When COVID-19 first made its way to Minnesota, I was hopeful that it would more or less be gone by the time summer rolled around. The thought of it lingering into the fall, much less through the holiday season, was inconceivable. But now, nearly nine months later, the worst of it seems to be in front of, rather than behind us, and beloved holiday celebrations are set to be another pandemic-induced cancellation. We all seem to be faced with the same moral quandary: What are the holidays without the people you love? And yet why risk gathering when it poses such a risk? 

If this were an ordinary year, I’d be flying to Michigan to spend the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays (and my birthday, on Dec. 23) with nearly all of my immediate and extended family—my parents, sisters, brother-in-law, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But, of course, 2020 has been anything but ordinary, and instead of buying plane tickets and trying to pack as lightly as possible to avoid paying for a checked bag, I’m trying to figure out how to bring some semblance of normalcy to this year’s celebration, despite the fact that I’ll be spending it solo. 

Thankfully, I already have some practice. Last year, I opted to spend Thanksgiving alone, partially because I felt like I didn’t have the time, energy or money to travel, but mostly because my parents spent it vacationing in Hawaii, so I was left to my own devices. It was the first time I’ve spent the holiday by myself, which I was somewhat apprehensive about, especially as someone who gets lonely easily and looks forward to big family gatherings year-round. However, I ended up finding a surprising amount of fulfillment in my own quiet little celebration. I slept in, finished a book I had been struggling to find the time for, FaceTimed my parents, cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for one and ate it while watching a movie. I missed my family, but the day to myself was a good one all the same, a much-welcomed respite in the middle of a chaotic time in my life.

I was hopeful that 2020 would bring me the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving alongside my family like normal, but unfortunately, it has not. I will miss them all again this year, but am trying not to spend too much time wishing I could change things that are out of my control. Instead, I am trying to control what I can: I can reduce my risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 by staying home, I can still connect with my family and friends over Zoom, and—maybe best of all—I can cook precisely what I want to eat and don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings when I pass on the cranberry sauce or the Jello salad. It won’t be the same, and it will certainly be tinged with some sadness, but I think there is still some joy to be found despite it all.

Our individual choices have collective consequences—the chaos of 2020 has driven that home for me time and time again. As heartwrenching as it is to forgo cherished rituals and traditions, missing out on them this one year is far from the worst case scenario. Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving in October. COVID-19 cases spiked shortly afterwards, and experts said that the holiday gatherings were to blame. Here in Minnesota and throughout the U.S., the virus is surging and in-person Thanksgiving celebrations threaten to cause an even greater spike. 

Maybe by giving up the normalcy of the holidays this year, we can ensure that we’ll have more to give thanks for next year. Thanksgiving will roll around again. Michigan will still be there, and so too, I hope, will my loved ones. For now, I’ll make due on my own with my solo Thanksgiving dinner—and be sure to give my cat an extra hug.

I wish you and all those you love good health and as much happiness as you can find this Thanksgiving, however far apart you may be. 


Elizabeth Callen is the editor of the Shoreview Press. She can be reached at 651-407-1229 or shoreviewnews@presspubs.com

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