By Tom Myers
I love the Thanksgiving holiday. Well, by “I love the Thanksgiving holiday,” I mean I love watching people go into a crazy tailspin of mixed emotions – including anxiety, anticipation, fear, enjoyment, rage, euphoria, anger and even casual indifference – over preparing a Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate a holiday commemorating a year of harvest. Mind you, as Americans, most of us really don’t harvest anything, but it’s a time of year that we all get together and pretend we have been harvesting. It’s an American tradition at its finest.
Everybody has their own memories of Thanksgiving. Growing up with a large extended family that spanned four generations, my memories include an annual gathering of anywhere from twenty-five to thirty people. It was literally a house divided. The women of the family were busy preparing dinner, exchanging cooking tips and discussing what is wrong with the male members of their family, who were outside, drinking beer, playing horseshoes, laughing loudly, scratching themselves and telling jokes that invariable involve vaginas. My grandfather ran around catching all of the excitement on an RCA camcorder. It was many elements of our society coexisting. It was as though the producers of “The View” and the producers of “The Man Show” put their heads together and mixed those two elements of the show and even threw in an element of the “Big Brother” series. To think that my family was the progenitor of those series makes me want to sue the creators of those shows, speaking of another American tradition. As a result of the stark differences between these factions of the American family, people remember why they only get together with certain relatives only once a year, in the presence of a lot of other relatives and plenty of alcohol.
The only real reason people get together for Thanksgiving is, of course, the food. As a travelling comic, I find myself either enjoying TV dinners at home or trying to choke down whatever random item I order at a Waffle House in Podunk, USA. So the idea of free food is enough to get me to sit down and tolerate that one annoying conservative relative, who goes on and on about how horrible it is that I have somehow become a Communist. I’m not a Communist, but seeing as how the tryptophan from the turkey is usually enough to subdue my debating skills, I opt to not argue and instead sit quietly through yet another tirade.
Legend has it the first dinner involving the giving of thanks occurred in 1621. It was a dinner between the Native American Indians and the English settlers who were looking for a new world where they would live in peace and religious freedom. The dinner was the precursor to the wonderful relations that the Europeans have had with the Native Americans ever since! Some accounts of that first get together indicate that there was a wide array of foods owing to a successful harvest. There was dried corn, fresh fruits and smashed pumpkin. In addition to turkey, there was venison and other wild fowl. I was amazed to learn that there are some accounts of the first Thanksgiving that say that turkey was not even on the menu. There are some accounts that go so far to say that the Indians and settlers served lobsters. Lobsters! Imagine that! Instead of defrosting the turkey and slaving over a stove for hours, we could all pile into cars and make a caravan to Red Lobster. What a way to be thankful!
After dinner, of course, the men in the family are usually portrayed as some of the most useless people in the house, opting instead to watch professional football. Giving men the chance to either cheer the Dallas Cowboys, America’s Team, to another win or a chance to jeer the Detroit Lions, America’s Shame, onto another devastating loss, there is definitely a sense of envy in Thanksgiving football viewers that is unmatched by other football games or even the Super Bowl. The envy stems from the fact that fervent football viewers usually wish they could play football. They possess the knowledge of offensive and defensive plays, but lack the physical skill to be able to actually play the game past the point of bashing each other’s brains in for our post-feast amusement. There is also a sense of envy because they are living vicariously through men they consider their heroes. They are heroes because the football players, through sheer hard work and determination, have managed to escape another holiday with the relatives. Compared to hearing about Aunt Gertrude’s cruise and listening to another one of Uncle Al’s racist jokes, suffering a concussion or getting fined thousands of dollars for pulling a helmet is a day at the beach.
If you’re anything like me, you have to listen to “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie. It starts off as a monologue about two guys going to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. During the course of the song, the narrator reminisces on the time he and his friend were arrested for dumping a pile of garbage off the edge of a cliff and how he was able to get out of going to Vietnam. It is a lot of comfort to know that there are, in fact, Americans who celebrate a holiday of being thankful for what we have by listening to a song that glorifies environmental destruction and evading military service.
The bottom line is everybody has their own idea of the perfect Thanksgiving ritual. The eclectic mix of traditions and activities is a tapestry of what makes this country what it is. We complain about our relatives, we complain about how sports teams do and we also listen to someone complain about going to court for littering and being subjected to medical procedures funded by taxpayer dollars. Complain, complain, and complain! It’s about as American as you can get. This country was founded on us complaining about stuff. We, as Americans, are certainly not going to stop doing that, just as we are not going to stop thinking of inventive and unique ways to celebrate Thanksgiving.