When Thanksgiving approaches I make a list of things I’m grateful for. At the top this year: I’m thankful 2020 is almost over. We may not get back to normal in 2021, but it’s got to be better than the three Cs: coronavirus, closings and chaos.
Thanksgiving is the definitive all-American holiday. The Norman Rockwell image of a family sharing a big, beautiful meal doesn’t seem so cozy with masks and gloves. Giving thanks is one thing, but giving COVID-19 is something else entirely.
For months, most folks I know have been plotting alternative get-togethers, from Zooming the family feast to moving outside or doing drive-by food deliveries. The good news: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food and its packaging are low risk for viral spread. The bad news: Saliva and breathing both increase exposure. Bummer. It’s one thing to wear a mask at the grocery store, but something else entirely to keep it on in a room full of people having a wonderful time.
This year, many time-honored San Antonio traditions of giving are canceled or altered. The Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving has morphed into a holiday-meal delivery. Air Force basic trainees at Lackland won’t enjoy turkey dinner with local families, since Operation Home Cooking is called off. Ditto the Army’s Mission Thanksgiving event.
On the other hand, a Texas Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily traditional. You may have grown up with the tale of Plymouth Colony’s British pilgrims sharing a love feast with the happy Wampanoag tribe in 1621, but in these days of political correctness it’s hard to keep such a rosy scenario going, especially in light of how Native Americans ended up. In fact, if you want to talk turkey about Thanksgiving, look no further than El Paso, where true-blue Texans claim the first such feast was held in 1598, when Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate and settlers found water and rest after a punishing trip through the Chihuahuan Desert. The El Paso Mission Trail Association commemorates the event, which has drawn controversy.
A lot of things about Thanksgiving have a stormy history in the Lone Star State. In 1777, the Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving, President George Washington affirmed it in 1789, and in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln officially made Thanksgiving the last Thursday in November. (Thursday was “Lecture Day” for the Plymouth Puritans, and the start of the original, three-day celebration.) Texas went along with the national date, but from 1879 to 1882, Gov. O.M. Roberts refused to declare the holiday at all, calling it a “damn Yankee institution” and a “religious exercise.”
In 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week, to the next-to-last Thursday in November, Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel rebelled against the “New Deal Thanksgiving” and Texans got two celebrations. Some politicians framed the Texas Thanksgiving as a matter of states’ rights. Between 1939 and 1957 Texas observed seven years of double Thanksgivings. (Tough on turkeys, great for turkey breeders.) In 1957, Gov. Price Daniel signed a new set of holidays into law, aligning the state observance with the national one for good. Some staunch Southerners claimed treason; Daniel “went Yankee,” as one newspaper charged.
Thanksgiving in 2020 may not be the same, but the spirit of the holiday has weathered plenty of changes over time. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or the newer “Friendsgiving” (which still seems weird to me) or both, it’s all about being grateful for what we have, and sharing. That spirit prevails. I find it “hope-giving.”