In America, around this time today (1700 hours EST) many families have either gorged themselves on succulent feasts or are wondering if that damned turkey is ever
going to thaw out. Burned rolls are greeted at the table with accepting smiles, and Aunt Mildred's mincemeat pie has once again befuddled the family as to what it's actually made of.
Yes, America is once again celebrating that long ago event when Arnold Schwartenegger returned from the future and tried to kill us all and was soundly defeated. No wait... I'm being told it's a celebration steeped in more mystery than that. It observes the successful first winter harvest of our Pilgrim forefathers, foremothers, and foreoffspring way back in 1921. No, sorry... 1621.
The traditional story goes that boatloads of puritan British settlers braved the stormy Atlantic hoping for a new life free from religious persecution. They made landfall in what is now New England, where they set about the usual stuff settlers engage in: chopping down trees, gathering resources, and avoiding a huge mysterious icon that would come down from the sky and click on their buildings occasionally.
The first winter of 1961 was harsh... wait, make that 1619... but somehow they made it through with the help of their loyal manservant and ex-British slave, Squanto, who being a local native, knew not to eat the delicious holly berries. The actual first thanksgiving celebration is pegged at 1621, which implies it took a few winters before anyone was comfortable celebrating anything. Man, I would love to see a live video feed of some of the conversations during that time:
"Miami! Miami, I said. Head south, I said, where it's warm... but nooooo, you wanted New England!"
"Putz, that place is crawling with Calusas indians -- you want we should be met by 10,000 natives in war canoes?"
"Hey, when did we start talking like Jewish stereotypes?"
And by the way, it was a very near thing indeed... had the Plymouth colonies failed, it would've been a major setback for British presence in the new world. Hard to imagine? You don't have to. A wonderful alternate universe trilogy
exists describing what a Dutch ruled North America might be like by the late 1990's.
So with Native American help, the pilgrims managed to feed themselves and decided that by 1621 things were stable enough to actually throw a party. Details are unclear, but evidence suggests it really was a multicultural event:
The Governor of Plymouth invited Grand Sachem Massasoit and the Wampanoag people to join them in the feast. Evidence to support that claim came from diaries of Plymouth. The settlers fed and entertained the Native Americans for three days, at which point some of the Native Americans went into the forest, killed 5 deer, and gave them to the Governor as a gift.--Wikipedia entry on the Terminator movie franchise.
So now, almost 400 years later we Americans celebrate this wonderous event by having Native Americans over for turkey and pie, XBox Live tournaments, and... really? Oh. I was just informed that most Americans -- the non-Native variety, those white fellows with a God fixation -- do not in fact invite Native Americans over for dinner. But they should, because that would be cool and in no way ironic.
So what do
we God-fixated Americans do to give humble thanks for our prosperity? Lots!
- Take off a minimum of four (4) days from work and/or school. Sometimes five. The whole damned week if you work in government.
- Travel. The weeks before and after Thanksgiving are the busiest of the year. Normandy invasion? Feh. You should've seen Atlanta Hartsfield airport this time yesterday. And because everyone slips away from work early and jumps into their car to "beat the rush" there are massive traffic jams across the continent.
- Stuff ourselves mercilessly on dangerous amounts of colesterol, starch, and alcohol.
- Speaking of alcohol, we love to debate religion, politics, sports, abortion, the Iraq war, and just about anything that will make Mom cry and run into the kitchen requiring an intervention by others at the table who are not Uncle Bob to go in there and reassure her that no, the dinner isn't ruined just look at these fabulous pies you cooked oh sorry, they're store bought? Well they're still delicious and why don't you come back to the table we'll get you a nice sherry or something, okay?
- SHOP LIKE CRAZY! See "Black Friday" below.
- Watch sports on television. Actually going to a sporting event is unheard of. No, the true American tradition is to push oneself away from the table, turn 90 degrees, and focus blearily on the 65 continuous channels of college football games dominating the spectrum. Can't decide which obscure contest to watch? ("Today, the Musk Weasels battle the Serbian Sheep!") TIVO them all and you'll be set through next
- Sleep. Any human who can ingest 6,000 calories in one sitting and not
fall into a coma is possessed by Satan and should be reported immediately.
- Reconnect with family and friends. This is the one time a year when many Americans are surprised to discover they actually have
cousins, and that the family tree is growing in weird and unpredictable directions. "Bring home a date that will shock Dad silly" is a fun game engaged in by both genders with equal skill. Tip: Nowadays same-sex and different-race is sooooo last century. Try instead to find somebody who is only barely recognizable as human, say one of those nice Terminator robots everyone is talking about.
So yes, America is steeped in rich tradition dating back hundreds
Above the laughter of our european cousins I can hear a question... yes? Speak up please. Oh! Right. About the shopping. Around here we celebrate yet another holiday, the perfectly named BLACK FRIDAY
Some believe that as its name implies, it really is a day to worship the Dark Lord (Amazon.com) but really the name has much happier joyjoy origins:
The earliest uses of "Black Friday" refer to the heavy traffic on that day, an implicit comparison to the extremely stressful and chaotic experience of Black Tuesday (the 1929 stock-market crash) or other black days. The earliest known references to "Black Friday" (in this sense) are from two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, that explicitly refer to the day's hectic nature and heavy traffic.--Wikipedia entry on shopping habits of Terminator robots
Thus, the day after Thanksgiving a typical American family gets up at 5:00 AM, fires up the Suburban and roars to the nearest megamall for a day of bargains and contact violence. The frenzy is tabulated by American news programs using the same methodologies employed to track pandemics, "credit card receipt" numbers spinning crazily like slot machines behind breathless anchorpeople. Oh, it is quite a day.
Afterwards, the numbers are crunched, and because Black Friday is theoretically the busiest shopping day of the year, predictions are made as to what the Christmas season will be like. Because, you know, now that Thanksgiving is out of the way Christmas is breathing hot on your neck. Decorations! Now! Get that tree up! Throw those hideous turkey leftovers out; it's Monday goddamnit! Time to plan for Christmas before it's too late!
But rest assured, any British and European cousins reading this, you too may participate in the frenzy. Just Google for "Black Friday deals" and soon your monitor will overflow with offers you'd be nuts to pass up. Just stay away from anything with the words "cranberry" and "sauce" near each other. It's not a "uniquely American gourmet treat"; rather it's a rude joke foisted off on us by the American Cranberry Association (motto: "Trust Us, These Things Really Are Edible").
So that's Thanksgiving in America. Rest assured, I feel extremely blessed, and very thankful for all the wonderous things in my life. But honest to God, if I don't put things into perspective I'd go crazy... I mean, they're selling Christmas ornaments next to the Thanksgiving decorations!