As a Jew, Thanksgiving was never really a big deal in my house. It was thought of, by me and my brother, as the holiday when we ate dinner without having to say any prayers first. Better than the Bataan death march that was Passover, but present-less and unremarkable.
My feelings about Thanksgiving have nothing to do with my relationship with my family, which is just fine thank you very much. Nor are they based on sympathy for American Indians. I know we did quite a number on them and all that, but we learned about it in high school, isn't that enough?
Perhaps it's the placement of Thanksgiving on the calendar. Awkwardly wedged in between Christmas and Halloween, holidays known for candy, costumes, gifts and more mirth than you can shake a stick at. Thanksgiving is known for decorative gourds and football. It just seems kind of superfluous, like the pinky toe or the vice presidency.
But it's the overall tone of the holiday that really gets me--all that gratitude. People go around buying three dollar lattes all year, and then for one week, they get all blubbery about charity and how we should be grateful that we're not starving. It's no use telling them that you are starving, they'll just accuse you of having money.
I don't see why there should be a national holiday devoted to bullying me into feeling something. I think of gratitude as a personal decision, like whether or not to have an abortion. Are we happier when we're grateful? Undoubtedly. But being told to feel gratitude is, at best, patronizing; at worst, cheerfully fascist.
How did Thanksgiving become synonymous with gratitude (other than its name, of course)? Christianity.
Thanksgiving began as a holiday in 1863, when, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring that the last Thursday of every November be a "Thanksgiving Day." In his speech, he talked about all they had to be grateful for, such as "the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies," despite the fact that an entire generation was getting mauled in the trenches. He then said:
"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
While dealing with us in anger for our sins? I'm no theologian, but that sounds Christian to me.
The final, and perhaps most egregious insult of Thanksgiving is the turkey. We've been brainwashed into thinking that, on Thanksgiving, turkey is some sort of great delicacy. Let's be honest. Turkey is the poor man's chicken. You can buy a pack of sliced turkey for 99 cents, and no, it's not half bad, but it's not that great either. All turkey tastes exactly the same.
The side dishes and dessert are usually pretty decent and save the meal from being a total catastrophe, but is it too much to ask for a holiday where we all eat steak?
And so, this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful that Thanksgiving is almost over. And, that I don't have to say any Jewish prayers.