We are at the end of an interregnum. Halloween is over. The election is over. Thanksgiving is over. Christmas hasn’t yet begun. Not until tomorrow, December 1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year
My husband and daughter both expressed annoyance last weekend, independently of one another, of the hurry of some of our neighbors to put up Christmas decorations. Oh sure, businesses have been doing it for months. My husband called to complain about that months ago when he went to a nearby mall. But regular people? How is anyone in the frame of mind to put up Christmas decorations before they’ve rested up from dealing with Thanksgiving?
During the month of November I heard a few people say that Thanksgiving was their favorite holiday. But I’m not so sure it’s Thanksgiving itself that they like. A couple days ago, the client in the next chair at the hair salon was talking about how she and her husband celebrate Thanksgiving day. In the morning, she picks up a turkey breast and their favorite side dishes from Marie Callenders, which she takes home and pops in the refrigerator. Her husband and she then meet friends at a local hotel restaurant, where they have dinner, and hang out with friends and family for three or four hours. The next day, they open the refrigerator and voila! They have their leftovers.
We have reached the point in our civilization where everyone does pretty much what they want. Many gather in large family groups for big meals, many travel long distances, and many cook big, elaborate meals. Many, however, do not. Some go to restaurants. Some serve at soup kitchens or shelters. Increasingly, more have to work.
Many merely take what they like of the holiday, and leave the rest behind. Yes to leftovers, football, and shopping. No to cooking, cleaning, and dealing with family members.
I can’t help but wonder what Thanksgiving will look like another fifty years in the future. I’m not one hundred percent certain it will survive, sandwiched as it is between the more exciting holidays of Halloween and Christmas. (Perhaps it is turkey-sandwiched? Ha Ha.) And if it does, I believe it will be for those lovely days after Thanksgiving, more than for the holiday itself.
Holidays are meant to be a distraction, a break. They are time off from our mundane routines to be happy, thankful, and contemplate what is holy. “Holy,” not only in the sense of a particular religious tradition, but holy in the sense of what we feel to be most central to our existence.
But any celebration in itself, repeated over time, tends to mutate until it eventually sabotages its original intent. The celebration of the holiday meant to honor the sacred actually becomes harmful to what we care about most. The long weekend tempts retailers–whose bread-on-the-table depends almost entirely on how they do at Christmas–to turn the entire Thanksgiving weekend into a shop-frenzy. Being thankful for the feast turns into just plain old eating. Being with family turns into alcohol-fueled disputes, or football induced sloth. We lose connection with the original meaning, but somehow make new connections, establish new rituals, to find that meaning all over again.
Take this shopping thing: Some families gather together late Thursday or early Friday morning to hit the stores. These are group excursions, strategized like a military operation, hunting for deals with a level of cooperation that would put a pack of wolves to shame. It is, in fact, a family sporting event, no different in its spiritual meaning than those touch football events the Kennedys have at their holiday gatherings. I can easily imagine a future Thanksgiving in which malls will offer all-day events where you can compete in competitive shopping while also getting fed at mall eateries. Maybe it could be a reality show. Are you kidding? It could totally be a reality show. Oh no, now that I’ve said it, someone will steal the idea. No doubt I’ll see it on T.V. for Thanksgiving 2013.
I know that’s where you’ll find my family next year, watching Thanksgiving Wars, or whatever they decide to call it, turkey sandwiches clutched in our paws, mayonnaise dripping from our mouths, renewing the bonds between us by doing nothing at all, and doing it together.
Next year, we’re inviting these people.