If you've been wringing your hands, agonizing over Thanksgiving dinner, I hereby free you. In the name of safety, sanity and gratitude for the community with which we're blessed, I release you from piling in a car, watching your life inch by in traffic and eating a very big dinner very early in the day with people outside your bubble whom you have thus far protected with your physical absence.
This is not to diminish Thanksgiving's importance as a time for family bonding, cooking and sharing a symbolic feast. But like nearly all our other celebrations, it has evolved over time. (I don't have time to go into details — just trust me that both gravy seasoning and refrigeration have improved since the 1600s.) If we want to live up to the spirit of gratitude for survival, family and community, we need to adapt again.
As Humboldt County vaults from the yellow minimal risk tier, double flips over the moderate orange zone and sticks the landing in the red substantial risk tier, Public Health staff are begging us not to travel and not to gather outside our households. Travel, which introduces contact and potential COVID-19 transmission from other communities into our own, and gatherings where we're exposed to viral loads as we laugh and eat, are how we got here. But some of us are apparently responding with a: "Hold my drumstick."
Don't do it. Take this one year off from the holiday commute or worrying about whether you're going to pass out behind the wheel from turkey-borne tryptophan. Stay home, nosh until you're drowsy and fall blissfully asleep in front of the TV. This year that kind of sloth makes you a hero and I salute you.
Were you planning on hosting? Communal dining, sitting close indoors for extended periods without a mask, projecting our voices across a table to be heard, is a recipe for disaster far worse than your sister's weird raw cranberry mold. That crunchy abomination can simply be flossed out of your teeth and isn't going to kill anybody or leave them with long-term heart, lung or cognitive issues. And if you think hearing over and over again about the year you undercooked the carrots was bad, wait until you see how long your aunt can hold an intubation against you. Consider yourself unburdened from the obligation of gnashing at that salad or living with the potential consequences of exposing each other to a deadly virus.
Those of you who secretly dream of skipping the whole affair and making your own meal at home just the way you want it — you could go all dark meat! — this is your moment. Is it too much food? Box some up and share it with a neighbor or someone in need. This year you don't have to pretend to care about the game or put up with people only pretending to care about the game. I grant you permission to avoid uncomfortable conversations about the election on this one day (and only this day because damn, come get your people) in service of keeping vulnerable folks alive. You don't have to argue with your brother-in-law about anything this year, nor do you need to dodge a bunch of questions about your love life or career. If you really need to face it head on, Zoom or call. You can absolutely have your life choices judged from afar. I'm kind of judging you right now and I'm told the experience isn't better in person.
For those of you worried this may be an elderly relative's last Thanksgiving, I sympathize. But take it from the child of an immigrant: The only way we repay our elders for the sacrifices they've made to give us better lives is to sacrifice comfort in return. Right now, that means not connecting in person. Phone calls with my mother and Zoom dinners with friends have kept my family in touch over these past eight months, and they beat the hell out of the tissue paper airmail letters my mother exchanged with overseas family when she was my age. Sharing the holiday via Zoom or phone this year is our best chance of having everyone at the table next year.
So what are we going to do instead? If you've shaken your head and sighed in sympathy at the financial blows dealt by closing down bars and rolling back capacity for indoor dining, this is your moment to do something to help the folks who take on extra risk (often with less of a health insurance safety net) to feed you. If you've got the funds to travel or put on a big spread for a crowd, you can do better by diverting that cash to takeout from local food businesses that could use the boost.
Even if you've got a family at home, you are now free from the responsibility of cooking a massive feast. Locally owned markets are, like most years, offering whole feasts for order and pickup. The North Coast Co-op has whole traditional and vegetarian dinners you can order online. Eureka Natural Foods has a spread with cranberry pecan stuffing made from Beck's Bread and Murphy's Markets will sell you turkey, gravy, green beans and mashed potatoes by the quart. Wildberries has a full dinner and sides including a five-cheese macaroni. Want to give back? Jefferson Community Center is raising money by cooking up sides and desserts you can order by Nov. 11 (498-5764).
Make a list of your most beloved restaurants and call to see if they're offering whole dinners or specials. Fat Anne's has pumpkin cheesecake and cranberry curd tarts, and Plaza is doing turkey dinner plates to go. What the hell, go all pie for dinner with individual leftover pies (stuffing, turkey and mashed potato with a side of cranberry sauce) and whatever pumpkin or pecan pie floats your boat at Slice of Humboldt Pie. With the power vested in me by unnatural confidence, I grant you permission to only eat pie all damn day.
While we're thinking outside the bird, I declare those of you who are not wild about turkey free to order a lasagna instead. Or to hit up your favorite Chinese place and finally order the Peking duck you have to call in for days ahead.
Generations before adapted their Thanksgivings to the absence those at war, to rationing and to the distance modern travel has made easy. One year apart, smiling through screens and grazing on something different won't break our bonds. And when we say our thanks before the meal, acknowledging what we've given one another and sharing gratitude for our community, including the frontline workers who'll be on their feet while we eat, we'll have put our money and our choices where our mouths are.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.