Morphing Holiday Traditions

Thanksgiving is getting the shaft.

You’ve probably noticed over the past several years how traditional holidays are being altered by advertisers. They’ve gradually phased out the term “Christmas holidays” for the more generic “holiday season.” Some folks didn’t like the use of the word “Christmas,” but they sure didn’t mind taking all the vacation days associated with it. A few weeks ago, Hallmark Cards got into the act and decided to change a word in a popular Christmas carol, Deck the Halls, from “gay” to “fun.”

They claimed that the word now has a different connotation than when the writer, Thomas Oliphant, penned a translation of the Welsh song back in the 1800s. But I don’t know. He apparently enjoyed decking the halls and striking the harp, while continually singing “fa la la.” Maybe he just preferred gay apparel.

But the holiday that’s been taking a beating for quite a while is Thanksgiving. And I believe it’s because nobody except turkey raisers can figure a way to make money from it. There are no costumes or candy. No gifts, trees or decorations. Nobody hides turkey eggs, and there are no fireworks, at least not until your unemployed brother-in-law gets into the Captain Morgan.

That’s why I think Thanksgiving needs to get a campaign manager. It just seems like it was much more special years ago. Now, the actual tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November was not started by Franklin D. Roosevelt as most people believe. That date was actually chosen by John Hanson, the first president of the newly independent United States back in 1782. George Washington proclaimed it again in 1789, but everybody pretty much blew it off because there weren’t any football games yet. That didn’t happen until the Detroit Lions started hosting a game on that day back in 1934. The Cowboys began doing it in 1966.
Growing up back in the 50s, I have several distinct memories about Thanksgiving. First, early in the week, all of us would head to the train station downtown to pick up my grandparents from Little Rock. Sometimes my great grandmother would tag along with them. She was born in 1877, the same year as Albert Einstein. I only bring that up because they had identical hairdos. She was the only person I ever saw who enjoyed eating Nabisco Shredded Wheat. I think they quit making it because the box tasted better. One year, my grandparents brought along their beloved Pug. Even back then, I thought that type of dog had its eyes on the wrong end. It barked non-stop for two days, but for some reason, slept all day on Thanksgiving. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact my dad was a doctor and knew a thing or two about pharmacology. Nope, nothing at all.

Thanksgiving Day started pretty much like it does now. Your mom would put the turkey in the oven sometime early in the morning and let it bake several hours. This was years before people realized they could fry turkeys in peanut oil and completely burn down the garage all within 45 minutes. We always sat down to eat around 2:00 that afternoon, and just like any kid today, I was through eating and ready to leave the table by 2:05. But all of us young ones had to sit there until every grownup had laid down his or her fork. How long was that? Well, you could sign up for health care faster. But looking back, it’s the part of Thanksgiving I miss the most. There was a special bonding with everyone during that time at the dinner table that would be difficult to duplicate today. That’s because nobody can go more than five minutes without checking his or her cellphone.

Thanksgiving is a little different for me these days. All of the family has several places to go visit during the day, so nobody really has time for a long sit-down dinner. That’s not a problem, because for the most part, single people are used to eating all their meals standing up. But I do hope that Thanksgiving can once again start getting the attention it deserves. At least people could wait until the day after to start playing Christmas carols. And that would still give them the rest of December to don whatever kind of apparel they like.