Third-Wheel Meal

In last week’s ’tis the Seasonings post, I wondered why “ginger” and “red hair” were synonymous. Paula from Monday Morning Rail replied with the answer which probably trumps all others (thanks, Paula!).  Ginger Grant, the glam character from the sixties sitcom Gilligan’s Island had a healthy head of red hair.  Sometime after the sixties a “ginger” became a person with red hair.  I’m satisfied, so let’s move to a question more appropriate for this week.  Why is (America’s) Thanksgiving celebrated on a Thursday?

Yes, it’s time for my annual Thanksgiving rant.  Rather, my everything-steps-all-over-Thanksgiving rant.  It’s not really an annual rant but perhaps it should be.  Three years ago I had so much to vent about Thanksgiving’s due, it took me two blog posts to let off the steam (see A Distant Third).  This year I’ve decided, zero progress has been made since then.  In fact, the situation is snowballing.  Thanksgiving is finding less and less air as it gasps between the behemoths known as Halloween and Christmas.

Poor choice of word, “snowballing”.  It’ll make readers think about Christmas and I need you to stay focused.  My campaign is to keep each of the year-end holidays corralled into its respective month.  In other words, November equals Thanksgiving. (Repeat ten times, please).  Turkeys and pumpkin pie, not Santas and plum pudding.

There, I said it.  Apologies to those of you who’ve already shopped and wrapped presents.  Apologies to the rest of you who’ve already decorated your houses.  I’m just trying to give Thanksgiving its rightful place among the “big three” instead of its laggard position as “third wheel”.

You can name a dozen things associated with Halloween, and two dozen more with Christmas.  But with Thanksgiving?  Three (at least here in America).  We have the meal itself, the parades, and football.  That’s pretty much it.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the American Thanksgiving trifecta.  The meal is hanging in there despite efforts to make it healthier.  Turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are still Thanksgiving staples (while “tofurky” is not).  I sometimes wonder why I don’t enjoy these foods on other days of the year as well.  Also, more people make the Thanksgiving meal at home than order online or go to a restaurant. (Do I have the data to back this up?  No, I do not.)  But we should acknowledge Friendsgiving, which has become common enough to remove the quotation marks.  Not only is Friendsgiving celebrated on any day but Thursday, the table spread can be decidedly different. Watch out.  There may come a November when – GASP! – more people celebrate the “friends” version than the “family”.

Parades remain more about Thanksgiving than the other two holidays.  You’ll find the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television this week and at the same time, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Plymouth, MA host large-scale parades.  But here’s my Davey-downer factoid.  The Macy’s Parade may be the world’s largest (as well as the second-oldest in America) but it’s also an imposter.  It began as the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” in 1924, designed to launch a longer retail season at the end of the year.  So you see, the name may have changed but the parade is still decidedly “holly-jolly”.

Football brings out the smirk in sports fans again this Thanksgiving.  As they have every year since 1934 (save the WWII years) the NFL’s Detroit Lions will be playing on Thanksgiving Day.  As they have been every year (seemingly), the Detroit Lions are a truly awful football team.  In the last twenty years the Lions have amassed exactly four winning seasons.  This year?  The Lions are the only team in the NFL without a win.  The Lions are so bad in fact, the NFL has added two other games to your Thanksgiving Day lineup so you have options.

We’re almost done here, but don’t panic; I haven’t forgotten the original question.  Why is Thanksgiving celebrated on a Thursday?  Here’s the easy answer.  President Lincoln made it so back in 1863, as the final Thursday in November.  President Roosevelt also made it so back in 1941, more specifically the fourth Thursday in November.  Yeah but… why a Thursday?

Here’s the real answer (or at least my answer).  Thanksgiving is on a Thursday.  Thursday is named for the Norse God Thor.  Thor is the God of Thunder.  See the pattern?  Thanksgiving-Thursday-Thor-Thunder.  It’s the whole “Th” thing.  Thanksgiving doesn’t really fit on a Friday (but maybe Friendsgiving does).  Besides, by Friday we’ve forgotten all about turkey and stuffing as we turn to computers and shopping malls.

Now then, banish all that “Th” nonsense from memory.  The real intent here is to give Thanksgiving its proper time and space mid-holiday season.  Let’s move Turkey Day from “third wheel” to “equal wheel” by finding more Thanksgiving stakes to claim in the month of November.  Maybe we should all dress up as pilgrims.  Maybe we should also have our kids “trade” instead of “trick-or-treat”.

