Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Thanksgiving is here and there is no shortage of advice. Stay home, limit gathering size, eat outside, don’t travel. Remember when Thanksgiving news articles explored in depth whether to baste, brine, or deep-fry your turkey? I looked back to last year’s Los Angeles Times to seek a bit of normalcy. And this is what I saw:
That picture was published on Dec. 1, 2019 (Thanksgiving was late last year) but the photo is dated 2016! The article explains that “Thanksgiving gridlock as a meme appears to have started in 2016 when a video of the 405 from KABC-TV (Channel 7) went viral.” In three years it had become the meme that expressed the essence of the normal Southern California Thanksgiving.
Until now. But they had no idea that 2020 would be any different. I can picture them thinking — should we recycle that 2016 meme again this year?Maybe not. Because Thanksgiving is always the same–until it isn’t. Remember the flu epidemic of 1918?
1918, Nov. 14: “Flu ban off in Pasadena,” announced one article. Pasadena could open theaters, churches, and social events that week. Long Beach wasn’t so lucky. Fifty new cases and three deaths that day. Thanksgiving services planned for Pacific Park were cancelled.
1940, Nov. 22: “Thanksgiving Day Observed in 32 States,” was the headline. FDR wanted to move the holiday a week earlier hoping to jump-start the economy by adding a week to the Christmas shopping season. 16 states including Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Florida, refused to go along. They celebrated a week later.
1942, Nov. 26. By the first Thanksgiving after Pearl Harbor, America had been at war for almost a year. In his column, Chapin Hall wrote, “There will be many a vacant chair today about the erstwhile festive board . . .”
1963, Nov. 29. Only one week after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Thanksgiving had a somber tone for many, but not for everyone. Political divisions were unbelievably bitter that year. In his Thanksgiving address, President Johnson pleaded for national unity and announced that Cape Canaveral would now be called “Cape Kennedy.”
2001, Nov. 22. “Roads Take Brunt of Holiday Crunch,” read one article. Airlines, which had been losing millions of dollars a day since the September 11 attacks cut flights back by 20% that Thanksgiving, while car rentals went up 10%.
2014, Nov. 26. “Don’t Let Them Steal a Great Holiday.” People complained vociferously as the traditional family dinner was threatened when Macy’s, Toys R Us, Best Buy and J.C. Penney had the nerve to open their stores as early as 5:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day.
Knowing what was to come, don’t you think we could have cut them some slack? Even that recycled traffic photo brings a feeling of nostalgia now. But there will always be a Thanksgiving. An article on the same page as the traffic meme gave earnest advice on how to segue loaded political conversation into a question about football (“speaking of interference. . .”) or food (“Is that sausage I taste in the stuffing?”) And that was last year. Some things never change.
And now we face this:
Actually, I’m not staying home. I’m scaling back. We’re driving to San Diego to share Thanksgiving dinner with my youngest son and his wife and my youngest granddaughter whom I haven’t held since February, and won’t get to hold tomorrow. We’re balancing risk against the need to be together. Everyone is making hard choices tomorrow. And that’s okay.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
Today’s Notable Headlines
“A Detailed Map of Where Americans Are Staying Home for Thanksgiving,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/24/upshot/thanksgiving-dinner-survey.html
“Denver mayor is traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, hours after asking residents to stay home,” CNN, Nov. 25, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/25/us/denver-mayor-thanksgiving-plans-trnd/index.html
“10 things to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner other than politics and a pandemic,” News 4JAX, Nov. 25, 2020. https://www.news4jax.com/entertainment/2020/11/25/10-things-to-talk-about-at-thanksgiving-dinner-other-than-politics-and-a-pandemic/
Los Angeles Times Archives, https://latimes.newspapers.com/search/
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.
You are on History’s Edge.