Tuesday Talk*: Can’t We Just Be Thankful?

For the past few years, somebody has offered a Thanksgiving column or op-ed about how some young, woke, genius should deal with drunken Uncle Erwin who doesn’t appreciate their purple hair, face tats and new pronouns to accompany their gender identify of delisexual. Are we finally past this?

For four unforgiving years, from 2016 to 2020, the problem was breaking bread with your political nemeses. Advice columns bristled with agita. How do you handle your Trump-loving father-in-law or the out-of-towners who show up in MAGA gear? “No baseball caps at the table” was USA Today’s Rule No. 7 for avoiding political food fights in 2019. In some other neck of the woods, aggrieved citizens despaired about their Occupy nephew storming in unshaven from his sophomore year at some college “back East.”

Or perhaps the issue was similar to Indiginous People’s Day, legally known as Columbus Day because of Italian Supremacy.

Also last year and just in time for its 400th anniversary — though one could hardly suggest the issue was new — some raised the pesky question of Thanksgiving’s celebration of genocide. This forced people intent on their pumpkin pie to confront the fact that Thanksgiving is, at root, a commemoration of conquest and subjugation. It is, after all, a day that the United American Indians of New England observe as a day of mourning. The original Native American “helpers,” the Wampanoags, have expressed regret for helping the Pilgrims out in the first place.

Must every holiday be tainted? Is there no salvageable American tradition where we can surround ourselves with our beloved family and friends and just, you know, be thankful?

Boiled down to its essentials, Thanksgiving is a holiday about shared gratitude. We could just think about the “thanks” in Thanksgiving for a change. That gratitude may have originally been intended toward God and those Native Americans who helped the newly arrived colonists survive — and for whom atonement may have been more appropriate. But even for us secular humanists, Thanksgiving offers a moment to appreciate whatever good this year wrought, even if by accident or chance.

What has become of a nation whose youth would rather wallow in the misery of the past, and turn it into the misery of the moment, than express thanks to those they love and for all the blessing they enjoy? Or do they love no one and feel ashamed that they are too privileged to have blessings while someone, somewhere does not?

Are we a nation incapable of being happy, being thankful, being positive about anything, or is everything terrible and then you tell Uncle Erwin to go fuck himself? Who are we? Who do we want to be?

And I am thankful for you, dear readers, who take time from your busy lives to read the posts at SJ. Reading takes effort. Thinking takes effort. Thank you, dear readers, for putting in that effort.

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.