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I Hate Thanksgiving

Before explaining why I hate Thanksgiving, I want to apologize to my co-blogistas here on dotCommonweal for my non-posting since last May. Sometimes what one of my students called my "menial administrative duties" catch up with or even overwhelm me, stripping me of the capacity for sequential thought, let alone the concise expression needed for blogging. For most of this year i have been wrapped up in a capital campaign and working on the design for a new building for the law school where I am dean. My schedule looks a little brighter for the new year, so I will try to chip in here more often. Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is almost over, I'm relieved. I truly hate Thanksgiving. I have no problem with giving thanks -- it's the least we can do, and we should do it more often -- but I do have a problem with "Thanksgiving," the holiday. It's not the absurd commercialization, or even the embarassing orgy of consumerism on Black Friday or Black Saturday. (Is Sunday now "Black" as well?). Those are too-easy targets, and they don't bug me in any kind of personal way. The inevitable family psychodrama doesn't help, nor does the usual Thanksgiving fare -- I'd rather eat a bowl of pasta, or anything Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean....you get the idea. But what really gets me is the prospect of four days of suspended animation doing essentially nothing. Something about my nature abhors a vacuum. Now, you may be losing interest and sympathy exactly at this point. After all, who wants to hear about another pathological, self-obsessed workaholic moan about having to take a break. But -- and I mean this -- I am not a workaholic -- I alternate periods of great activity and indolence in unpredictable patterns. I don't think the world needs me at my desk; it is perfectly capable of going to pieces with or without me. I've never been able to articulate precisely whyThanksgiving and, I must admit, most holidays (and even weekends) fill me with a quiet horror. Fortunately, a great writer has now done it. In Richard Ford's new book, "The Lay of the Land," his narrator Frank Bascombe (a 55-year old realtor with prostate cancer), is talking about an interesting day he has planned (watching the demolition of an old hotel in Asbury Park, NJ), but comments that: "Business itself, of course, is the very best at offering solid, life-structuring agendas, and business days are always better than wan weekends, and are hands-down better than gaping, ghostly holidays that Americans all claim to love -- but I don't since these days can turn long, dread-prone and worse."Precisely. You can't do better than "wan" and "gaping,ghostly."

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Welcome back, Mark!I like Thanksgiving better than the Christmas holiday-- less has to be perfect. You don't need to get perfect presents, you only need not to mess up the dinner. And then you get to hang out and watch movies, or football.I do know what you mean about the ghostly holidays. But the trouble is, they are not any better if you are working. The Thanksgiving I felt sorriest for myself was one year I was an associate in a big law firm, and I had to work most of it. I had the image of everyone else living a Frank Capra movie, enjoying family and friends and eggnog. So having to work the holiday isn't necessarily better than not working it.Maybe the thing to do is get on a plane and go to another country. a warm country.

This weekend, on "Bob Edwards' Weekend Edition"--or whatever it's called--Bob talked, in the second of his two hours, with Richard Ford about "The Lay of the Land" (among other things). Mark and interested others may want to go to the web and listen. (The show is carried, not by NPR--which treated Bob rather shabbily a few years ago--but by PRI [Public Radio International].)

I've had this experience, too. At work, thinking how nice it would be to be off from work. At home, thinking how I wasted a day. Maybe we don't know how to appreciate leisure, perhaps because we are so "busy" day in and day out that "stillness" can be downright uncomfortable! Reminds me of "The grass is always greener in the other pasture."

Holidays are for children. We understand that they may not appreciate everything, nor behave as well as we planned. But they are allowed to be jealous, vindictive, petulant and angry.As adults these things are not permitted. So the subtext or after glow of holidays is who did not help with cleaning up, who came late and left early, who showed little respect, who slept through it all, started an argument, never smiled, is never happy, always disappointed, etc etc.It is why therapists are busy in January or why January and February are so depressing. The reason is Santa never comes. Er....well not as we asked him or he promised us. Or maybe it is God's way of telling us we should have invited at least one homeless or poor person. Or Greek , Turkish or Arab?It is why rich kids usually misbehave. Life will never be perfect....

