Postpone Thanksgiving and Save Hundreds of Lives

Which president would make the announcement? In an ideal world, public health policy wouldn’t be politicized, and President Trump and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. would announce it together. But if Mr. Trump won’t participate, then Mr. Biden could go it alone. His words would carry weight, because he would be announcing a public holiday that would take place during his administration.

Families would then have to decide: We’re going to celebrate the holiday together — we always do — but does this mean we get together in November or May?

Getting people to ask the question might just be enough. After all, if your family is at all like mine, the answer is obvious: Celebrating Thanksgiving in May with hugs, loud conversation and grandparents beats masks, six-foot markers and no grandparents in November.

And so an announcement that Thanksgiving is being postponed might be enough to create that new reality.

In economics, this is called a coordination game, one in which you want to make choices that complement those of others. In this case, you want to gather for a meal on the same day your loved ones do. What’s important is coordinating — so you are all in the same place on the same day — not what particular day was set decades ago on a harvest calendar.

And in a coordination game, the precise choice matters less than making sure it is the same choice others make. It is the reason that Americans begin business meetings with a handshake, but Japanese begin with a bow. Both are fine choices, but the greeting works best when everyone makes the same choice.

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Thanksgiving would be safest if everyone could all agree to get together in May, instead.

This proposal can be strengthened a bit, too. The president can declare May 27, 2021 — or perhaps the first Thursday after all older and vulnerable Americans have been offered a vaccine — as America’s first and, it is to be hoped, only deferred Thanksgiving. The country has added one-off holidays before — to mark the deaths of past presidents — and there are so many deaths to mark this year.



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