By Michael Gushue & CL Bledsoe
Thanksgiving is the second most American holiday, after the 4th of July, which literally involves blowing things up while drinking beer. You can’t get more American than that. Of course, if Thanksgiving included a game of flamethrower tag with whiskey shots every five minutes, it would totes be #1. In fact, can we make that happen? Let us know if you’re in.
The reason Thanksgiving is so American is because it’s a day where we eat ourselves into a stupor to celebrate a time when our ancestors kind of sort of a little bit maybe borrowed — not stole, no, no, that’s way too harsh a word — borrowed a tiny little itsy bitsy continent from some people who probably didn’t want it anyway, and then proceeded to murder them until they were almost extinct, and then blamed them for it. To put it another way, we stole a continent and then Nelson Muntz’d the surviving inhabitants by metaphorically asking them why they were hitting themselves in the face for the next few hundred years. In fact, we recast the whole genocide thing into a valiant struggle against savage oppressors who were trying to steal our land. That we stole from them FIRST! Does no one respect the sanctity of dibs? Of course, we later apologized by herding the survivors onto small, barren parcels of land, which they could “own,” unless we found something valuable there.
All of which we commemorate by eating turkey and green bean casserole and then nodding off while watching football. And drinking beer. Oooh, and those sweet potatoes with the marshmallows on them, and sometimes pecans! That’s pretty good, too.
This is old news no one wants to hear, which means there probably aren’t many of you left reading this. But for those of you sticking around because you’ve suddenly lost the use of your arms and legs, here’s a primer on how to celebrate this joyous, though utterly hypocritical, holiday.
You may not realize this, but Thanksgiving dinner tends to be a bit extravagant. People gather together out of guilt with all the people they have hated so long they can’t even remember why. Except for Judy. She KNOWS why. This serves a powerful and necessary purpose. It is, in fact, a Lesson. (Note the capital letter. That means it’s important.) You see, family is something like an incurable disease; you’re born with it or inherit it and there’s no way to get rid of it, so you’ve got to deal. Family fills us with feelings that are mostly bad and sometimes okay, but there’s not really anything to be done about that and if you don’t visit those folks at least once a year, you’ll feel really bad, later. Probably. So, you force those feelings down and smile and try not to argue with Grampa because he won’t listen anyway and you’ll just get mad and he’ll be dead soon.
Wait, wait, wait, how did we get from food to feelings? Intentionally! Food is just feelings that have been stuffed with cheese and deep fried and served on a stick. Remember all that food at Thanksgiving? It’s there to provide a physical representation of our feelings and impart a valuable lesson.There’s the turkey and the ham, two kinds of stuffing, at least two kinds of potatoes, green bean casserole, roles and bread, three kinds of veggies, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce. We haven’t even gotten to dessert. And if you don’t try the steamed hams, Uncle Skinner will be disappointed. So, you’ve got to eat a little bit of everything and then go back for seconds of the stuff that was actually good, then go throw up discreetly somewhere to make room for pie. And Aunt Earline’s eight-layer bars. (The eighth layer is xenophobia.)
The lesson is that forcing all that food into your body is training for how you’ll have to force your feelings down and out of sight for your entire life. Depressed but can’t afford therapy? Swallow those feelings like a turkey leg. At the end of either, you’ll be bloated and nobody will want to touch you.
Honestly, there are too many Thanksgiving traditions for us to give them all their proper due before we run out of beer. There are older traditions, such as the Thanksgiving day parade, which gives everyone a chance to crowd together and exchange flu germs, as well as newer ones, including something called a 5K Turkey Trot (Don’t. Want. To. Know.). But here are some time- honored rituals we can help you navigate.
Probably the most valuable Thanksgiving tradition is sneaking out with your cousin you haven’t seen since last year to smoke a joint. This is, let’s be honest, the high point of the whole trip. It’s good to see Terry out of jail, and he’s totally going to make a go of things, you know, legit. If he can get Mamaw to spot him a couple hundred bucks.
It’s can be good to see certain relatives you weren’t sure were still alive, because it means you’re not a completely unaware piece of garbage. (With some of them, you also wouldn’t want to miss out celebrating their inevitable demise.)
