Ambivalent: having or showing simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward something or someone characterized by ambivalence.
Yeah, well, that about sums up me and Thanksgiving. To be sure, I cherish the memories of being ushered out from underfoot and spirited off to Lollipop Farm and the finger-biting ducks. There was the flying cranberry incident which Dad and I successfully hid from Mom forever. The older we got, the more interesting Thanksgiving became...like freshman year when I brought enough marijuana home to keep me high for the entire weekend. Or our first fun-filled-family Thanksgiving at the Rodney in Bal Harbour on Miami Beach...when I unsuspectingly brought home a teeny-tiny souvenir that, 38 years later, still makes me laugh. We had great Thanksgiving dinners and relatively few of those dramatic explosions you always hear about. Yeah, we had our moments, but we were Schwaidelsons; we were really good at laughing a lot.
But despite all those fun memories, I used to dread Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know what it was that bothered me so much about it. It started the year I learned about what happened to the Shinnecock and the Unkechaugi on Long Island. And then the Oglala Sioux in the Dakotas. The Ojibawe in Minnesota. None of it was pretty, ethical, or full of Thanksgiving spirit.
As I write this, I'm seeing that almost all the tribal names are underlined as spelling errors. Sioux is okay, but Oglala is not. That says a lot. This is the root of America and the spell-check dictionary doesn't even recognize them as real words, forget about First Nations. I once asked my grandmother about what we owed to the Indians we displaced to create America, and she told me in no uncertain terms we owed them respect and truth, that We, the People, had been less than honest with those who lived here long before Europeans invaded these shores bringing with them influenza and smallpox. At the time, it was a stunning, unexpected answer; she was going out on a limb to give it to me because, after all, she was British and her people were the initial invaders. She explained that the story of the first Thanksgiving was just that: a story. The truth was much harder to understand and accept. Until she said something, I thought I was the only person who thought about this stuff.
Clearly, I wasn't.
But that doesn't really sum up the ambivalence. It runs much deeper than that. At least for me it does. I keep asking myself, what exactly are we celebrating? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm not sure that the national institution of Thanksgiving has anything left to offer, except for Black Friday deals. Where is the moral/ethical/ communal imperative that creates that building block of society: the common calendar.
When we share a celebration, it distinguishes one group from another. There's a Jewish calendar of shared events like Rosh HaShana and Passover. There's the Christian calendar with Christmas and Easter. Muslims have Ramadan and Eid, to mention two. And the there's the American calendar: Presidents' Day Sale, Memorial Day Sale, 4th of July Sale, Labor Day Sale, Veteran's Day Sale, Black Friday after Thanksgiving Sale, After Christmas Clearance Sale. Seems that if you get a day off, you're supposed to spend it shopping.
Where is the sacred moment of communal observance? Where is the through-line that binds us as a unique society? Is it spending money? Going into greater debt? Just buying stuff?
Maybe, I'm looking too closely and should step back a bit. When I look at the big picture, I see not a society of souls who value the Constitution or the idea of We, the People. I see a bunch of people scrambling to get something for nothing...or close to nothing. The adverts on TV and social media drive this point home...there will never be a better time to buy [insert unnecessary object here] before the price goes up or it's sold out. Obviously, getting into the "holiday spirit" means spending, spending spending.
What are we teaching our kids? I don't know.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my Dad left the building 4 years ago come the 26th of November. When I think about him, I remember the pocketful of commas, the jokes, the "Sidney face," the Schmuck Bench, Schmuckolas, and tales of the Village Idiot. These days, I mostly miss the moral compass that was my Dad. I miss the discussions about monumental things like ethics in politics (oxymoron) and whether or not a lulav is pagan. I miss have that sounding board, that person who would argue with me just to make sure I could make my points. I recall his take on Nixon's resignation (a damn shame,) Clinton's impeachment (you can't remove a president over a blow job,) and Obama's presidency (not a fan,) and I shudder to think what he would say about the testimony given on the Hill this past week. I suspect even he, that dyed-in-the-wool Republican, would have a tough time with Moscow Mitch and the Putin Puppet.
I do know one thing, though. If I asked him about Thanksgiving, he would tell me (as he usually did) Thanksgiving may be reduced to commerce, but if one person considers the value of family for one minute, the holiday is worth it.
The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Be of good cheer
and all that jazz.