Friday, November 27, 2009
After more than seven years in Europe, it's kind of weird to be back in the land that adds "Thanksgiving" to the holiday schedule. I still maintain -- as I said way back in my Tradition! post -- that Thanksgiving is a lame holiday.
The main problem with Thanksgiving is that it's an invented holiday -- one that was invented by people who had little imagination and no interest in having fun: the Puritans. I don't object to invented traditions on principle. (For every tradition, somebody's got to do it first, right?) But it's possible to do it well, and it's possible to do it badly.
Take Kwanzaa, for example. Placing it between Christmas and New Year's was a stoke of genius! The kids all have the week off of school anyway, and are milling around the house just looking for something to do. Plus, having a row of candles corresponding to each day shows good co-opting of other familiar holiday traditions (which is how holiday traditions generally get started). And the inventor of Kwanzaa picked holiday colors, whole slew of craft activities, and a purpose that hits the right spot on the vague-to-specific spectrum for lots of different people to find meaning in it. See? Now that's a well-crafted invented holiday. If I were black, I would totally celebrate it.
(Actually, that reminds me that I'm planning to take up celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day.)
Thanksgiving, by contrast, is the fruit of the original "War on Christmas." The Puritans had outlawed the celebration of Christmas for approximately the first hundred years they were on the American continent because it was too pagan, and, well, too dang much fun. I'm not joking, BTW. The Puritans were the real "Burgermeister Meisterburger," literally outlawing fun just because they don't like to see other people having fun. And they introduced Thanksgiving to get people's yearly feasting out of the way early. If Bill O'Reilly were really serious about wanting to stop people who wage "War on Christmas", his first step would be to denounce Thanksgiving.
(Actually that's one point for the Puritans over today's religious enforcers -- at least they didn't come up with that ridiculous "War on XYZ" phrase that's so popular today.)
As a result, the one tradition we have for celebrating Thanksgiving is feasting. Oh, and praying. That's it. And, frankly, when you're living in a society where no one at your table has ever had to go without food, more eating is not a way to mark a special occasion. Special occasions should be marked by doing something different, that you don't do every single friggin' day.
Now I just want to answer (in advance!) the two obvious objections to what I've said: (1) I've somehow missed that other Thanksgiving tradition, the thanking, and (2) Christmas is worse, because it's about eating stuff and buying stuff you don't need at Wall-Mart.
For #1, two popular bloggers have explained how it doesn't make sense to thank random chance (here and here). I would actually take that a step further for those of born into rich countries and other advantages. It's like setting aside a day just to say "Yay, I'm glad life is unfair because I got a bigger slice of the pie than 90% of humanity! And now I will eat it in front of everyone with great relish!"
For #2, the timeless mid-winter festival of lights has morphed and evolved to fit many cultures, including its current consumerist incarnation: "Christmas" (along with its cousin "Hanukkah"). But it is so laden with millennia of traditions that you can find something interesting in it. If you're not a scrooge. ;^)