In a Tough Year for Traditions, The Thanksgiving Walk Reigns Eternal

You can still go for a walk this Thursday. The post-dinner amble must endure.

November 25, 2020 8:06 am
thanksgiving walk
Nick Kane/Unsplash

We do it because cooking a bird at 425 degrees while hosting 30 sweater-bound relatives converts any home into a cramped smithy. Because the sun’s been down behind the treeline since 4:00, and there aren’t any cars on the road. Because you can carry a beer, sling another in your back pocket, and walk down the middle of the same street where you once learned to ride your bike, feeling a bit like an outlaw strolling into a badlands saloon.

Its rules are inconsistent but you know them once they arrive, the entire affair somehow sacred but schismatic at the same time. There are Tough Mudder uncles who always need to extend it an extra half-mile, chill cousins who “lag behind,” coughing and chuckling when they catch up to the main group, little ones bumping into legs, just feeling lucky to be involved, and old folks doing their best, feeling the exact same. Sometimes it’s before dinner, but often it takes place after dessert, and always, November nip aside, the Thanksgiving Walk is worth it, a loop that feels illicit and intoxicating, which, when skipped, can render the entire holiday incomplete.

boston suburb
You know what to do
Eilis Garvey/Unsplash

On Monday, America’s coronavirus hospitalization count set a new daily record, for the 13th day in a row. November isn’t over, but according to Johns Hopkins University, we have already eclipsed three million cases for the month. That’s another record. For good reasons, then — reasons of compassion, common sense and patriotism — this year’s Thanksgiving traditions are in doubt. There have been consistent, irritated rumblings, for weeks now, from those unwilling to stage a scaled-back gathering this year. In some places, state representatives have even mocked those expectations and restrictions.

It’s impossible to force people to do the right thing here. Or even the halfway decent thing. (Thanksgiving Eve celebrations will inevitably lead to some public apology by a TikTokker on Thursday morning.) Still, according to TSA checkpoint data, only 40% of last year’s total travelers have flown home for Thanksgiving. Many Americans are indeed lying low. And many, in fact, seem to be taking this year’s strange, lonely iteration in stride. They’re sharing stories of previous, solitary Thanksgivings that actually rocked (lots of TV and wine), or using this opportunity to stage a delighted coup and replace turkey with chicken wings once and for all.

Whatever traditions the 2020 version of your Thanksgiving can bear, leave some time for the walk. It probably won’t feel like much when you’re lacing up your shoes. Especially if you’re spending this holiday by yourself. Especially if you were hoping to all-time-quarterback your nephews and nieces’ touch football game, eat the cranberry bread Grandma makes once a year, or watch The Sandman sing The Thanksgiving Song from a couch with six people piled atop it.

But here’s the thing: you deserve a 20-minute walk at dusk, all masked and bundled-up, your phone left at home. Sometimes, it’s okay to actively try and live out a Robert Frost poem. You’ll feel it the second you settle into a solid pace, your body warm from the feast in your stomach. No amount of fresh air, blood flow or quiet can fix a broken year. But all told, it might give you a couple moments to remember and consider — batshit origin story of the holiday aside — those two words hidden in the name of this American holiday. What do they mean to you? Do they still hold any weight at the end of this year? Might they now, perhaps, matter even more?

It’s an odd thing. Thanksgiving is known for dinner-table debates and the probing of old family wounds. The familiar theater of the filial peanut gallery. But sometimes, out on a night’s loop around town, when no one’s saying a thing, the pull of family, in all its shared history and steady traditions, is at its most simple and unavoidable. Accompanied by fellow footsteps or not, that feeling isn’t going anywhere this year.

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