With that, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  And next week, I might even wish you a Merry Christmas.  You know, in December.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

A Distant Third (cont.)

Last Tuesday in cycle class, pedaling through the five-minute recovery after an hour of torture, our instructor asked if we’d like a Christmas carol or two from her playlist.  The one rider with enough oxygen lashed out vehemently, “NO!  It’s too early!”  Well how about that; score a point for Thanksgiving.  The sun set on Halloween two weeks ago and mighty Christmas is already trying to muscle its way to the forefront.  But Thanksgiving has a thing or two to say first.  If you please, keep the sugar plums out of my turkey and stuffing.

In last week’s post, I compared popular aspects of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (i.e. history, music, food).  The final tally: Christmas the clear winner – no surprise – with Halloween solidly in second.  But lest we relegate Thanksgiving to the bronze medal year after year, my blog-intent is to reinvigorate America’s late-November holiday, and remind readers why Turkey Day stands on its own merits.

On that note, we’re starting November with promise.  My wife is getting endless mailbox catalogs, and I was delighted to find Williams-Sonoma’s “Thanksgiving Headquarters” edition: 180 pages of food, linens, kitchenware, and decor specifically designed for the holidays.  They even photo-profiled a barn-based “Friendsgiving” celebration in upstate New York.  Granted, the Thanksgiving section of the catalog ended on p.67, meaning the remaining 100 pages were all about Christmas.  No matter – 67 pages of Thanksgiving is impressive.  Way to go, Williams-Sonoma.

Starbucks also made a statement – albeit more feeble – putting their unique spin on Thanksgiving.  Right now, you can drive-thru and order a Turkey & Stuffing Panini (with cranberries and gravy!), perfectly nicknamed “a handheld turkey dinner”.  Then pair your panini with a Chestnut Praline Latte (“flavors of caramelized chestnuts and spices, topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs”).  That combo speaks more to November than December in my book.  Not bad, Starbucks.

Retail aside, Thanksgiving plays out as more of an extended weekend than a single day.  Consider the before/after events.  Wednesday (“Thanksgiving Eve”) is routinely labeled “the single busiest travel day of the year”.  Well guess what?  It’s not.  Thanksgiving Day is the busiest travel day of the year, considering 90% of us drive our cars to the family gathering that morning.  Thanksgiving Wednesday (and Thanksgiving Sunday) only seem busiest because the chaos at the airports gets so much attention.

Now, on Turkey Day itself, besides the meal and the backyard football, we begin with the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”.  My family always seems to miss the broadcast because we’re so busy in the kitchen.  Macy’s is three hours of marching bands, dancing Rockettes, Broadway singers, flying character balloons, and – as far as I can tell – one nod to Thanksgiving (the massive turkey in the photo above).  But hang on ’til the very end of the broadcast, because… here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, wrapping up the parade the same way he’s done every year since 1924.  It’s like the Williams-Sonoma catalog – Thanksgiving on the outside but more “holiday season” in disguise.

Thanksgiving Friday is “Black”, of course – the so-called beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  We Americans spend over $50 billion that day (putting retailers “back in the black” with profits – hence the name).  It’s safe to say this bonanza of spending isn’t going away anytime soon.  By its very nature, Black Friday extinguishes Thanksgiving – almost before the pumpkin pie is served.  Black Friday sales begin as early as 5pm on Thursday evening (making the name obsolete, don’t you think?)  And if Thanksgiving isn’t early enough for you, some stores begin sales a week before Black Friday, with the teaser, “avoid the chaos of Black Friday – shop now!”  Uh, what’s the real meaning of Christmas again?

So there you have it – Christmas putting the squeeze on Thanksgiving like the Grinch on Whoville. Santa concludes the Macy’s parade at 12:00pm ET.  Christmas shopping begins five hours later.  In between, throw a meal on the table, mumble a blessing, and don’t forget to say thanks.  If we’re not careful, Thanksgiving Day will be reduced to Thanksgiving Hour.  It’s a phenomenon known as “holiday compression depression” (okay, I just made that up), but hey; it’s happened before.  In 1971, George and Abe got their standalone birthday celebrations mashed into a single holiday.  Even they feel Thanksgiving’s pain.