Why Thanksgiving is the best American holiday
Precisely 16 days after the worst day of 2016 is one of the best days of 2016.
I speak, of course, of Election Day — the culmination of 18 months of mean, exhausting politicking that sucked the sleep from our eyes and the empathy from our hearts — followed by Thanksgiving, the indisputable queen of American holidays.
Now, before you protest that some other celebration is best, hear me out on the merits of this most chill and pleasant day.
Thanksgiving is a humble, one-day affair. Our Targets and Walmarts are not draped in its colors for weeks on end. There is no debate about how early is too early to put up the Thanksgiving decorations. In fact, there are few trappings of Thanksgiving at all. No one is freezing their fingers to string Thanksgiving lights or bickering with their spouse over whether to get a real or artificial Thanksgiving tree. There are precious few Thanksgiving clothes and no universally accepted Thanksgiving songs, which makes gradually more obnoxious Thanksgiving radio stations impossible. There are no Thanksgiving cards or dull yearly update letters from weird cousins.
Perhaps best of all, there is no Thanksgiving equivalent of that creeper Elf on the dratted Shelf.
Thanksgiving does not have presents. This may disappoint the under-15 crowd, but for adults it is a clear advantage. We need not pretend to be happy to receive crap we don't want or waste our money buying crap other people don't need. We simply get to keep the same amount of crap we already have — and that stasis, frankly, is a win in my book. There are no thank-you notes to drudge through or feelings of guilt to ignore if we don't drudge through them. There are no presents to wrap or, less than 12 hours later, wrapping paper to ruin and waste.
Thanksgiving has no fictional present-bringers like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. (I have been a holiday character truther since the age of 5, when I observed that there was a Santa at the mall and a Santa the grocery store, from which I concluded that Santa is a lie.) Still, whatever one's Santa stance, it's nice to have a holiday without a fictional presence to promote, tolerate, or debunk. One less thing to think about is always a plus.
Thanksgiving is low-stakes. You don't have to see family if you aren't feeling up to it. Your mom won't really mind if you can't make this trip home. There's a reason "Friendsgiving" exists in a way "Friendsmas" doesn’t. Thanksgiving is only as big a deal as you choose to make it. You can cook a turkey or a peahen. You can have one type of stuffing or two. Thanksgiving is scalable.
Mercifully, Thanksgiving is less politicized than other holidays. Yes, we hear fables of righteous young progressives doing rhetorical battle with "racist uncles" at the Thanksgiving table. And yes, the holiday's caricatured origin story of cheery Pilgrims and helpful Native Americans hanging out together occasions potentially contentious discussion — but the key word here is "potentially." Thanksgiving has so far escaped the general climate of animosity other holidays with historical bases (like Christmas and Columbus Day) or social implications (like Halloween) increasingly feature. If we but maintain the mellow spirit of the day, Thanksgiving can be an opportunity for learning about our history, including the sad and condemnable parts, that need not devolve into uncharitable sniping on all sides.
Thanksgiving is a welcome respite from the holiday culture wars. There are no competing greetings. Everyone can say "Happy Thanksgiving" and nobody gets upset. We are neither lectured for our insensitivity nor berated for our irreverence. We can simply eat.
And speaking of eating, herein lies one of Thanksgiving's most obvious strengths. With other holidays, food is important but nevertheless must share the spotlight. Memorial Day has cookouts, but (incongruously) you're supposed to be mourning America's war dead, too. Halloween has candy, but costumes take center stage. Christmas perhaps comes the closest to a Thanksgiving-level spread, but there it plays a supporting role to devotional and gift-related priorities.
At Thanksgiving, the food is the star. It's the whole reason the holiday exists: We're commemorating a feast (albeit usually with less pigeon and corn porridge in the modern incarnations). We can take our time cooking, untroubled by other obligations. There are even Thanksgiving Day races — Turkey Trots — that helpfully allow us to run off a solid 3 to 5 percent of the calories we plan to consume.
It is the simplicity of Thanksgiving that I like best of all. As a Christian, Christmas and Easter hold for me a far deeper significance, at once more solemn and more joyous. But in terms of American celebratory traditions, Thanksgiving is the clear winner. It's a luxuriously slow day with a luxuriously quick preparation period. It's easy, and then it's over. And it's the perfect, delicious way to cleanse our palates of the last 18 months of divisive, disgusting politics.