Something to be thankful for

It is the eve before Thanksgiving in America, and I find my thoughts wandering to the nature of this most mysterious of holidays. I say “mysterious” because Thanksgiving is such an odd cultural contradiction. The word “thanksgiving” refers specifically to a religious pledge — the pledge to give thanks to God for the bounty from the land (actually, the original Pilgrims were giving thanks simply for having gotten through the winter).

Yet nobody I know experiences Thanksgiving as a religious occasion. I suspect there are many people in our country who do indeed experience it in religious terms. But I don’t know those people.

And so, for me and for all the people I know, Thanksgiving is simply a time to be with family, without any metaphysical overtones. Practically speaking, it is experienced not as a contract between the individual and the Divine, but rather as a contract between the individual and the State: Our government officially declares that we will get a four day weekend, and we unofficially promise that we will spend that time with our families.

We are not required to spend time with our families — the police will not come and arrest us if we don’t visit mom and dad. It’s more that we will feel sad if we don’t. In effect, family itself has become the religious impulse — an imperative imposed not by law, but by a collective inner belief system.

I think this is why Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday when I was a child. I understood that unlike the various religious holidays, Thanksgiving is the one time of the year when society is bound together by a common belief system. For nearly all of us, no matter what God we may worship, and even those among us who think religion is a big waste of time, do indeed share a common faith: a deep seated belief in family.

One Response to “Something to be thankful for”

  1. Mari says:

    Definitely less family pressure “to be perfect and happy” than Christmas. I’ve seen a Christmas tree ornament hanging in a WASPy Upper Eastside home written by their 9 yr old, “Mommy relax, Xmas, the time of HATE” !!! :)

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