What history tells us about Thanksgiving in tough times

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

As Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving it’s difficult to fathom that more than 1.3 million people have died of COVID-19 worldwide—and nearly a quarter-million in the United States—since the virus upended our lives in March.

Like so many important milestones and celebrations, rituals are still on hold. It’s a sad moment for those of us who haven’t seen our parents since the virus took control of our lives. Yet we understand how precious life is, and are grateful for the work being done to fight COVID-19 and the inequities it has exposed. (Above, masked medical staff members wearing photographs of themselves to comfort COVID-19 patients in Houston.)

While I lament not being able to spend time with my extended family, I’m thinking about the Americans who will not celebrate Thanksgiving at all. I’m thinking about Jason Hargrove, the Detroit bus driver who died trying to get people where they needed to go. Days after posting a video of a coughing woman who stood behind him, he lost his battle with the coronavirus. A married father of six, Hargrove’s job was deemed essential in a city where nearly 20 percent of residents rely on public transportation.

Hargrove’s wife, Desha Johnson-Hargrove, tells National Geographic that Jason “wasn’t making millions of dollars," but he felt that he was directly responsible for the safety of his passengers, and he always attempted to connect with them. “In return,” she says, “his passengers would protect him from unruly riders. They all understood that they were on the bus together.”

Thanksgiving’s roots began with a similar realization. The European settlers known as the Pilgrims were bound together by a compact and common goal to survive. Like today, it was a tough time, writes Bill Newcott for Nat Geo. The Pilgrims would bury 52 colleagues that first winter near their settlement, which itself sat near a former Native American hamlet that had been decimated by hemorrhagic disease, likely spread by earlier European traders.

Over the centuries, Americans made it through tough moments without the comfort of the annual family gathering, New York Times science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. reminds us. His advice for this holiday’s celebration: Keep the family together by keeping it apart.

“Do it by Zoom,” McNeil says. “Don’t let Junior come home and kill Grandma. Think of this like World War II—our soldiers didn’t get to fly home to eat turkey.”

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Today in a minute

This just in: The Trump administration is rushing to auction off drilling rights in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before an incoming government can block it. The call for bids to be published Tuesday will let companies pick land to bid on during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6 million acres, the Washington Post reports. The area provides habitat for the world’s remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, 250 musk oxen, and 300,000 snow geese.

Another hope on a COVID vaccine: Initial results on another vaccine candidate have wowed health officials. “These are obviously very exciting results,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, said of a 94.5 percent success rate claimed Sunday by Moderna. “It’s just as good as it gets.” The news follows extraordinary results last week from Pfizer on another vaccine candidate. Here’s a look at the vaccines in development. Fauci has said vaccines may be available widely by April.

One heck of a ride: That’s NASA mission commander Mike Hopkins on last night’s SpaceX missile’s launch into orbit. The mission to the ISS carries two distinctions: It’s the first operational trip into orbit for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which NASA certified for flight after a successful test mission in May. This mission will also mark the longest ISS journey for a Black American astronaut, in this case Victor Glover, reports Nat Geo’s Nadia Drake.

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COVID-19 isn’t stopping this holiday: India’s Magh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that usually draws 10 million people a year, will go on this winter despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To cleanse their sins and achieve rebirth, worshipers bathe at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers (and a third, mythical river called the Saraswati). Health officials worldwide are wrestling with traditionally massive annual religious events and health concerns from the pandemic, Laura Spinney reports. (Above, Hindu devotees celebrating Magh Mela in 2014.)

Related: Underway now, Diwali is a celebration of good over evil

‘We’re all preppers now’: Once seen as a fringe activity, preparing for disasters has moved to the mainstream in America as it struggles with more wildfires, hurricanes—and now COVID-19. Oh, and a plug from Kim Kardashian didn’t hurt. “Preppers range from New Yorkers with extra boxes of canned goods squeezed in their studio apartments to wilderness experts with fully stocked bunkers,” Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic writes in her history of American prepping. Her conclusion? Preppers used to be stigmatized, but everybody is stocking up now.

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R.I.P. Lucille Bridges: She was a former sharecropper who hauled 90 pounds of cotton the day before her daughter was born. Her daughter was going to do better. Lucille Bridges's determination helped power six-year-old Ruby Bridges to become, 60 years ago on Saturday, one of the first Black pupils to integrate an elementary school in the South. Of the crowds that jeered the school-bound first grader (pictured above, escorted by U.S. marshals), her mother said: “Don’t pay them no attention. Just pray for them.” Lucille Bridges died Tuesday at her home in New Orleans, the Washington Post reports. She was 86.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Capturing history: Ali, an immigrant from Pakistan who lives on Long Island, came to Times Square with his family to celebrate the winners of the presidential election. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is the first female, first South Asian American, and first black woman elected to the office. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was an immigrant from India. In four days, nearly a half million readers of our Instagram page liked this photograph.

The big takeaway

When voter fraud was a thing: American elections were much faster and looser decades ago than these days, when the United States has generations of improved election security. That’s what political scientist John Mark Hansen tells Nat Geo. These days, “it defies credulity that this [voter fraud] would be done on a mass scale,” he says. Writer Erin Blakemore explores the bad old days of New York’s Tammany Hall machine and generations of voter suppression efforts in the South. (Above left, Vince Blaser holds his four-year-old son, Shail, at a Washington, D.C. rally on November 4; at right, remnants of a Biden victory celebration on D.C.’s Black Lives Matter Plaza on November 7.)

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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Tracing the Irrawaddy: For seven years, reporter Paul Salopek has been walking the world, following paths our ancient ancestors took. His latest comes from what he calls “rivulets of time,” rarely visited stretches of the mighty Irrawaddy River in modern-day Myanmar. Along the way, he stumbled onto a 2,000-year-old civilization. The wealthy Iron Age empire of Pyu “had walled cities, tall stupas, and streets of stone,” Salopek writes. “All of it slumbers today beneath the clay-colored fields in the valley of Mu.” (Above, a bamboo raft crossing the Irrawaddy.)

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse has selected the photos. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.