For most students, Thanksgiving is a holiday that kicks off a long weekend full of love and joy with friends and family. But with COVID-19 cases on the rise, things will be different this year. Five students at Hunter College weighed in on how the pandemic has changed their Thanksgiving plans and how they will be keeping the holiday spirit alive.
“My spouse and I normally go to a cousin’s place where there are 30 people. Now we will stay home. We might have a Zoom Thanksgiving but it’s just an idea.” said Tom Reingold, a computer science major. “One of our kids moved back in with us. The other and their spouse might come, but we haven’t decided yet. We may decide that even that is not safe enough.”
Reingold said that while the holidays have him feeling sad and lonely, he’s still lucky to be safe and healthy with the opportunity to spend the day with the family that’s able to join him. “I have my spouse and my daughter, and they are blessings. But this pandemic makes life so hard.”
Other students are also planning to keep celebrations small this year. Senior Jimma Platto said that they will spend the holiday with their mother and aunt, a departure from their typical larger gathering. “The reality is, we won’t be able to celebrate with many loved ones, which is a downer, but also is what it is this year,” they said. “I have a beautiful place to stay and will continue to have an open heart for the holidays this year, thankful for all the blessings.”
While some students will still celebrate in a limited capacity, others are choosing to keep their circles small for Thanksgiving in order to follow pandemic protocols recommended for the holiday season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people not to travel this year to avoid any exposure to COVID-19. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has limited private gatherings to no more than 10 people.
“I don’t want to contribute to the whole travel outbreak scenario, so I’m just hanging out with my roommates and going to keep it lowkey,” said sociology major Aidan Coyle. “We gotta do what we gotta do, and I will certainly miss being with my family, but am still trying to stay in a holiday happy spirit with friends around me.”
Kyle Cleary, a senior studying psychology and art history, is facing a similar situation. “We were going to have an 18-person gathering but then my family decided against it in favor of the health of not just people in our family, but the rest of the country,” he said. “I think it’s the best thing we could do right now to reduce spread, so I’m totally cool with it.”
“I don’t know if my roommates are going home as of right now, so I may be alone. If I’m alone, I may just make a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal for myself,” Cleary said, also stating that if he’s doing nothing, he will at least be recognizing the history of the holiday.
“I believe that all holidays with racist and colonial histories should be treated as such,” Cleary said. “It’s fine to keep some settler traditions, but we must acknowledge Black and Indigenous people and their mistreatment while doing so.”
Another student, political science major Lexie Fisher, shared a similar thought about the origins of the holiday. “I don’t like how we weren’t taught about Thanksgiving in an honest way,” she said. She thinks it’s important to “celebrate Native History Month and learn about the Indigenous peoples of the land we’re on. I think we should be grateful everyday just generally, and fight alongside Indigenous communities and follow their leadership to start telling the truth about this history of this nation.”
In 2009, Congress signed legislation to designate the Friday after Thanksgiving Native American Heritage Day. Additionally, some proclaim the holiday itself National Day of Mourning, an annual protest organized by the activist group United American Indians of New England in 1970. This serves as a recognition of the brutal history of Thanksgiving and the treatment of Native populations in the U.S. since its colonization by Europeans.
The holiday season has not shown any signs of getting easier as COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, with the U.S. passing twelve million cases this past weekend. Fisher said that it’s also important to remember this isn’t the first holiday since the pandemic began where traditions have been put on hold for the greater good of the country.
“I know many religious people have missed out on fully celebrating their holidays, such as Muslim friends with Eid this past spring, and Jewish friends missed Passover,” she said. “We are all sacrificing an important part of our lives so that we can do our part to stop the spread.”