What Will Your Thanksgiving Look Like This Year?

What Will Your Thanksgiving Look Like This Year?

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, what will you be doing this year? How do your plans compare with what you did last year? How do they compare with Thanksgivings before the pandemic in general? Are you looking forward to getting together with family and friends?

Below are excerpts from two Opinion essays that deal with different aspects of the holiday.

First, in “Families Are Reuniting for Their First Post-Vax Thanksgiving. Here’s Some Advice,” Emily Esfahani Smith suggests ways to better interact with others if conflict arises:

The good news is that it’s possible to navigate this year’s unique holiday conflicts gracefully. Doing so requires understanding what’s really driving family tension this year, both political and personal. In many cases, according to psychologists, those classic fights about politics or where to spend Christmas are really about something much deeper, especially in 2021: a yearning for love, connection and, above all, belonging.

Psychologists have been studying belonging for decades. In a seminal paper published in 1995, the social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary argued that human beings have a powerful need to belong that largely stems from our evolutionary origins.

People feel a sense of belonging, according to Dr. Baumeister and Dr. Leary, when they have frequent positive interactions with others that are based on mutual care. With true belonging, you are valued for who you are intrinsically, and you value the other person in turn.

During the holidays, the yearning for belonging is supercharged. Jeanne Safer, a psychoanalyst in New York who specializes in family conflict, told me that many of her patients romanticize the holidays. They have a fantasy about what family life should be at this time of year — loving, happy, accepting and warm. When loved ones gather, they desperately want the fantasy to play out, hoping that old childhood wounds and unresolved issues will be healed. “Maybe this time, my parents will understand me. Maybe this time, my in-laws will accept me.” That fantasy is especially potent this year after so much time apart.

The essay ends:

Our loved ones are imperfect; so are we. That means that feelings are going to be hurt this year and that efforts to express love are going to be clumsy, awkward or marred by pride and stubbornness. Though the pandemic has increased tensions within families, it has also created an opening. Now more than ever, people are recognizing the importance of being together — and how precious and fleeting life can be. Keeping these blessings in mind might inspire us to lead with love this holiday season.

Next, in “Five Ways to Exercise Your Thankfulness Muscles,” Tish Harrison Warren writes about how she went from dreading the Thanksgiving ritual of naming something she’s grateful for to loving it. She writes:

I’m from a family that doesn’t talk much about feelings. We keep it mostly to jokes, sarcasm and sports. When I was growing up, perhaps the biggest perceived sin was being overly earnest and sincere. So all of us kids were shocked when one Thanksgiving, out of nowhere, my parents announced that we’d begin a new ritual. The 20 to 30 of us gathered for the Thanksgiving meal each had to share something we were grateful for.

Over the years, this practice took on the repetitive qualities all liturgies have. Some people expressed gratitude for their health or friends and family. Every year, my great-uncle gave thanks for being a Democrat, and our friend Art strategically positioned himself directly after him in the circle so he could say that he was grateful “for canceling out his vote,” and everyone laughed. My introverted brother-in-law would tease my parents about the horror of the dreaded “circle of thanks.”

But the dreaded circle became part of why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a day that spotlights the need for gratitude.

Students, read both pieces, then tell us:

  • Do you feel a stronger-than-usual “yearning for love, connection and, above all, belonging” this holiday season? Does it seem as if the people in your life are placing greater importance on getting together this holiday season than in years past?

  • To what degree, if at all, are you worried about conversations in which people have opposing views — about politics, vaccines, masks or anything else? If conflict does arise, how would you like to handle it? Why?

  • Do you agree with Ms. Harrison Warren’s idea that we have a cultural need to experience gratitude? What does being grateful mean to you? Is Thanksgiving a good time to put gratitude into practice?

  • If you are asked to share one thing you are grateful for this Thanksgiving, what might you say? Why?

  • Ms. Harrison Warren quotes Kisha James, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe in New England, as saying, “Try to divorce your Thanksgiving celebrations from the Thanksgiving mythology,” referring to stories about pilgrims and Indians sitting down together for a “friendly meal.” Why does she give this advice, and what do you think about it? (For more on the subject, you may want to read our Lesson of the Day, The Thanksgiving Myth Gets a Deeper Look This Year, and the related Student Opinion question linked below.)