Throughout the pandemic, I’ve found relief from lockdown loneliness in looping favorite television shows from the 80s and 90s in the background while I work – Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, Law & Order and my favorite, Frasier. When quarantine started, the need to see familiar faces hit me almost immediately. No longer able to interact with friends, family, co-workers, the guy I get my roll and coffee from nearby my office, I felt pangs of loneliness I hadn’t experienced since I was a teenager without a home to call my own. I needed to watch something familiar and comfortable, so I turned to my favorite fictional friends.
But I’ve been saving all the Thanksgiving episodes for the week of the holiday.
I have this obsession with Thanksgiving viewing: The Ice Storm a week prior, then A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to cleanse my mind; Planes, Trains and Automobiles a few days before, then Home Alone once the holiday dinner is finished.
It’s all part of a routine I started years ago, as a way to get through a holiday that has historically been hard for me – an obsession with traditions on the screen, to compensate for the ones I never had.
The other day, during our weekly Zoom session, my shrink and I got to discussing it.
“Do you remember ever enjoying Thanksgiving?” she asked.
I have a memory like an elephant, yet I couldn’t recall one enjoyable Thanksgiving growing up. The last 10 have been nice: my wife and I have gone to my in-laws’ Connecticut home, where we usually eat too much of my mother-in-law’s food and wind up on the couch by 6pm. But from the time before meeting my wife, I don’t have any positive Thanksgiving memories. As a child of divorce, on my own since I was 16, then floating around for the first – half of my 20s, I usually spent Thanksgiving alone.
I’m no fan of the history of the fourth Thursday of November, the Pilgrims and the long, slow theft of America from its native people. But the idea of being demonstrably thankful – the vibe of the Norman Rockwell painting Freedom From Want painting, sitting around the table with people you care about even if you’re fighting with your drunk uncle about politics – that all appeals to me in a major way.
So I build up to the holiday, readying myself by watching the movies and television specials that have reliably soothed me. I’ll admit this is a weird regimen for a 40-year-old, but like Tevye the milkman from Fiddler on the Roof, and his little shtetl of Anatevka, my odd traditions have helped me keep balance throughout a life that has been anything but.
This being 2020, we aren’t taking that late-night drive to my wife’s family this year. Instead, we’re hosting a tiny, socially distanced dinner outdoors on our Brooklyn roof – we were planning for five guests, but for Covid safety, we’ve brought it down to just two, my wife’s two sisters, who are in our pod. I have thrown myself headlong into preparations.
I consider this Thanksgiving a milestone of sorts, a marker indicating I’ve made it this far through the pandemic, and can continue to. My need for some semblance of control has manifested in planning for the holiday dinner with laser focus. All the meditation and Lexapro in the world can’t temper my expectations. I’ve joked that I’m Mrs Dalloway with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (a condition I actually have). I’ve promised to do it all myself – buy the flowers, make the bird and the stuffing, order candles and lights. I’ve even prepared a seating chart for us and our two guests. Basically, I’m doing everything humanly possible to feel none of the holiday isolation I felt as a kid.
The only thing keeping me somewhat sane until we get to the holiday is allowing myself a Thanksgiving episode or two a night, this year adding other shows to my regular repertoire – Gilmore Girls’ “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving” one evening; the next night, one of the nine Friends Thanksgiving episodes. I’ll get Master of None in there, along with Bob’s Burgers and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Eventually I’ll round it out with Cheers and Frasier, “Thanksgiving Orphans” and “A Lilith Thanksgiving”, respectively.
Right now, it’s hard to think ahead to the next day, let alone a week. But watching my old friends from TV – the ones who have kept me company since long before we ever thought we’d be relegated to “pods” and wearing face masks – offer me a chance to not think about things for a bit. They’ve also helped me get excited about Thanksgiving beyond my obsessive preoccupation with making sure dinner turns out right – so that I can remember enjoying this one.
Jason Diamond is the author of Searching for John Hughes and The Sprawl, and features editor at InsideHook. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two cats and a dog.