A dark, despairing Thanksgiving? Only if we forget what it’s about.

It’s supposed to be the happy time of year.

Thanksgiving. A time for families to gather. The traditional beginning of the holiday season, leading to Christmas and the new dawn of a new year. Celebrating the bounty of the harvest season in a free and prosperous country.

Instead, America just rolled past the quarter-million mark in coronavirus deaths.

The smart advice from experts is to skip those big family gatherings, celebrating Thanksgiving only with members of the same household. Expect the same at Christmas because there’s no such thing right now as a regional outbreak. The entire country is experiencing never before reached peaks of positive tests and sickness.

It’s all complicated by a political system that looks thoroughly broken, kneecapping leadership when it’s needed most.

It’s been nearly three weeks since Americans voted. A little over half the country accepts the count and believes Joe Biden won. A little under half the country does not accept the result and believes President Trump’s claims the election was stolen. Meanwhile, the government is frozen in place while the crisis mounts.

Some Thanksgiving, huh?

Maybe that sense of something lost can be tempered by remembering a little history, renewing an understanding of what Thanksgiving is really all about.

The tradition goes back to the early 1600s, when a small group of hopeful settlers arrived in what is now Massachusetts with plans to form a colony. That first New England experience was brutal, with only about half the colonists surviving the winter. But in the spring they made contact with Native Americans who taught them to cultivate corn, to tap sap from maples, the places to catch fish in nearby rivers. The first fall harvest anchored a successful colony. Gov. William Bradford organized a feast of thanksgiving, and invited Native Americans to join.

During the uncertain days of the American Revolution, days of thanksgiving helped buck up colonial spirits. And in 1789, as the U.S. Constitution was successfully ratified, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.

Abraham Lincoln, in 1863 during the dark days of the Civil War, “to heal the wounds of the nation,” proclaimed Thanksgiving celebrations to occur the final Thursday in November. Later, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving a week earlier in hopes of encouraging holiday shoppers to boost the sagging economy.

The unmistakable truth: American tradition does not celebrate Thanksgiving because life is easy and carefree, but because our people have the strength to endure hardship without losing spirit.

Looking at it from that perspective there’s always plenty to celebrate:

  • The heroes, from first responders to healthcare professionals, who put it all on the line every day to save lives in the pandemic.
  • The scientists, who in record time have developed promising vaccines that just may be the key to putting this virus behind us.
  • The businesses—owners and employees alike—who have been struggling to hang on by the thinnest threads so America can return to something close to normal when this ends.
  • The teachers, the mail carriers, the truck drivers, the grocery shelf stockers and so many more who have kept faith with their duties.
  • And, yes, the armies of election officials and volunteers who conducted the vote in ways to keep America safe.

Make your own additions to that list. The point is, the American tradition of marking Thanksgiving as a time to celebrate who we are and what we’ve overcome throughout history, is as valid today—maybe more so—than in any other year.

History tells us this will pass. Our free people will sort out the political mess and move forward. Through science and the commitment to reach out a helping hand America will vanquish the virus and rebuild stronger and better. Next year, odds are improving you’ll be able to invite the whole family over for turkey.

Take the long view. Celebrate that.