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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

And Then There Were None: A Lesson in Celebrating Small

As if families don’t have enough to squabble about, now we have coronavirus conflicts. On the one side are family members who live in self-imposed isolation afraid of their own breath. On the other are those who gamely go to school, work, restaurants, gyms and airports and wonder what all the fuss is about.

I’ve given up trying to be the holiday mediator.

You can make peace with your family’s politics, find common ground on religion, and even agree on whether or not the giblets belong in the gravy, but man oh man try to find common ground on how much togetherness is acceptable during a pandemic, and opinions fall as far apart as galaxies. Our Thanksgiving rose and fell over such issues.

As I lower my expectations again for the upcoming holidays, I’m hearing Judy Garland sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:

…Someday soon, we all will be together. If the fates allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through, somehow.

(Frank Sinatra later jollied up that last line to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,”but I find the muddle-through version more satisfying.)

Back in early October, during a surge of short-lived optimism, our Thanksgiving plans began to take shape. My youngest daughter would fly in from Nashville, where she’s in school, and spend the week. My husband’s sister would fly in from Pittsburgh. That sounded lovely.

Then my stepson, his wife and their two kids, ages 5 and 2, would join us. They would drive two hours from Tampa to our house. Seeing where all the fun would be, my stepdaughter decided to fly in from Phoenix.

You see where this is going.

In any other year (other than maybe 1918) this would have been exactly the kind of Thanksgiving most of us, certainly me, dreamed of ―a house full of family, all together, celebrating, playing board games, taking fall walks with the dogs while a turkey roasts in the oven. Such holiday gatherings are exactly why DC and I got the Happier Yellow House, which has bedrooms upstairs to accommodate our expanding family of five grown children, two spouses and four grandkids, spread over four states.

But not this year. As the holiday approached, my anxiety grew alongside the swelling pandemic numbers and the continual travel ill-advisories. Part of me just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and say “me-me-me-me-me” to drown out any information that would interfere with my plans. Another part of me wrestled with whether to host a holiday at all. As I toggled between being wanting and worrying, I kept trying to see from any angle how this gathering could work. I want my family to feel welcome and safe. What if we stayed six feet apart, ate outside and wore hazmat suits? Ultimately, I did not have to decide.

My daughter was the first to opt out. Next DC’s sister, after learning that both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and her employer were requiring anyone traveling out of state to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon return, hers unpaid, cancelled her visit.

Meanwhile, after factoring in their kids’ preschool situation and the attendant exposure risks, my stepson and his wife, who both work, decided it would be best not to come. Seeing that everyone else had pulled back, my stepdaughter cancelled her trip. As our guest list dwindled from seven to none, DC and I joined the millions of Americans whose plans for a big Thanksgiving dinner withered like the hopes of a jilted bride.

On Thanksgiving, instead of waking to the happy clamor of a houseful of family, I woke to quiet. I indulged in a one-minute pity party, and let myself feel the full blow of yet one more loss in a year marked with so many. Then I reframed my thinking to focus on what the day was all about: All that I had to be grateful for.

Times like these, wallowing in disappointment is understandable. But ―at the risk of sounding Pollyanna ―here’s a better idea. How about looking for ways to find more cheer in the less, in celebrating the small? Here are five ideas I tried.

1. Celebrate smaller. No matter how small your gathering, even if it’s just you and your cat, make your home and the occasion feel festive. Roast the turkey, put up the tree, play the music, light the gingerbread candle, pour the spiced cider, hang the wreath. Because we weren’t entertaining, DC and I decorated the house for the holidays, which took my mind off what was missing.

2. Celebrate virtually. We Zoomed and Facetimed with the kids over the day, and took tours of their decorated homes. We virtually shared a festive drink, and looked over shoulders to see what was cooking.

3. Celebrate your blessings.We gave thanks for each other, for our beloved, if far-flung, family, for our health (but for the grace of God), and for a vaccine that we hope and pray will mean “next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”

4. Celebrate individuality.Respect the different opinions among family and friends and their varying levels of adherence as they relate to safety precautions during the pandemic. Don’t judge. We are all finding our own way through this.

5. Celebrate the restraint.True, many of us did not have the holiday we wanted. However, our restraint and inconvenience may have prevented someone else’s suffering and loss. Better to have fewer loved ones around the table this year by choice, than an empty seat at the table next year that could have been prevented.

Someday soon, we all will be together. If the fates allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through, somehow.

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