What Will Your Thanksgiving Look Like This Year?

If you were celebrating Thanksgiving, what would you do this year? How do your plans compare to what you did last year? How do they compare to Thanksgiving before the pandemic in general? Looking to meet up with family and friends?

Below are excerpts from two opinion articles that deal with different aspects of the holiday.

First, in “Families get together again on their first Thanksgiving after marriage ends. Here are some tips,” Emily Esfahani Smith suggests ways to interact better with others if a conflict arises:

The good news is that it is possible to overcome this year’s unique holiday disputes safely. Doing so requires understanding what is really driving family tension this year, both politically and personally. In many cases, according to psychologists, those classic battles over 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 affiliation for decades. In seminal paper published in 1995, social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary argued that humans have a strong need to belong that stems in large part 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 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 craving to belong is super charged. Jane Safire, a New York-based psychoanalyst who specializes in family conflict, tells me that many of her patients romanticize the holidays. They have a fantasy about what family life should be like at this time of year – love, happiness, acceptance and warmth. When loved ones meet, they desperately want the fantasy to continue, in the hope that old childhood wounds and unresolved issues will heal. “Maybe this time, my parents will understand me. Maybe this time, my in-laws will accept me.” This fantasy is especially strong this year after a long period of separation.

The article ends:

Our loved ones are imperfect. We are too. This means that feelings will be hurt this year and efforts to express love will be clumsy, awkward, or tinged with pride and stubbornness. Although the pandemic has heightened tensions within families, it has also created opportunity. Now more than ever, people are realizing the importance of being together – and how precious and fleeting life can be. Keeping these blessings in mind may inspire us to lead with love this holiday season.

Next, in “Five Ways to Exercise Your Thanksgiving Muscle,” Tish Harrison Warren She writes about how you went from fearing a Thanksgiving ritual to naming something you are grateful for the love of. she writes:

I come from a family that doesn’t talk much about feelings. We mostly keep it on jokes, sarcasm and sports. Growing up, perhaps the biggest perceived sin was being too serious and honest. So we kids were all shocked when my parents announced on Thanksgiving, out of nowhere, that we were going to start a new ritual. 20-30 of us gathered for Thanksgiving meal each of us had to share something we were grateful for.

Over the years, this practice has acquired the qualities of repetition that all liturgies have. Some people expressed gratitude for their health or for their friends and family. Every year my great-uncle would give thanks for being a Democrat, and our friend Art had strategically placed himself right after him in the circle so he could say he was grateful for his “vote cancellation,” and everyone laughed. My introverted brother-in-law would tease my parents about the dreaded “Thanksgiving Circle.”

But the dreaded circuit became part of the reason Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a day that highlights the need for gratitude.

Students, read both passages, and then tell us:

  • Feeling a “stronger than usual yearning for love, connection and, above all, belonging” this holiday season? Does it seem as though the people in your life place more importance on getting together this holiday season than in years past?

  • To what degree, if any, are you concerned about conversations where people have opposing opinions — about politics, vaccines, masks, or something else? If disagreement arises, how would you like to deal with it? why?

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

  • If you were asked to share one thing you are grateful for this Thanksgiving, what would you say? why?

  • “Try to separate Thanksgiving celebrations from Thanksgiving myths,” Ms Harrison Warren quoted Keisha James, a member of the Aquina Wampanoag tribe in New England, as saying, referring to stories of pilgrims and Indians sitting together for a “friendly meal”. Why give this advice and what do you think of it? (For more information on this topic, you may want to read today’s lesson, The Legend of Thanksgiving takes a deeper look this year, and a related student question linked below.)

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