Among the writings of the late Florence King, she mentioned that her southern grandmother never celebrated Thanksgiving because it was “a Yankee holiday” declared by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until after FDR that the two major political parties agreed to put Thanksgiving on the same Thursday by an act of Congress. One year, FDR had moved Thanksgiving up a week to extend the Christmas shopping season, helping merchants during The Great Depression, but Republicans saw the move as an affront to Lincoln’s memory. Until the matter was settled, there was Thanksgiving on one Thursday and “Franksgiving” on another.
I suspect unification was the moment when the political talk started spoiling the meals. Americans in recent years have abandoned the social rules of never discussing religion and politics, but when strong opinions, varying lifestyles and a media-gone-wild lend their ingredients to dinner conversation, you can end up with scenes from Jodie Foster’s “Home For the Holidays” or a small civil war that rages until the Hatfields announce to the McCoys that they’ll settle it all at Christmas. But the McCoys yell back that they celebrate SaturHanuKwanzaRamadanaMas but just keep it simple by putting out a lit snowman holding a sign that says, “Happy Holidays!” A fight breaks out on the lawn and Grandpa has to get the hose.
We find ourselves divided again this year as the holiday comes upon us. We’ve just emerged from one of the longest political seasons in memory and regardless of your choice, Election Night had all of the drama of The Super Bowl, The World Series, “Who Shot J.R.?” (for readers between 48 and 88) and the O. J. verdict (for readers between 40 and 90).
As the dust settles, I realize that I have spent too much time reading news and scrolling through social media. If you’re reading this, there’s a strong chance that social media got it to you in one way or another. For that, I’m thankful, but for our personal sanity and for our blood pressure, I recommend tapering off the constant exposure to one’s newsfeed filled with alerts that someone you know has liked or commented on a post so far-fetched that you have serious doubts as to how they feed and clothe themselves each day.
I think it’s a good idea to know something about our friends and family, but I think too much information—that TMI that we’re always shouting about—tells us more than we need to know and probably just enough to block phone numbers, delete e-mail and sit in the dark each night in case one of these people comes knocking.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone give up their beliefs, reform their ideologies or promise to enter into constructive dialogue with someone on the opposite end of the religious and political spectrums. That’s not going to happen, nor will the world’s problems be solved during a few hours together on one single day. The patriarch who watches too much cable news, the college student who lives in an academic bubble and all those regular citizens in between lack the information and skills to evaluate peace agreements, trade agreements and jurisprudence with any degree of effectiveness. Chances are, the majority has never taken an economics class or studied civics since it has been dropped from the curriculum in most schools.
You can resume the feuds on Friday and even work out aggressions at one of those stores that open early, but Thanksgiving conversations should center around appreciation for our blessings, remembering those we have lost and restricting our opinions to those on light meat, dark meat, or no meat at all. If you claim to be gluten free, you’ll need to provide a doctor’s note, and speaking for those of us who load our plates with slices of pie and cake and top them with some sort of cream, be it iced, whipped or non-dairy, we don’t want to hear about the harmful effects of refined sugar until January 2nd.
I wish you all a blessed and peaceful holiday. I really hope you get it.
© 2016 by Patrick Brown
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