Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one holiday that is uniquely American. It is so ingrained in our culture that, even though the story of pilgrims and Indians is burned in our brain by the age of six, we still constantly ask foreigners how they celebrate it or what they eat that day.

There are a couple of ways people react to this phenomenon. First, that we, as a nation, are arrogant and expect EVERYONE to do what we do. This is the common belief in countries I have visited. People find it offensive and either snort derisively  or use it as an opportunity to launch into a tirade about Americans taking over foreign peoples and forcing our capitalist, democratic, Levis and Hollywood and Coca Cola culture on them.

The second reaction is to shake their head and smile at us like we are either 2 years old or brain dead. One eye brow raised sardonically, condescending smiles and a pat on the shoulder as they try to explain to us what we already know. Both reactions, though understandable, bug the heck out of me.

National holidays are plentiful enough. Christmas is all about the pageant and drama. Incense, lights, glorious music, a renewing of faith and hope all make Christmas. And then there are the wants, I want this and I want that and what do you and the kids want? We try to make children believe in magic at Christmas. It seems as if the entire nation lines up behind the sweet lie of the little elf and his industrious helpers. Christmas is frantic in its intensity. Exhilaration and exhaustion it’s hallmarks. 

New Year’s is all about ending. We call it New Year’s Eve but it is really a loud drunken party to say farewell and get the heck out of here to the old year. Whew, we get to try again! A clean slate, a new dawn, a second or third or fiftieth chance at getting it all right awaits at the stroke of midnight.

Martin Luther King Jr. day is kind of a kick in the pants to our national conscious. You get the day off of work and marketers launch huge white sales (ironic isn’t it?), but you better not feel good about your sorry self. It is a day set aside as special to remind us not to get too big for our britches because we screwed up terribly once and will probably screw up again.

Memorial Day is an oxymoron. We are asked to remember the men and women that gave their lives in service to our country, to visit cemeteries, to salute veterans, to fire 21 gun salutes. At the same time we go YAY, schools out, summer starts… wait for it, wait for it…. NOW. Swimming pools open, grills are fired up and beaches are wall to wall tight Lycra, sunscreen and beer coolers.

Fourth of July celebrations are outrageously marshal, and we love it. Marching bands, patriotic speeches, parades in every small town roll by homes with tri-color bunting and kids with Popsicle stains on the chins grab candy tossed by Shriners in little funny cars. We are American and we are proud! I admit it, I cry when the explosive fireworks grand finale is timed perfectly with the National Anthem and I see kids running around waving sparklers and calling to each other in the night. All over the country we celebrate the fact that we exist together, together.

Labor Day is a last hurrah. A celebration of workers it also is the period on the end of summer’s sentence. School is starting, pools are closing, and gardens are withering all over the country. We are gearing up to be industrious, to put our nose to the grind stone, to lift that barge and tote that bale. While Memorial Day’s start of summer celebration is raucous and indulgent, Labor Day’s is more often a gathering of friends offering a fond farewell to the golden days just passed.

Halloween is not a national holiday but it may as well be. This day is celebrated across all races and almost all religions, all ages and socio-economic boundaries. Halloween is nothing but a party. We get to change who we are, eat stuff that we know is terrible for us, stay out after dark and run around without our parent’s watching us like doves on a hawk farm.. Halloween is such a great hedonistic adventure that adults are catching on to it. Why should kids have all the fun, eh?

That brings us to Thanksgiving. While we may decorate our homes with gourds, Indian corn and men with shiny buckles on their shoes, we are thinking about so much more. Thanksgiving allows us to stop, to re-examine our lives on a yearly basis. We are not waving goodbye or good riddance to anything in the rear view or creating unbelievable expectations for the coming months. We are not dreaming of what we want, or wishing we were somehow different, better or stronger or smarter or funnier or more beautiful. We are not beating ourselves up for past mistakes.

Thanksgiving is a time for just that. We thank the powers that be and each other for the joy and turmoil of family, the roof over our heads, the food on our plates, and the very gift of life itself in all its imperfect glory. Who could not expect this to be ritual all over the world? Who would not want it to be?