Now this is my kind of holiday. I’m a sucker for feasts, for cornucopias and piles of dishes, for being uncomfortably full. What’s more, all this gluttony has a purpose: Thanksgiving is the holiday that most honors food.
Forget the baloney with the Pilgrims and Indians for a moment; Thanksgiving is about connection with the harvest, the long-forgotten idea that some foods abound at particular times of the year. Though I don’t think it’s imperative that everyone eats the traditional dishes (turkey, potatoes, cranberries, squash), I do like that the usual fare is mostly seasonal. I think the expectations of what constitutes “Thanksgiving foods” cause people to notice what they put in their mouths, whether it defies or follows convention. And perhaps, somewhere in the midst of dressing and filling and stuffing, there’s gratitude, gratitude that starvation has been conquered and food fills the table.
Maybe I’m overstating the loftiness of the average diner’s thoughts. Perhaps we are actually more focused on football games or pie-eating or passing out than on the bounty of Mother Earth. But these activities, too, are done together…Thanksgiving, at its best, has a wonderful feeling of community. Even more than, say, Christmas, when people can often get separated in their own sphere of presents, Thanksgiving lends itself to activities done en masse. Yes, we’ll clutch our bellies and moan, but we’ll do so as a family.
Of course, there is one potential pitfall: Thanksgiving needs to be careful to completely distance itself from the sanitized, white-washed version of early American history – it’s patronizing and patently false. If we’re to have a holiday that references white settler and Native American interactions, it shouldn’t be a celebration; it should be a Yom-Kippur-like day of atonement and repentance.
I have some friends who have treated Thanksgiving in this manner, fasting in remembrance of the atrocities visited upon the original inhabits of this continent. While I respect this, I’m too attached to the feast aspects of Thanksgiving to give them up. I think that it’s important to have a day to point at food, hold hands and yell “FOOD! FOOD GOOD! EAT FOOD!” or whatever your particular tradition may be. As for fasting…well, there’s always Columbus day.