A national holiday might seem an odd subject for a “review” but one of the themes of the day has become indulgence, so if you don’t mind, I’ll beg yours and take a look at this most American of celebrations; what it means, some of its regular features and – at risk of triggering wistful memories – how it’s changed since this time last year.
Record numbers of Americans – more than 50 million – are expected to sit in traffic jams, queue at airports and struggle with outsized luggage through bus and train terminals, all to sit around a dinner table today with people they may not even like that much.
Add to that the fact that holidays bring a higher-than-normal breakup risk, and it’s clear to see how easily the average American family can put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’. NPR thinks one subject to bring everyone together is to talk about your elderly relatives’ end-of-life wishes, which I suppose is something of a drastic solution to facing up to the literal elephant in the room.
Most Americans apparently dread talking politics – and specifically bringing up the President – over Thanksgiving dinner. According to a PBS poll:
Americans can’t agree if there’s an upside to talking about Trump with someone whose opinion about the President differs from their own. Among U.S. adults, 43 percent said such conversations about Trump are “interesting and informative,” while another 47 percent said they are “stressful and frustrating.” Republicans were nearly twice as likely as Democrats to view these conversations in a favorable light.
David A. Graham writes in The Atlantic, though, that there are two reasons why you should just dive in. “First, President Trump’s ability to grab the spotlight and inject himself into so many facets of life makes trying to avoid politics practically futile these days… Second, the stakes are higher this year. That isn’t to say that politics doesn’t affect our lives deeply all the time… but the matters that the last year or two have brought into the arena are central to the nation’s identity.”
Politico, meanwhile, has some tips on how YOU can be the crazy uncle this year.
You can’t have indulgence without a pardon, and the President’s annual pardon of a Turkey (in this case the lucky bird was named Drumstick, so I guess successfully avoided nominative determinism) was accompanied by the predictable jokes about him rounding up all the turkeys Obama had pardoned and killing them. He was, though, apparently happy to learn that last year’s pardon recipients, Tater and Tot, are doing well at Gobbler’s Rest. I kid you not.
The President also thinks people should be thankful. Not an unreasonable position, but if you’re a fellow attention-seeker, he’ll tell you when you’re not being sufficiently grateful.
In a press room stunt, meanwhile, Sarah Huckabee Sanders forced the White House reporters to say what they were thankful for before they were allowed to ask a question. One journalist said she was thankful for the First Amendment, but mostly the responses played the intended game. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who wasn’t in the room, wrote later:
I’m thankful to the voters of Virginia and elsewhere, who gave us a first sign that Trump’s scourge of nationalism and race-baiting can be repelled.
And I’m profoundly thankful that Trump and so many of his appointees have turned out to be incompetent, unable to implement some of his most dangerous ideas.
In short, Sarah, I am thankful that a combination of brave people, brilliant Framers and dumb luck have prevented your boss from doing much worse.
And so everyone headed off for the Trump family thanksgiving. With the Trump SoHo hotel seemingly not the destination of choice at the moment, the first family are spending the holidays at Mar-a-Lago – at taxpayer expense – where they may or may not be joined by Roman Abramovich. If the Chelsea owner does show up for dinner, he’ll undoubtedly be impressed by the centerpiece.
Ivanka’s Thanksgiving clam was simply the talk of the internet.
But selling stuff over Thanksgiving is nothing new, from the latest campaign merchandise, to home furnishings “inspired by” the President, to the Trump Signature Collection, all your holiday needs are catered for. No word as to whether there might be a Black Friday special.
And if you wanted to get away from it all, you could always visit a National Park, where you might be able to buy a case of Trump wine.
Just don’t ask Jimmy Carter if he’ll be picking up any gifts.
Away from the main family, it’s good to hear Trump associates Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are thankful they won’t miss the joy of the season, as long as they travel locally, have an alcohol-free celebration and keep their GPS monitoring devices in place.
While it might seem like we’re over-indulging with the actual food, there will always be some hosts who will try to combine dinner with the day’s entertainment by attempting to deep-fry their bird or cook it in another way that doesn’t involve an actual oven. This is probably the time you should speak up.
Then, when it’s all over, you’ll get to sit back and watch TV, and usually that means football. Or not, if your family are boycotting the NFL for whatever reason they think is the most patriotic. In a wonderfully ironic twist this year, the Washington Redskins are hosting an NFL game on Thanksgiving for the first time in league history – something Dave Zirin at The Nation says is the team owners “showing their true colours.”
Some things are the same as always, though. People still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in the hope that one of the huge inflatables breaks free and has to be shot down over Central Park (no word whether this balloon will be out and about anywhere). Maybe the saddest thing about this week’s New Yorker cover is that the figure in the apartment is non-specific. As artist Barry Blitt says: “He could be any one of the parade of names that gets longer every day.”
Sometimes it feels like almost everything has been turned on its head. Even the history of the holiday isn’t perhaps what you understand it to be.
But we can always take the opportunity of the holiday to think about those less fortunate and do some good. And there are many causes that are well worth your attention, time or monetary support. Here are just a few:
- Volunteers of America, committed to ending homelessness
- Feeding America, co-ordinating a network of local food banks
- Operation Turkey, distributing food to the needy
- Meals on Wheels, volunteer to deliver meals
- AnySoldier, sends care packages to service personnel overseas
- Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry, tackling child hunger.
So, wherever you’re spending the day, whoever you’re spending it with, whatever you’re eating, watching or arguing about; remember that while there’s a little bit of Neal Page and Del Griffith in all of us, there’s still hope.
Also published on Medium.