The Famines and the Feasts of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s most beloved holidays. This is the case for myriad reasons, most of them recognizable. It’s an excuse to get together with family and friends to reconnect and to be grateful, at least theoretically, for all of our blessings. It’s one of the two holidays each year (along with Christmas) that gets us a second day off of work – a wildly underrated aspect of this Giving of Thanks. Plus, we eat great food. Like, a LOT of great food. Honestly, it’s legitimately an annual celebration of American gluttony. Nevertheless, since Thanksgiving is now only a week away, I figured I’d share some of my less obvious reasons for appreciating, or having a bone to pick with, this Turkey Day of ours.

Football is the most obvious reason I’ll discuss here, but it’s a damn good reason to love Thanksgiving. Yes, the Lions usually suck, and the Cowboys these days are almost always a mess, but  the predictability of the scheduling has created a glorious Thanksgiving tradition. Besides, it’s still professional football, and with the NFL’s advent of the cash-grabbing Thursday Night Football, we get games all day, back to back to back.

Since we always see those same two teams, there’s none of the Sunday Night Football-esque “flexing” involved to get the ideal, most high profile match-ups on screen, and yet it’s still my favorite day of football of the year. For one, it’s probably the most relaxing football viewing experience of the entire season. That’s the case not only because you’re already in a good mood, due to the holiday cheer, but it’s the only day of the year when you get to watch the NFL without having to worry about going to work the next day. Every other game – other than a random playoff game or two – is on a normal Sunday, or Monday, or Thursday, and you always have to wake up early the following morning to go off and be responsible. Not the case on Thanksgiving.

Furthermore, football is about as American as it gets. Baseball is technically our official national pastime, but no athletic competition captivates our national psyche more than some good ol’ fashioned pigskin – a game which, for some reason, is made even more transcendent by the color of the foliage in late November. Practically no other country in the world even plays it, so combining it with Thanksgiving, another extremely American phenomenon (despite Canada’s attempts to steal it), creates remarkably patriotic result. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Since the TV’s already on, I can’t help but mention that when you’re not watching Megatron dominate, you get to watch The Godfather trilogy on AMC. And it’s on over and over and over; one of those, “three three-hour movies, three times in a row!” sort of marathons. I don’t know about anyone else, but, even though I’ve seen these movies 395 times already, this is honestly one of my favorite things about the holiday. I am Enzo! The Baker!

As I mentioned, the food is great, but I will say, I have one tiny complaint in this department. Admittedly, it’s a quality spread; I mean, I can’t imagine anybody but vegans and Nazis taking umbrage with turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and pie. Yet, by pigeon holing ourselves to that particular menu, we’re constantly running the risk of not being in the mood for that food. What if you wake up next Thursday morning and realize you’ve got a craving for pizza? Maybe some sushi, perhaps? Sorry, buddy, you’re out of luck. This is one of the few times of the year when our cuisine is mandated, and our freedom of choice is strangled with an iron fist. The turkey platter has developed into an outstanding tradition, it’s true, but we’ve essentially backed ourselves into a corner that we can’t get out of.

Speaking of a lack of flexibility, talk about Thanksgiving resulting in horrible scheduling for everyone. Since most extended families don’t live in the same cul-de-sac, millions of Americans are forced to travel every year in nightmarish competition with each other. The traffic is awful if you try to drive anywhere on Wednesday; this causes many, including myself, to take an extra day off, despite already having a 4-day weekend, just to try and mitigate the gruesome effects. Then on Sunday, we’re all fucked. If you’re not driving, better break out that wallet, because the airlines have your balls in a vice; since you’re locked into traveling on a few specific days, demand is at an all-time high, and thus, they can charge exorbitant prices on top of what are already pretty lofty fees.

What I always felt would be genius would be to celebrate Thanksgiving on some random weekend in October. That way, you avoid all the increased headaches of trying to travel at the same time as the rest of the country. As long as the rest of you sheep continued in your plebeian ways, I’d still get all the magnificent Thanksgiving football, yet would have wide, luxurious lanes on my drive back home.

Plus, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two holidays that basically necessitate family get-togethers, and yet they’re only like a month apart. I mean for God sakes, they’re practically on top of each other. Wouldn’t we retroactively want to space them out a little bit more?

I would miss out on a few things by rescheduling, though, and two hugely significant ones are the last bits of wisdom I’ll leave you with for now. The first is that, while Thanksgiving is largely about getting together with your specific family and having some good times, it’s also about having that experience shared ubiquitously across the country. Similar to July 4, Thanksgiving is great because not only are you arguing with your crazy uncle about who gets the last slice of pie, you also know that everywhere across the U.S., people are doing the exact same thing. By rescheduling my own Thanksgiving, I’d be missing out on that collective experience.

I’d also miss out on one of the superb, only-for-a-brief-window-of-time opportunities that is the Wednesday-night-before-Thanksgiving informal high school reunion at the bar. After our entire graduating class went off to college, there were still quite a few occasions, including the summers off, when large portions of us would return to our home town for extended periods of time. Now, with no more spring break, and often greater distances to travel, those odysseys are fewer and further between, so we just don’t see each other nearly as much. I don’t live at home anymore, but on the rare occasions I do make that homecoming, my town seems much emptier than it ever used to, since only a few of the people I know are ever there at one time.

Except for the Wednesday night before Turkey Day. On that one, glorious night, almost everybody is in town, and you’re able to see and catch up with people that at this point you haven’t seen in years.

What makes it even more special is that it’s a temporary thing. We’re all still of the age when most of us haven’t yet formed our own families; we’re not yet obligated to join our significant others at their Thanksgiving celebrations in their home towns, nor are we anywhere near old enough to be hosting the holiday in the distance places where we’ve made our homes. These are the years when everybody still returns for a few days, before we part ways again. And then, since we are all of-age, the best thing to do is hit the bar. If I rescheduled my Thanksgiving, I’d miss out on the best chance I have to see as many of my friends as possible, and do so on our old turf.

Thursday’s the time for family, for sure, but Wednesday’s the time for friends. It’s cheesy, but it’s also true. For that, Thanksgiving, I salute you.

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