The Strange Tradition That Is Thanksgiving

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Ah, Thanksgiving. The proud American holiday dedicated to giving thanks, spending time with family and loved ones, and, of course, cooking a gigantic dinner in honor of the first big harvest meal shared between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. A holiday dedicated to remembering our history and giving thanks. What could I possibly find to judge about this holiday?

Plenty.

Come on, you know me pretty well by now; if there is a way to be cynical about something, I’ll find it.

I’ll preface this by saying that I like Thanksgiving. I like it the same way I like any holiday; a reason to take a day off, get together with people, and just sort of celebrate life- I’m here for it. That being said, many of the holidays we celebrate are a little weird and Thanksgiving is really at the top of the list for being one of the weirdest. First, let’s dissect the holiday and what it’s supposed to be all about…

“Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving thanks!”

Yeah, sure it is. For about 2 minutes. Raise your hand if you actually spend the whole day in quiet reflection over the blessings you have received over the last year.

Put your hand down, liar. You do not.

Neither do I. At most, we think about our blessings for a few minutes- usually only during the prayer at the beginning of the meal if you are the prayin’ type. Or, if you’re like me, it’s for a few minutes as I look around at the group of people I’m sharing the meal with, happily thinking pleasant thoughts right before I eat my weight in turkey meat. So I’d say it’s a stretch to claim that it’s a day about giving thanks, because that is the thing we spend the least amount of time doing on that day. I’m pretty thankful for my life everyday; not all day everyday, granted, but usually everyday. (Although, there have been Thanksgivings when I wasn’t feeling exactly #blessed due to dealing with some of the darker times of life, and a holiday that felt designed to guilt me over my dark mood was less than fun). I don’t think the big production of being told to give thanks really makes anyone feel all that more thankful; it’s just fulfilling a duty of saying that you are so that people won’t tsk tsk over what an ungrateful brat you are.

“Thanksgiving is about family!”

This is true…. for some people. But there are many who don’t get to be with their families for Thanksgiving. (Some people don’t even have family to begin with, and this holiday gets to serve as stark, depressing reminder of that- but that’s many holidays, I suppose). The problem is that in the modern world we can’t just shut everything down for a day, and there are tons of people for whom Thanksgiving Day is just another work day. Say you work in the medical field, or are a police officer, an EMT, a firefighter- we can’t just close those systems down because life still happens, even on the Great Day of Thanks. My mother was a nurse so it was rare that she had Thanksgivings off; if we were lucky it was her turn not to work every couple of years. Even I, beginning in high school and into my adult career, stopped getting to have holidays off. I worked for years in a restaurant, a hotel, and a clothing store- none of which are the kind of places that close for Thanksgiving. And it was around that time that I realized Thanksgiving can really blow when you don’t get to celebrate it they way you are accustomed.

At the hotel, working holidays was unavoidable; people are still traveling and need a place to stay. And as I was the peon at the bottom of the employee totem pole, guess who got to work every year? The only family time I got on those days was dealing with grouchy families who would rather be anywhere but a hotel on Thanksgiving- and that’s if they even noticed the big day. Once, after checking in a businessman looking type of guy, I wished him a “Happy Thanksgiving” as I turned over the keys to his room. He gave me a tired, blank look for a minute, checked his watch, and said, “Oh hell…that is today, isn’t it?” He’d been working such a long stretch and traveling so much that he forgot about the holiday.

Working a restaurant on Thanksgiving was a nightmare. It was one of the busiest days of the year, and no employee got out of working that day. Large group after large group of people in a constant stream; I spent the whole day ass deep in dirty plates and snappy demands. I never knew there were actual families who didn’t cook their own Turkey Day meal, and I hated every single one of them. (Now I realize they are the smart ones). After serving hundreds of people turkey and dressing all day long, I would roll home, sweaty and exhausted, and not overly enthused to see another plate of food (even if it was my own).  My family would have already celebrated and had dinner, and would be napping in various spots around the living room, totally over the festivities, by the time I would get home. I’d eat my obligatory feast before I’d pass out myself from a long, hellish day. Good times!

My job at the mall was a different story. There was no reason I should have had to work on Thanksgiving, but I had to anyway because of a little slice of hell we all call Black Friday. (I’ll shit more on that creepy little tradition later in another post). I had to go in on Thanksgiving Day, not because we were open for business, but because there was so much to get ready for the biggest shopping day of the year. So those years, I’d see my family for a bit in the morning, shove some turkey down my throat, and head to work, bloated and miserable, to unload literal tons of freight and basically re-organize the entire store. It sucked. I couldn’t spend time with my family so that people could max out their credit cards with their family the next day. (Didn’t make a girl feel too #thankful).

But, hey, even if you are lucky enough to get to spend the day with your family, it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be. Let’s not forget that Thanksgiving is ripe with opportunities for family dysfunction to rear it’s ugly head. Put a whole house full of people together, bound by blood rather than similar interests and personalities, and shit can get real. We all have that one relative who can’t help bringing up politics, or the nosy one who hassles you about why you aren’t married yet, or when are going to have another kid, or tells you that you drink too much wine (ugh, whatever, Grandma), and so on and so on.  The beloved holiday can rapidly become a hotbed of tension and tempers flaring, and nothing says let’s celebrate like your aunt throwing her whiskey sour on your snarky brother-in-law for calling her a “libtard”.