Is this a peculiarly American trait?"American society privileges the loud and the productive. With its mind-numbing noise, crowding, rushing, anxiety and anger, the Atlanta airport on any given day provides the pulse of a culture lacking what Josef Pieper said was its essential basis, namely leisure." ( Luke Timothy Johnson, Keeping Spirituality Sane, Commonweal, Nov 17, 2006)I've been to the U S only once, for 4 months in 2004. But with 2 children married and settled there and a failrly large number of aunts & uncles and cousins also living there, you hear a lot, and Johnson seems right on the ball. (This is not meant as criticism). I spent 4 years working in Germany and found life there much more laid back than America. But then, Americans have been the most friendly and helpful people i've known too.Sunil Korah

We are supposed to enjoy holidays. Already this is one more imperative beyond those that hold for other days. They also break into our comfortable routines. I sometimes have felt that a holiday as a lost day. That said, I did enjoy this last Thanksgiving. I think I enjoyed such events as a child. There is an old saying elegantly phrased by Sophocles that "a man growing old is once again a child". So there is something to look forward to, perhaps.

We are supposed to enjoy holidays. Already this is one more imperative beyond those that hold for other days. They also break into our comfortable routines. I sometimes have felt that a holiday is a lost day. That said, I did enjoy this last Thanksgiving. I think I enjoyed such events as a child. There is an old saying elegantly phrased by Sophocles that "a man growing old is once again a child". So there is something to look forward to, perhaps.

The first Thanksgiving after my divorce, my son's school decided I needed "help" with the holiday and gifted me with a charity food donation.It was an obscene amount of food that included (among many, many other things) a 27 pound turkey. I'm not making that up. A 27 pound turkey that I then had to cook and a grand total of three people on hand to eat it. Me, my son, and my ex-husband. Oh, happy holidays.It took me years to get over that Thanksgiving and I spent at least the 5 years afterwards wanting to spend Thanksgiving alone in a house at the shore. I dreaded the whole season.#1 lesson learned from the experience: Ask before giving. Had the school asked me first what my plans were for the holiday, some other needy family who might have actually needed a 27 pound ostrich sized bird would have had one on their table. I no longer assume that I know what someone else needs. I ask first and if I can fill the need, I give it.#2 lesson learned from the experience: It's all in the attitude. I spent five years having Thanksgivings that sucked because that one day did not meet my expectations. Then I abandoned all expectations and concentrated instead on having a day to spend with people I genuinely like - my family. I've not had a bad Thanksgiving since then.#3 lesson reinforced: I do not HAVE to do anything except what God commanded - "Love one another as I have loved you." When I make sure that I put all my effort into that commandment first and above turkeys, decorations, gift shopping, etc., holidays and other days get a whole lot better.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Something about the pie...

Holidays mean staying home and finding something to do with your extended family, many of whom you seek to avoid for most of the year.Add to that the fact that most Americans turn everything into a competition, so it's not enough to have a nice meal, but the holiday has to be some type of House Beautiful Holiday contest.Mix in the stress of the two-working-parent family, that doesn't have a lot of time for "slow food," and you've got a nightmare on your hands.I don't do turkeys anymore--too time consuming. I made Welsh rarebit and two cakes and let my husband "fill in" the rest of the meal. Then we watched "Wayne's World" with our son.I knitted, read "Lapham Rising," and it was warm enough to rollerskate in the driveway. Not the most exciting day of my life, but it beat getting shot at Wal-mart over a Playstation 3, anyway.

Now that I'm retired I can see what I was missing with my obsession about working. It was great to have son, daughter-in-law and three young boys in our house for three days. No time, thank God, for thinking anything, supposedly serious or not. Being from Louisiana, I've always known that work wasn't all it's cracked up to be. In retirement, i actually experience that truth. In retiring, I gave up the nickle-and-dime influence I had within my university. Now I can see and feel that such stuff is for just one season in life and now I've moved on to another season that is at least as attractive and rewarding. I'm now free to be the Crank I always aspired to being.