I don’t celebrate thanksgiving. There are several reasons for this. The first and most personal is that on thanksgiving day of 2011, less than six months after our wedding, my now ex-wife cheated on me with a member of our nation’s armed services. Every year at the end of November I am reminded of the humiliation and confusion I felt around that whole episode. My refusal to observe the holiday is an expression of my resolve to never be fucked with again. But I am also opposed to the idea of thanksgiving and what the celebration represents. Having grown up in the American Midwest and having been taught Lutheran values as a child, I was told always to be thankful for what I have, and thus satisfied with what I have been given. Imperative to one’s happiness and moral rectitude is the proper observance of gratitude. For a Lutheran Christian to be pious and obedient to God’s will, he must be grateful for the life that has been given to him by God. Now, if you believe, as protestants do, that one’s life is determined by an omnipotent and omniscient Father and that He rewards those whom He blesses, one cannot really do anything with one’s life that is of any more substance or value than simply giving thanks to the almighty and praising His works. Adoption of such a view means relinquishing all agency. In means resigning from responsibility over one’s own destiny and conceding to the notion that you are supremely powerless and never free, not in any meaningful way.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a celebration of the previous year’s harvest, but I ask, is the harvest always good and should we always be thankful for what it has brought us? Isn’t it more useful to us to consider how our condition can be improved than to celebrate our reasons for being content? I think that implicit in the act of giving thanks there is a pernicious kind of complacency. If you profess yourself to be thankful, you are saying that what fortune has presented you is at the very least adequate. Being thankful does not preclude one from wanting more or believing that things could be better, but it does dissuade you from struggling after it. To be ungrateful is viewed as selfish and unwise. We resent the malcontented individual because he or she demands more of us, in addition to what we have already given. Making things better is hard. Leaving them as they are is easier in the short term and safer. Being thankful for what we have allows us a little slack about how we are in the world. It permits us to be lazy about things, makes us feel fine with the gross imperfection that surrounds us because we have made a thin portion of it good. It seems appropriate then that we should celebrate thanksgiving by excessively sating ourselves and passing the day in a sedentary stupor. Thanksgiving is boring. It is the most uneventful holiday on the calendar.
Over the past weekend, I’ve shared by views on thanksgiving with others and challenged a few people to debate me on the matter. I’ve heard it said a few times that thanksgiving is notable because, besides New Years, it is the only holiday celebrated by people in the United States which has no overt religious or patriotic meaning. To this I’ve replied that the religion and patriotism may no be overt, but they are still very much present in the ceremony. As I’ve shown above, it very actively espouses protestant values and ideology. The holiday is uniquely American, more so than any other. What is thanksgiving but the celebration of the bounty and promise of the North American continent? It is an exaltation of US triumphalism and of the improbable ascendancy of the Western Hemisphere. Thanksgiving is the great feast day for modernity, which we have almost deified as the fount of all prosperity in our lives. It is the first modern holiday, and it is the holiday upon which all other holidays are modeled. It signifies a transition in our society from sacrifice to consumption, from anticipation of lack to expectation of plenty, from concern over sowing the field to concentration on harvesting from it. I do revere thanksgiving. I acknowledge its glory and its terrible beauty, but I do not subscribe to it. This year for thanksgiving, I made myself a sandwich and read a book.