It is true that Abraham Lincoln’s original Thanksgiving Proclamation was a bit heavy on religious rhetoric, on giving thanks to “our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” and whatnot. But it’s possible to overlook that. You can invest the holiday with a purely secular meaning without ruining its integrity.
Thanksgiving doesn’t ask anything of you except that you be grateful for small things, like food, family, friends, good health and just plain being alive. It’s simple and unadorned; even its iconography is bathed in earthy autumn colors that don’t lend themselves to flashy marketing schemes. It’s just so unlike the way we are nowadays. It’s a fading ray of light from the nineteenth century when, whatever else their faults, people were more down to earth and authentic. It just doesn’t fit in our crass age of iPhones, plasma screen TVs, Lindsey Lohan, credit default swaps and predator drone strikes. It was the invention of people who lived their entire lives from cradle to grave without ever witnessing a Bud Light commercial. Sigh. Sometimes I think I might trade away modern dentistry and small pox vaccinations in exhange for that …
Even though you celebrate Thanksgiving by gorging yourself, it still has an oddly ascetic feel to it when compared with everything else we do. Big commercial interests can’t find a really effective way to cheapen or exploit it. There’s just not a lot of profit in turkey and mashed potatoes (some, but not a lot). As a consequence, it’s becoming a second-tier holiday, far less important than Christmas or the Superbowl (an event which has become completely grotesque, the concentrated essence of all that is most wrong with us).
And please don’t call it Turkey Day. It not only sounds kind of dumb, Turkey Day, but it overlooks the point. Do you call Christmas “Toy Day,” or Easter “Dyed-Egg Day,” or Valentine’s Day “Dropping Two-Hundred-Bucks-On-The-Old-Lady-So-She’ll-Give-Me-A-Piece-Tonight Day”? It might be more honest to refer these holidays that way, but changing Thanksgiving to Turkey Day guts it of its essential purpose. It degrades the laudable act of being thankful to a mere “let’s eat.” It’s unnecessarily profane. Can we please keep some things sacred?
For some reason, whenever I hear the term Turkey Day, I picture the same type of person saying it: a pot-bellied, middle-aged, relentlessly extroverted, mindlessly patriotic white guy — a sort of low-rent Willard Scott — who always cheers for the home team and says things like “Another day, another peso” or “It’s better that we fight the terrorists over there than over here.” You know who I mean.
I want a bit of sanctuary. I need some breathing space where the air isn’t polluted with buying and selling or the worship of disposable things. Thanksgiving is a kind of bastion against that, and as such it is being kicked into the holiday ghetto with Arbor Day, a natural but lamentable development in our sophisticated age.