Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Most American of Holidays

Jean Lean Gerome Ferris (1863-1930), The First Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America, when families get together to gorge themselves on too much turkey and stuffing, then fall asleep in front of a football game on TV.  But, just as Christmas is not about the presents (even for the Japanese--who are mostly not Christian.  For them, Christmas is about the decorations), Thanksgiving is not about the food (and I promise not to make this post sound like a Hallmark card--may they burn in hell.  The cards, not the company).

I sense I am getting off topic here, so let me begin again: Thanksgiving is not about the food.  Not really, though the food is the most prominent feature.  Only the bare outline of Thanksgiving is covered in elementary school, but it is enough of an outline for us to fill in the gaps.  That, and Wikipedia.

The Pilgrims, a persecuted group of settlers, had come to the New World with hopes of religious freedom without a loss of cultural identity (they had initially moved from England to the Netherlands, but left after fearing that their children were becoming too Dutch).  The first winter was a disaster that claimed almost half of the colonists' lives, mostly due to diseases that they had contracted while on the voyage there.

When they celebrated the first Thanksgiving the following year, it was a religious celebration thanking God for surviving that first winter, and it was celebrated with members of the Wampanoag tribe, including their leader, Massasoit, and Squanto, who had taught them how to plant corn and catch eels (Wikipedia  "Thanksgiving").  And while they partook in a huge feast, like Americans do today, the feast lasted for three days, not just one.  Unfortunately, Americans can't stop working for that long.  Plus, they need the day after Thanksgiving to start buying presents for Christmas (or rather, the day after Thanksgiving retailers need Americans to start buying presents for Christmas), so we only celebrate Thanksgiving for one day (though the meal lasts forever in leftovers), and while grace is often said before eating the meal, much of the religious nature of the holiday has been lost in the intervening years.

What I find interesting about Thanksgiving is how unique it is to America.  All other holidays and traditions can be traced back to Europe, and even though Independence Day is also a uniquely American holiday, independence is celebrated by other countries who threw off tyranny (Cinqo de Mayo, Bastille Day).  But only Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.  Only we set aside a day to gather with family and friends to remember what we have.  The irony is that it comes before Christmas, where we think about out wants again.  Maybe that is on purpose.  Thanksgiving celebrates all that we are thankful for in life, among people whom we are thankful for. Perhaps we need that reminder before thinking about our wants once more.  Maybe we'd discover that our wants aren't as important as our need for the people around us.

I'd like to end this post with some of the things that I am thankful for.  This part will come the closest to sounding like a Hallmark card:

1.) I am thankful that I am alive and have been allowed to have all of the experiences that I've had.  Even the bad experiences taught me something.
2.) I am thankful that my brother's friends just so happened to move to Seattle, and I just so happened to become interested in moving there right before they just so happened to buy a house, and they just so happened to allow me to stay with them while I looked for a job and a place of my own.  Without any of these just so happened's, I'm still a frustrated writer living in my parents' house in Connecticut.
4.) I am thankful that one of these friends is a really good cook.  Not that my mom's a bad cook, but of the people making food for Thanksgiving, two are chefs in restaurants, and the other one (my brother's friend, whom he met through his girlfriend, who is friends with her) is really good.
5.) I am thankful for the Internet, which allows me to contact my family and friends cheaply and with more regularity than I could with even my cell phone.
6.) I am thankful that, for the moment, I have a home.  Many people don't.
7.) I'm thankful that I have a job, even though it's seasonal, and in retail.  And involves clothes.  Again, many people don't.
8.) I'm glad that my parents didn't say "no" to some of my more hair-brained schemes, like living and working in Japan.  Or becoming a professional writer.
9.) I'm glad we Americans have a President who uses correct English when he speaks.  Poor language skills shows laziness or stupidity--or both--and no one wants a leader who sounds lazy or stupid.
10.) And finally, while I won't be spending Thanksgiving (or Christmas) this year with my family, I am thankful that they are only a phone call away...and the time difference is three hours, not fourteen.

(even if you don't celebrate it)


  1. What a nice post!

    I had heard about this celebration but this is the first time I've come to know what it's about.

    I do think it's a beautiful thing, having a special day to express gratitude and appreciation.

    Ofcourse, as you observe, to be alive ( and that too as a human being, and to be a citizen of an advanced and civilised country ), to have good health and education, family and friends,--even to have difficulties and challenges because they provide a means for growth--indeed there are many things to be thankful about.

    Happy Thanksgiving !

  2. I'm glad you liked it, though I forgot to mention the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which takes place in New York City. Sponsored by Macy's Department Store, it includes floats, balloons, marching bands, the Rockettes, the casts from multiple Broadway shows, singers, and even a visit from Santa! Here's a link to this year's event: New Mega Balloons Get Set to Soar

  3. I could not agree more! This was a very good post.
    I was not feeling very thankful on Wednesday so I tried to think of things I was grateful for. I couldn't even list them all! It helped me a lot. :)

    (Oh, and I gave an award to you. I had no idea I could do that but I did, haha. You don't have to do the question thingy if you don't want to. Read my latest blog post if you have no idea what I'm talking about. =D)

  4. WOW this has got to be one of your best posts yet. You're one hell of a writer. I love how you put things in words. Hats off my friend


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