Thanksgiving from across the Atlantic is always a strange thing to behold.
As a Frenchman, I see it through the distorting lens of American media. Every U.S. sitcom has the requisite Thanksgiving episode, replete with all the same themes and anecdotes. Most of them are bad: My uncle is crazy! Thanksgiving is politically incorrect! Putting together such a huge meal is too much pressure! Turkey tastes bad! (Ok, you've got a point there.) We hate our family!
Wake up, America. Thanksgiving is awesome.
First, as a Frenchman, I can always appreciate an excuse to gorge.
Food is not to be underestimated. I remember reading a story where the French negotiator in some European Union dispute about food labeling or some other such nonsense uttered the following quote : "We can't understand each other. We know eating is a cultural act; they see it as a biological function." I've completely forgotten everything about the context of the story, but the quote has stuck in my mind. When my daughter wants to leave the table prematurely, I tell her: "We are civilized people, and civilized people eat together. Eating is not just a biological function, it's a civilized act."
America, you have done many wonderful things to food. Thank you for BBQ. But you have also done many terrible things. You created fast food, you defined "lunch" as eating a sandwich at your desk, you invented the Big Gulp and the Double Down. But at least Thanksgiving is an invitation back to civilization. Making a beautiful meal and sharing it with loved ones are means by which we sanctify the world. What used to be animals and plants becomes a work of art and a kind of human communion. That alone is quite precious.
Second — well, look, you already know the truth about family. Yes, it can be a pain, but it won't hurt you to be nice to your crazy uncle once a year. He's a human being, after all, and there is beauty and goodness buried somewhere in his cold, cold heart.
Third, while I could get aggrieved about the triteness of "giving thanks," I'm not. Yes, it's such a hallmark of America's public religiosity, a bland spirituality that doesn't actually say anything specific, but tries to give you warm fuzzy feelings. But it's worked pretty well for you as a social glue. And, more importantly, when life gives us opportunities, we should seize them. Yes, Valentine's Day is a made-up, schmaltzy, commercialized holiday — but it can also be an occasion for celebrating and strengthening bonds with your loved one. Similarly, gratitude really is good for the soul; we should appreciate a holiday dedicated to it.
So, America: This Thanksgiving, when you ask yourself what to be thankful for, start by being thankful for Thanksgiving itself.