America's second-favorite holiday (after Christmas, obviously) is nearly upon us — Thanksgiving, a day that bears the full weight of a nation's expectations. And yet the bountiful meal often carries with it a bitter aftertaste of disappointment. Flights will be delayed, turkey will be overcooked, family members will get drunk and argue about Obamacare, introductions to girlfriends' parents will be awkward, shoppers will be trampled to death at malls (the next day).
It's not just that Thanksgiving is an overrated holiday that should probably be abolished or at very least moved. It's that the supposedly positive things about Thanksgiving are actually not that great. Observe:
5. The Food
Thanksgiving food is legendary. Everyone goes on and on and how much they looooooove turkey, the turkey bro, turkey sandwiches bro and such. But if turkey's so good, how come we don't eat it any other time of year? How come most restaurants don't serve it?
Maybe because turkey is basically the poor man's chicken — a far less bland bird, born to soak up flavor, which can be cooked like 12 different ways and put into almost any kind of food (burritos, curry, soup, pie, pasta and so on). As opposed to the overgrown turkey, which can be either roasted or deep-fried, but don't worry it basically tastes the same either way. (Fortunately, turkey does not make you sleepy — that's a myth.)
As for the other foodstuffs, they're a bit touch and go. People seem to love stuffing, though no one actually knows what it is. Cornbread is obviously delicious. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top divides opinion, though everyone agrees it's like if you let a six-year-old design a side dish. Cranberry sauce is generally popular, though most people prefer it out of a can, which is just about the most American thing ever.
The menu, as a whole, is predictable, designed for quantity over quality.
4. That Time of Year
There is something truly magical about autumn — the brisk air, the explosion of color on the leaves falling gently off the trees … not in L.A., of course. But you've seen the photos.
No one is denying the sheer beauty of fall. But is Thanksgiving really scheduled for the optimal time of year?
Thanksgiving arrives about a month before Christmas. Both holidays call for all of us, at the exact same time, to travel long distances to be with our families, clogging roads and airports and shopping malls. Does it really make sense to cram two holidays that are so functionally similar into one, single, month-long period?
These are often paid vacations, mind you. Wouldn't it make more sense to spread them out over the course of the year? Move Thanksgiving to, say, June or August, months which currently enjoy no major holidays despite having absolutely gorgeous weather and long, sprawling days? I'm sure the Pilgrims were doing something significant during the summer.
And by the by, whose brilliant idea was it to have us all get together at, like, three in the afternoon? To do what, exactly? Gorge ourselves on mediocre food, watch a bunch of roided out 20-year-olds give each other head injuries, then go back to eating? What exactly is wrong with eating meals at a normal time?
3. History, Tradition, Etc.
The appreciation of the historical role of Thanksgiving is one of those real red state/blue state divides. Depending on your point of view, Thanksgiving commemorates either the triumphant story of religious freedom, Democracy, friendship and Jesus (right?) or else it's an abomination celebrating genocide, imperialism and animal murder.
Well it turns out that neither side is right. Thanksgiving dates back (according to most people and Wikipedia) to 1621, when colonists in Plymouth, Massachusetts gathered to celebrate … a good harvest. Nothing to do with Indians, or turkeys, or Jesus, or anything. Just a decent harvest, and probably half as many people as usual dying from consumption or plague or witch hunts.
In fact, most cultures have harvest holidays: the Jews have Sukkot, the Germans have Oktoberfest, which they mostly use to get hammered and dress ridiculously, and the Russians have Dozhinki, which is celebrated … in August! Smart, those Russians.
The name Thanksgiving suggests that it's a day where we give thanks for all we have, and I'm not trying to knock that at all. Gratitude is a good thing. A few points though:
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln. The short speech he gave out that day acknowledged that things had been a bit gnarly lately, what with the Civil War and all, but pointed out that, on the bright side, the population had still “steadily increased,” and hey, he'd just freed the slaves, so there was that too. Then he said:
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
Make no mistake about it: America's version of Thanksgiving is essentially a Christian holiday where we thank “Most High God” for the bounty he provided.
OK, fine, we're all adults here, surely we can take Abe Lincoln and Jesus and his father out of the picture and still feel a bit of gratitude. No argument here.
But can we cool it with the social media shit about being grateful? And the text messages? Can we just be quietly grateful? Or, even better, how about we all try and be grateful all year, rather than spewing out a barrage of mass gratitude one day out of the year, then going back to complaining about bad drivers or Republicans or whatever?
I'm not here to suggest you shouldn't like hanging out with your family. Either you do or you don't. No judgements here.
But the fetishization of family around this time of year often leads to shame/sadness/weird feelings on the part of people who don't have family or just don't like to be around family. And what about the people who have to work? Or can't afford a plane ticket? How are they supposed to feel grateful for their mediocre turkey at 3 p.m.?
Full disclosure: this writer is part of the Jewish people, an ancient sect that worships the god Yahweh and forgoes cheese on its hamburgers. While some Jews celebrate Thanksgiving, they do so only because there's nothing better to do. There's no singing, praying or presents – i.e., things Jews think are important. It's seen as a minor holiday, akin to Flag or Columbus Day.