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Spending the holidays away from family can easily be a source of sadness. It can feel so unbearable that around 40% of Americans still plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with a group of more than 10 people — a practice that will probably worsen the already frightening increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States.
The impulse is understandable. Many of us want to do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — but as Thanksgiving draws nearer, the prospect can feel discouraging. After one of the most difficult years in our lifetime — if not the most difficult year of our lifetime — we crave the warmth of human contact, comfort foods by the best cooks in the family, and sharing stories in a multigenerational group — all things that the pandemic has taken from us.
While I normally visit relatives on the other side of the country, I decided not to travel to see family this Thanksgiving. Instead, I’m staying in my college apartment.
I’m trying to adopt a mentality that promotes self-care, inner peace, and the same spirit of joy and warmth the holiday season always brings — even if the physical circumstances are vastly different this year.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, wrote, “Man can receive no greater gift than this, that he rejoice another’s heart.” This Thanksgiving, I want to bring joy to my friends’ hearts, and also to my own.
Rediscovering a Spirit of Joy
I experienced the strongest bout of sadness directly after my school announced that our winter break would be extended to five weeks. Normally, the longer vacation would be a source of joy. But for some reason, I found myself curled up in bed thinking about the cold, dark weeks ahead. While I still have a handful of friends I come in contact with, most are leaving town as school comes to a close. And even though I consider myself to be very independent, after one of the most challenging years of my life, I kind of did wish I could be in a warm environment under the care of people older and wiser than me.
But that’s what 2020 is like. And while it’s perfectly natural to be sad in the face of the massive impact this pandemic has had on our lives and our plans, I think of what the Baha’i Writings say: “Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity.” If I want to enjoy my holidays, it’s up to me to generate that thankfulness and find that joy.
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If you, like me, plan on spending Thanksgiving alone or with a very limited number of people — in my case, two others who are already in my bubble — here’s how I’m facing the weeks ahead:
I got myself out of my initial bout of moping, and I realized that I had to find excitement and joy in the people I would spend Thanksgiving with, in the foods I could cook, and in the joyful environment I could create. As a 25-year-old, this will be the first Thanksgiving dinner I organize myself.
Learning Family Recipes
I began to compile a list of recipes for traditional Thanksgiving foods. And this led to me reaching out to my grandmother and her sister, both of whom are experts in traditional American delights like turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. After a family Zoom call, my Grandma sent me recipes over email. She reminded me to make sure I buy a baster and never — never — get a store-bought pumpkin pie. She then followed up with a pastry recipe she swears by — one with “twice the amount of butter.”
Connecting With Relatives
Ironically, by spending the holidays away from my relatives, I’ve managed to connect with other family members in a very special way. I now hold a couple of heirloom recipes passed down through generations, which I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. I plan to share pictures in our family group chat, and it may be almost as fulfilling as stuffing my face with my aunt’s Thanksgiving sweet potatoes.
Finding Festive Decorations
I bought a special scented candle to bring fall vibes into my apartment and (more importantly) three turkey-shaped hats I will force everyone to wear. I’ll be preparing these recipes along with two friends who also can’t visit their families right now, and since none of us grew up in the United States, it will probably be a wild adventure.
I’m actually excited about this now — about making my own Thanksgiving celebration, taking a break from classes, and enjoying a gathering with my little “found family,” all while sharing pictures with my biological family. And I’m thankful that, with all the adversities this year has brought, there are still so many ways we can be thankful.