“It’s about paying homage to the first Thanksgiving, when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans got together to eat turkey and be besties!”

Ok, by now we all know that shit didn’t exactly go down the way our 3rd grade History textbooks told us, right?

No?

Well, sorry to shock you but, dude, read a damned book written in this century, would ya? The picture we have in our heads about what that “first” Thanksgiving looked like is wildly inaccurate. First of all, it wasn’t the first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims had ever celebrated- not by a long shot. This was a common event in England before any of them even thought to sail to America; hence the reason Thanksgiving is also celebrated in England. And furthermore, historians can’t agree on when the first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in America, or who was for sure involved in it. So the holiday is actually straight outta Britain, the Pilgrims were just doin’ the usual, and quite likely invited some of the native tribe members to join the festivities.

Apparently, the harvest celebration (aka, Thanksgiving) was originally created to celebrate the abundance of the fall harvest, a time when food was plentiful before the cold, dark winter arrived. Back in the day, winter meant food was scarce and deprivation reigned supreme. So really we are still commemorating that same concept with a gigantic meal, even though in modern days we have access to meat and vegetables all year round. “Hey, our ancestors used to starve to death in the winter- let’s get fat in tribute!” That’s weird.

So maybe the reasons we have the holiday might be a little off, but surely we have nailed the contents of the original meal? The Pilgrims totally ate turkey, and cranberries, and pumpkin pie, and…..green bean casserole?

Of course not! The food we make isn’t accurate either. Some chick named Sarah Josepha Hale allegedly invented the menu that we currently serve each year. It is highly unlikely the O.G. Thanksgiving dinner had many (if any) of those foods available to them when they first settled in America. Which is whatever as far as I’m concerned. I can only imagine what the Pilgrims actually ate, and I feel no need to change the status quo. Bring on the turkey and stuffing! But it’s still odd that even the food we eat has nothing to do with the original Thanksgiving celebrations.

So.

If I’ve managed to poke enough holes in the accepted definition of why we celebrate Thanksgiving, then why the hell do we celebrate it?

It’s just about the food, guys. It’s just about the food.

Admit it.

I’m not wrong.

The only reasons anyone gets the slightest tingle in their bottom over Thanksgiving Day is the massive mountain of food that graces the dining table every year, and to go freakin’ shopping at a damned discount. That’s it! Eating until you throw up before you roll your miserable ass to the mall. This is why it’s the weirdest holiday we celebrate.

We spend hours upon hours making the biggest dinner we possibly can, and for those that are actually preparing it, holy hell is it a big job! Turkeys take forever to cook, so you’re up and at ’em in the wee hours to get it done in time for dinner. Then there is the stuffing, the potatoes, the gravy, the cranberries, the green bean casserole, the pies, and whatever else everyone expects to grace their plates that day. It always seems like it’s going to be so much fun, cooking with my family, until about the 5th hour, when I’m dripping with sweat and my feet are starting to hurt clear up to my crotch from standing in a kitchen all day. I begin to doubt all of our sanity as the 19th side dish gets pulled from the oven.

Hey guys, don’t you just love the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade? Well, your mom doesn’t, because she has never fucking seen it. When you are the chefs of the big meal, you don’t see jack shit but a stove for at least 8 hours.

However, after cooking literally all day, you finally get to eat the fruits of all that hard labor. That part is awesome, I’ll give you that. But guess what? It’s takes people about 30 minutes to eat a meal that took a half a flippin’ day to make, and then it’s over. There it was- Thanksgiving! It’s done, and now it’s time to clean it all up, after you turned the whole damned kitchen upside down for a half an hour of fun. It takes at least another two hours to clean up the mess you made, considering you have to put all the food away (and it never all fits in the stupid fridge because you cooked enough to feed a small village), and you dirtied every damned dish you own. At long last, you finally finish up and get ready to sit down to watch football (Go Cowboys!), and some infuriating bastard decides they are hungry again, and they want you drag back out all the shit you just put away. #murder

This is all kind of insane, right? I mean, c’mon. All that work to stuff your pie hole? Are we nuts with this tradition? I suppose if you are one of the people who have never had to actually cook the dinner you think it’s just the tits, but I know the ones who slave every year for this holiday feel me. Oh, and if you are one of those people who sit on their ass, drinking beer all day on Thanksgiving and never help out in the kitchen, I’ve got something to say to you:

GET YOUR ASS OFF THE COUCH AND HELP COOK, YOU LAZY, LAZY TURD.

Seriously, go help. Do something. It’s a huge undertaking to get this meal prepared. If you want to maintain some semblance of the fact that it’s supposed to a family oriented, thankful holiday, then go chop some celery.

So, ladies and gentleman of the jury- did I plead my case well? Can we all agree that while we love this American (ahem, British) tradition, Thanksgiving is actually weird AF? It’s cool, though. I mean what is more American than stealing someone else’s holiday and claiming it for our own  eating way too much and spending money? It’s just what we do. (USA! USA!) So enjoy your turkey, watch that football game, and (if you just fucking must) go buy those early Christmas gifts; it’s weird, but it’s tradition. And definitely take a minute to be thankful, especially if you get to be with your family (and/or friends), and no one gets killed or maimed by the end of the day. #winning

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankfully (But Mostly Hungrily) Yours,

Sam

xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

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