November 18, 2009

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Dammit!

Eric Felten has a good piece up over at OpinionJournal arguing that one reason for Christmas Creep is the demise of Thanksgiving:

Lydia Maria Child's ode to going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house is a good place to start in decoding Thanksgiving's decline. First, there is the anachronistic attention given to grandmother. Thanksgiving is one of the few occasions left, in our fanatically kinder-centric culture, to honor the elderly. Picture the famous Norman Rockwell illustration "Freedom From Want"—at the Thanksgiving table grandpa and grandma have pride of place. No wonder the day gets short shrift.

And then there is all that over-the-river-and-through-the-woods business, which in our day means a choice between stripping for the nice TSA agent or creeping along I-95. Thanksgiving is the official holiday of planes, trains and automobiles. What the modern travel experience lacks in charm it makes up for with sheer ordeal. And what's the payoff for all this effort? A chance to make small talk with in-laws.

The Food Network may be the only institution in America unapologetically boosting the holiday. For weeks, the cable channel's programming is packed with turkey tutorials, stuffing suggestions and investigations into the mysteries of cranberry sauce. But Food Network's programming is less an indication of popular enthusiasm for Thanksgiving than a measure of the fear the holiday engenders. Hostesses know that they will be judged on the juiciness of their turkey, the cooking of which is an exotic undertaking chanced but once a year. And the result must be achieved while juggling a half-dozen side dishes, all the while making the above-mentioned small talk.

None of which would be so daunting if the day meant more to us. Could it be we've lost our capacity for gratitude? A successful harvest occasioned thanks back when it was all that stood between us and a long, cold, hungry winter. But now we're divorced from the seasonal rhythms of the farm, where the harvest is celebrated as the payoff of all the year's labors. Even in the midst of this Great Repression we enjoy perpetual plenty. What resonance does a cornucopia have to people who have come to expect ripe blackberries in February? If anything, we should be more grateful, but that's not our nature. Anything we struggle for, we hold dear; anything that comes easy, we take for granted.

Not only don't we celebrate the astonishing abundance that is our good fortune, we whine and moan about how it makes us fat. Lydia Maria Child's poem ends, appropriately enough, with dessert: "Is the pudding done? / Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!" A version for our time would read, "Is the pudding sugar-free?" And if that weren't enough to squeeze the pleasure from the day, no modern Thanksgiving is complete without a college student home from school, lecturing the family on the cruelty of meat. (To which the only appropriate response is: "Does that mean you don't want the drumstick?") That same sophomore is also likely to bemoan the grim fate of the Native Americans who made the strategic mistake of helping the Pilgrims avoid starvation. In some circles, Thanksgiving is second only to Columbus Day as an occasion for grieving.

Read the rest. I think there's actually quite a bit to it. Thanksgiving really is a very grown up holiday. And in our continued cultural slide into permanent adolescence, we find its symbolism increasingly unappealing.

Posted by Robert at November 18, 2009 03:27 PM | TrackBack
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