the month, I’m trying to adopt an attitude of gratitude, but it’s a struggle in 2020.
More than eight months have passed since the pandemic began wreaking havoc on our lives, and its consequences continue to polarize national politics, affect the economy and fracture countless families.
Pre-pandemic, my husband and I planned a once-in-a-lifetime European anniversary vacation, but in April, our trip became a casualty of COVID-19.
I instead found myself on an indefinite staycation and sequestered in my house watching home improvement shows. So, it surprised no one when I spent our travel refund on updating our kitchen and bathrooms.
It did, however, stun my husband when my tiny refresh job morphed into a major revamp project. Weeks into construction, COVID-19 caused the project to come to a crawl and then sputter to a stall.
Today, there are no sinks or countertops in my sons’ childhood bathroom. When they return home to visit, they brush their teeth in the shower. And in our kitchen, there isn’t a dishwasher, sink, cooktop—or countertops. My husband and I have been glamping for months.
Our dog is grateful for our misadventure and packing on the pandemic pounds as she stalks my husband nightly at the barbeque.
This Thanksgiving, more than ever, I was looking forward to hosting family and friends for a food-filled gathering.
I planned on relearning to cook and toiling in an updated kitchen for days as I prepared a feast that would be devoured during a football game halftime show.
Instead, the cornucopia of COVID-19 trampled the traditions I crave. Next week, I won’t cook a homemade feast, and I won’t host a houseful of family.
Before 2020 befell, I thought our family had experienced the most unpredictable November gathering.
A few years ago, my older son took a job in Oklahoma upon graduating from college. That November, my husband, younger son and I flew to the Sooner State, where he alone prepared a Thanksgiving feast with all the fixings.
But 2020 doesn’t disappoint, and this year is shaping up to be our most uncertain yet.
California health officials recommend Thanksgiving guests gather outside and maintain social distancing, refrain from singing or shouting (best to avoid politics), and limit get-togethers to two hours.
Outdoor gatherings might happen in San Clemente, but I think it’s a much harder sell to those on the opposite coast.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises avoiding travel and large gatherings this Thanksgiving. Atop the CDC’s guidelines to ensure a safe holiday season—yep, you guessed it—is to host yet another virtual family gathering.
Keep in mind, when decorating the backyard, the fall foliage makes a wonderful backdrop for any videotaped Thanksgiving celebration. Nothing says holiday tradition like a family Zoom while trimming the turkey and gobbling the gravy.
It’s a cruel irony that on the day dedicated to giving thanks, I can’t spend it with those I’m most thankful to have in my life.
Next week, the fallout from the pandemic will find many families counting their blessings as they battle emotional, financial, or physical blows.
This holiday season, I’m struggling to adopt an attitude of gratitude; yet, as I reflect, I am thankful for so much—and most grateful 2021 is on the horizon.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.