RALL: Flip the Bird -- The Case for Abolishing Thanksgiving

It's time once more to clench your teeth and avert your eyes, for the schmaltzy cruel annual spectacle called Thanksgiving is upon us once again. For the 134th time since the ritualistic dismemberment of a turkey was declared a national holiday, millions of Americans will choke airports and highways Wednesday night, all to spend Thursday with relatives they successfully manage to avoid the rest of the year.Separated by vast geographic and cultural distances, they will look to the TV for solace, only to find surreal parades of giant balloons in the shape of trademarked Disney characters and patronizing local news coverage of destitute Americans scarfing up free chow at the downtown food kitchen. No wonder they're hungry -- they haven't eaten since last November! For millions more, Thanksgiving is a sharp jab in the heart, a dramatic reminder that their lives have been shattered by divorce. For them, Thanksgiving means, at best, a day off from work and, at worst, a reminder why suicides skyrocket during the holiday season. Thanksgiving is our only exclusionary national holiday -- those with fractured or nonexistent families need not apply.Like the majority of Americans under age 35, I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom's relatives were all back in France and my dad's side of the family stopped answering our mail when the divorce decree became final.My teachers worried aloud about my "broken home," but actually things at home were pretty cool. As an only child, I enjoyed a unique closeness to my mom that continues today. Thanksgiving was one of the few downers, an annual reminder that my family had screwed up or been screwed over.Every year countless people substitute, as my mom and I did, chicken for turkey (actually a better choice given how lousy turkey tastes), and try to pretend their subnuclear families are just as viable as an extended one. Some get appended to bigger, richer families' celebrations, but getting treated like a charity case by people you sort of know is even worse than their pathetic attempts at Thanksgiving Lite.My mom and I were the statistical norm, but the institutional rhetoric of the holiday made us feel like freaks. I've since met countless other Americans who felt the same as us, but were also cowed by the uncomfortable subtext of warm-and-fuzzy televised images of extended families breaking bread. If there's strength in numbers, truncated family units are unbearably weak. The truth is that Thanksgiving is, and always has been, a holiday that highlights the misfortunes of others. At no other time of the year is the distinction between have-relatives and have-not so apparent or so gloated over.Historically, Thanksgiving started as an act of retribution. Although there had been sporadic celebrations dating back to Washington, President Lincoln institutionalized the holiday in 1863 to crow over the Battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of the Civil War to the Union's favor. And the event it originally celebrates, the Pilgrims' first harvest in 1621, ostensibly symbolizes the initial harmony between the first white settlers and Native Americans, but in doing so implies that the eventual genocide of American Indians by the descendants of repressive religious fanatics was merely some gross misunderstanding.Aside from Thanksgiving's racist and anti-Southern roots, the transparently Christian-Protestant nature of the holiday is a blatant offense to the millions of Americans who worship otherwise or not at all, not to mention the Constitutional separation of church and state. Christmas is bad enough, but this is redundant overkill. Furthermore, its bizarre dual imagery of gluttony and gratitude is culturally bankrupt. What kind of message does it send to encourage the earth's fattest people to gorge themselves to the point of pain while millions sleep in the streets?In an era of budget cuts, downsizing, evaporating salaries and social disintegration, what the hell do most people have to be thankful for? This country has always motivated its citizenry to strive for improvement in their lives, not to bow in weak-kneed gratitude for what they already have. Thanksgiving asks people to accept, not to strive, making it perhaps the most un-American of holidays.It's time to do away with Thanksgiving. For one thing, the useless fourth Thursday of November falls at a stupid time of the year, close to a lot of other holidays and when most of the country suffers from miserable, overcast weather. Why not replace it with a day or two somewhere between Presidents Day and Memorial Day, nearly a four-month stretch without a single day off? There's always August, when a lot of workers take vacations anyway. As for the occasion, there are plenty of notable Americans and historical events to memorialize that don't make millions of people feel like crap. More importantly, the food sucks. If yams, cranberry sauce and desiccated turkey taste so great, why are they only eaten once or twice a year?Many people will cling to Thanksgiving out of habit, and that's fine for them. Just don't make the rest of us suffer through their mean little holiday.


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