In these distastefully partisan times, let’s take a moment to savor our most American holiday, Thanksgiving. Now that July 4 has become just a day off for most people – albeit one providing a happy excuse to drink beer and blow up stuff – Thanksgiving is the last true day of meaningful national celebration.
As growing numbers of citizens feel alienated from and even ashamed of our country’s past, Thanksgiving is a living reminder of the exceptional glory of the American experiment. By reconnecting us to the better angels of our democracy, it offers a counter-narrative to the tales of oppression that dominate our discourse.
During the coming week, Americans will evoke the pioneer spirit, trading 727s for covered wagons to travel from sea to shining sea – or maybe just to Apex. Wherever we go, we the people all have the same destination, back to that place that anchors life in the deepest source meaning, which is love: back to family, back home.
We will come together once more with those whose faces we see in the mirror, who gave us, either through embrace or opposition, our views and beliefs and sense of humor – the people who know and accept our secrets and take delight in family legend and lore that would mystify everyone else. HiPete really made gin in a bathtub! Uncle Al traveled across country by car and only ate the food he packed!
In this age of identity politics, when the powers that be slice and dice us into made up groups that too often divide us, how blessed we are to have this holiday whose only purpose is to rekindle and celebrate our connections with those who truly made us who we are.
As big and diverse as our nation has become, as we continuously wrestle with what it means to be an American, Thanksgiving reminds us that the foundation of a great people is strong families. It is the primacy of these weird little tribes, their inalienable right to be so quirky, so unique – yeah, my family is crazy – that is the true foundation of freedom and equality. It is so much deeper, richer and truer than politics.
Life is hard; others can be cruel. I am filled with unutterable sadness when I hear people say they dread Thanksgiving – that family and home provide them no comfort.
Of course, most countries have days of family celebration, but Thanksgiving remains a wondrous outlier. Because it requires no set of political or religious beliefs, it is truly American.
My family is old school – we always have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and my Goldilocks cranberry sauce, which, with all due modesty, is not too tart and not too sweet. But a fine Thanksgiving can feature curry and latkes, honey hoisin sweet potatoes, falafel-spiced deviled eggs, ceviche – it can even be vegan for goodness sake.
The only tradition is the family tradition, which is the American tradition precisely because it is made by all of us, in our own way. We Americans, after all, are an invented people, forever reinventing ourselves through the families we welcome on our shores – whether they arrived last week or on the Mayflower.
We are far from perfect – but who is? In the history of the world, who has failed less at making room for new people and new ideas?
It is no coincidence that our great day of national celebration is so open and so welcoming, so free and so good. That is who we are.
On Nov. 28, in between eating too much and laughing at the same stories we should be lucky enough to hear again next year, let’s give thanks for Thanksgiving, the great American holiday.