Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Thanksgiving Is the Most Totally Awesome Holiday in America

After reflecting upon what has been another very enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday, I began to wonder if Thanksgiving is in fact the most totally awesome holiday in America. Intrigued, I made a list to test my theory out. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but so far I agree with myself.

Thanksgiving only improves with age.

As anyone who has known me for at least fifteen minutes can attest, I was born on Christmas. This made that already-special day take on even greater significance since it was also my birthday (other people on Team Christmas Birthday: Humphrey Bogart, Clara Barton, and Sir Isaac Newton). However, somewhere around the onset of adolescence, one begins to discover that days such as Christmas and your birthdays yield diminishing returns (even when they are on the same day). Not so with Thanksgiving. It’s the rare holiday that actually gets better as you get older. Things like the glory of stuffing are lost upon the under-12 demographic, while activities like sitting around and listening to the older relatives’ stories are wasted on the ears of the youth. Usually adult holidays are depressing (Memorial Day), boring (Secretary’s Day), or nondescript (Labor Day), but Thanksgiving is an adult-centered day that is essentially enjoyable. At least until the hangover kicks in.

You can always wish people a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ve had the privilege of coming of age during a time of intense cultural changes for our country: The end of the Cold War, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the awkward transition from saying “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Now, in a post-“Merry Christmas” world, any greeting that refers to that sacred Christian day comes with a tinge of political incorrectness, a sort of white man’s burden of the WASP set. We aim for multicultural diversity but wind up with bland compromise. But you can wish anyone a Happy Thanksgiving and not run the risk of that awkward pause followed by the word “Actually…” In a nation of blue and red holidays, Thanksgiving is a purple one.

There’s no Thanksgiving music.

Now, I love Christmas music in theory, but when it comes down to it there’s only a half dozen seasonal albums I ever need to listen to (let’s see: Elvis, Phil Spector, Charlie Brown, Dean Martin, John Fahey…alright, that’s actually less than half a dozen). This is because there’re only a few dozen Christmas songs, and they’ve all been recorded a million times. Does Michael BublĂ© or Kenny G really think they’re gonna add something significant to the Christmas canon with one more elevator-music rendition of “White Christmas”? Now, I’ve always felt the music industry is missing a goldmine by not having bands release Thanksgiving records. Think about it: Unlike the limitations of Christmas music, this is a completely open field – there can be no trite rehashing of music because there are no Thanksgiving songs. To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, some people look at the holiday music that is and say why, but I look to the holiday music that isn’t and ask why not.

Thanksgiving is the fastest holiday.

Unlike the twelve days of Christmas or the what-am-I-going-to-be pre-scramble of Halloween, Thanksgiving is a self-contained holiday, neatly lining up with the ever-increasing speed of our postmodern attention span (or lack thereof). It’s the only holiday that’s not even an entire day – it’s a part of the day, something that can’t be said for holidays as diverse as Easter, Martin Luther King Day, or Veteran’s Day. Yes, the meal often begins early, but if you play your cards right, you can also end early – thanks in no small part to all that “food coma”-inducing turkey.

Thanksgiving is based on a fairy tale that isn’t a mask for racism.

Okay, so there was no turkey eaten at the first Thanksgiving, but aside from that, the raw idea of Thanksgiving – Pilgrims and Indians breaking bread together after the harvest – is essentially true. Compare this with Columbus Day, where we celebrate a tyrant who slaughtered Indians and died without even knowing that he “discovered” a new continent. Even the Fourth of July was originally based on the tacit assumption that “All men are created equal” translates to “all free, white landowning males are created equal.” In a country that hides and manipulates its own history in order to save face, Thanksgiving is as close to well-intended history as possible, plus it’s the only day I can think of that’s indebted to Indians. Not bad for a country that remembers Crazy Horse’s First Slaughter as Custer’s Last Stand.

Thanksgiving has the better TV episodes.

This one seems counterintuitive because there are more Christmas episodes, but in terms of quality, they have nothing on Thanksgiving. Remember the Cheers with the Thanksgiving food fight? Or The Bob Newhart Show where the guys all get drunk at an “orphans” Thanksgiving (four words: “moo goo gai pan”)? Or the WKRP where they do the Thanksgiving promotion of launching turkeys from an airplane, unaware that turkeys can’t fly? Or the Fresh Prince where Will’s mom makes the kids cook Thanksgiving dinner (it gets bonus points for Will and Carlton’s “hip” teacher’s “Hamlet” rap)? Or the Seinfeld where Elaine knocks the pointy thing from the window of the celebrity dentist’s apartment so that it deflates Mr. Pitt’s Woody Woodpecker balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade (okay, like all great Seinfeld episodes, it’s kind of complicated to explain)? And remember: Thanksgiving provided the best fodder for Friends’ awkward ’80s flashbacks with fat Monica and pre-nose job Rachel. I could go on further, but I think I’ve made my point.

Thanksgiving is the rare holiday that’s consistent with our national values.

Halloween encourages children to dress up and then rewards them for being something they are not. Christmas alleges to be the most religious of days, but is spent by most families doing weird pagan rituals that have been reinforced by the greeting card industry. And Valentines’ Day? Just ask any ’60s burnout how the whole “All you need is love” thing worked out. No, Thanksgiving is not trying to be anything that it isn’t – it’s a day reserved for sitting around and overeating and drinking in front of the TV in preparation for going out on the biggest shopping day of the year. And if that isn’t a quintessentially American day, I don’t know what is.


  1. does anybody actually celebrate Columbus day, though? is accepting a day off from work or school considered "celebrating" that day? just curious.

    also, thanksgiving is completely awesome. but i love LOVE love buying, wrapping and giving presents. so christmas wins for me as far as favorite holiday is concerned. but thanksgiving is a VERY close second!

  2. It's true -- no one really "celebrates" Columbus Day per se, although I would argue that in a way, having a government-sanctioned day off brings some level of awareness to, if not always celebration of, the holiday in question. But really I just tried to think of the days that are printed on the calendar.

    That said, I have always held that we should rename Columbus Day "Explorers Day" and then if you still want to celebrate Columbus, that's fine, but if you'd rather pick someone else -- say, Lewis & Clark, Captain Cooke, or Neil Armstrong -- that's okay too.

  3. OOH! now, Explorers Day is a day i would celebrate. maybe have explorer day parties and such. that's a great idea!

  4. Between this awesome blog and Annie's visit this weekend, I feel like you guys aren't so far away...sorta ;-) xoxo