Every year, among the fall burst of color, families across America come together to celebrate Thanksgiving. This year, however, sharing happy Thanksgiving moments with relatives was overshadowed by the possibility of sharing a deadly virus. Families crowded together indoors, passing steaming platters of food normally makes for a cozy Thanksgiving dinner, but this year, it represented a potential pandemic fiasco.
This past Thanksgiving hasn’t been the only one plagued with disease. The influential “First Thanksgiving” happened in part because of the devastating epidemic brought to the Wampanoag Native Americans by French settlers, weakening their tribe and directly impacting their decision to help the pilgrims. Nearly four hundred years later, our country is reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to find ways to connect with family and give thanks from a distance.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) encouraged people to celebrate Thanksgiving this year only among those that they live with. If relatives visited, they were urged to follow county safety guidelines, which included staying masked and practicing social distancing when in contact with those of another household. The lack of a traditional family get-together for Thanksgiving dinner may have seemed disheartening, but Berkeley High School (BHS) students still found other ways to celebrate.
Anjal Mays, a freshman in Berkeley Independent Study (BIS), planned to spend Thanksgiving with her grandmother and uncle, who would fly in from out of state. To follow California’s health requirements, both she and her relatives decided to quarantine before staying together. Had there been no pandemic, Mays would have seen many more family members to commemorate their own family tradition. “We don’t exactly celebrate Thanksgiving, we wait a couple days after, and we do what we call ‘Maysgiving’ because our last name is Mays,” she said. “We would have had [our whole family] come together to eat and talk.” Mays said that she rarely gets the chance to see her entire family, which is why “Maysgiving” is so special to her. “Although we can’t really celebrate like we usually do, we still get the week off of school, and my dad gets the week off of work … [it’s still nice] to be able to spend time with family,” said Mays.
Ada Rauber, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC), abandoned her original Thanksgiving plans out of concern regarding the risk of COVID-19 exposure with family members. She and her family had originally planned on driving to Montana to visit her sister, getting tested for COVID-19 before and after the trip, but they cancelled it last minute due to the surge in virus infections. “We had started out by figuring out the steps that would keep us safe, then also weighing them to what [the CDC] was saying,” said Rauber. “We finally just decided that, with all these rising cases, it would be smarter [to call off the trip].”
Though Rauber had been looking forward to seeing family members in person on Thanksgiving, she recognized that cancelling plans was for the best. “It would have been nice to go visit family or have my family come over here, but of course, this year it’s a lot better of an idea to just stay home and stay safe,” she said.
Gwyneth Fonte, a freshman in Universal 9th Grade (U9), also cancelled family plans, but didn’t mind the lack of a traditional Thanksgiving. “I have a lot of relatives that live near me, so I can see them any time,” said Fonte. For her, the lack of in-person gatherings has been an inspiration to seek connections and keep in contact with family members. “[I] often check in to see how loved ones are doing, and make time to chat,” she said. “It has really brought us together.”
Though many have taken health precautions during their holiday plans, the numbers do not paint an optimistic picture. The comfort of spending time with loved ones has come at a price, with numbers of new cases peaking. Eight Bay Area counties, including Alameda County, have already regressed into the Purple Tier, the most restrictive level of regulations due to increased COVID-19 transmissions. Experts have warned that it will be around two weeks after Thanksgiving that the surge in cases due to the holiday will become apparent.
Despite the grim situation, students have adapted and made the most of their break. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Mays, Rauber, and Fonte remained grateful for the small successes and family connections during the pandemic. “Out of all of this hardship, I’m glad something good has come out of it,” said Fonte. “The lockdown has really challenged us all to reflect inwards more, and prioritize the things that really matter in our lives.”