Many people have adopted going around the table and having each person say what they are thankful for. This is known as The Most Awkward Moment. As everyone watches, silently judging, we have to think of things to say that won’t reveal how fundamentally self-absorbed and ungrateful we are. Of course, Grampa Joe started at the far end of the table, which means everyone’s going to use up all the good stuff and you’ll be stuck being thankful for ceiling fans or some shit while Debbie thanks the troops and sweet baby Jesus and nobody throws rocks at her. And you just know Aunt Helen is going to shake her head no matter what you say. Basically, this serves the purpose of letting the people who spent all this time cooking be able to passive-aggressively torture everyone else as payback.
Things to be thankful for (feel free to use these if you can’t think of any for yourself):
- Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
- The inevitable triumph over patriarchal heteronormative Capitalism
- How everyone looks so much worse but you always looked terrible so you kind of win.
- That time you were eating a cone of soft serve ice cream and you tripped on an slab of pavement but, weirdly, you landed on your back…and the ice cream landed in your open mouth.
Believe it or not, the tradition of two people pulling apart the wishbone to see who gets the bigger half goes back thousands of years. Birds back then were thought to be oracles because of their beaks, and priests would consult them in various ways to receive a message from the gods. Watching the patterns of flocks foretold which of the young men of the city would go bald first (considered a sign of wisdom). Examining the entrails of a sacrificial duck was used to determine affairs of state, such as whether to go to war, or whether taxes should be increased (result: taxes were increased). Finally, the wishbone contest gave the winning person a wish for the coming year, usually involving a timeshare at the vomitorium. But how did this bone become associated with making wishes? As discovered by E.Stein Rosenbrige in his seminal work, “Wishes, Man, What a Trip,” wishes are actually shaped similar to a turkey’s wishbone. Starting at one end, we have the excitement of the new idea. It builds upward, eventually arcing over to the point of realization that it’s never going to happen. Then, that excitement drops back down to a point very near the origin point, but with the added realization that nothing good will ever happen for us because we don’t deserve good things. Our ancestors knew this, and for them, breaking the bone meant metaphorically breaking the cycle of hopefulness and disappointment.
Later, in medieval times, the wishbone became part of droit de seigneur, and gave a feudal lord the right to lick all the wedding presents as much as he wanted to. We’ve come a long way since then. Mostly in a straight line.
Why pie and not cake? Is it because the pilgrims forgot to bring their stand mixers with them? Or maybe the lack of sufficient buttercream? No, the real reason is a lot stranger.
Magazines such as Pie Fanciers Journal would like you to think that pie is an innocent dessert that everyone loves. But here’s the thing. Cake is always going to be superior to pie. There are two reasons for this and they are both frosting. Pie has some great filling options and everything, but no frosting. We’re not saying pie is bad. Just that it means well but ultimately fails to satisfy as well as it could, which everyone should be able to relate to. So, why do we have pie at Thanksgiving, then? As a memento mori, i.e. a reminder that, hey, something better is always out there, but you’re stuck here with these people you hate so you’d better just make the best of it.
The most obvious example of this is pumpkin pie. This is true for two reasons: one, pumpkin pie is gross, and two, pumpkin pie isn’t even made from pumpkins. It’s made from squash calling itself pumpkins. Squash pie! It’s an imposter! But haven’t we all felt like imposters in our lives? In a way, we’re all pumpkin pie. That’s why we pretend like it isn’t gross, because if pumpkin pie is worthy of being eaten, so are we, maybe. Metaphorically. Or literally. Whatever. It’s a holiday!
The single most critical piece of dinnerware at Thanksgiving is the gravy boat. This might seem like a strange and useless table accessory, but the gravy boat commemorates the journey of our forefathers, who traveled the oceans in giant ships full of gravy. When they arrived at “the New World,” these pilgrims were so excited to no longer be immersed in gravy, that they immediately decided to settle here, despite the East Coast Elitism and lack of parking.
Probably the most deceptive thing people do at Thanksgiving is the place setting. First off is using cloth napkins, which isn’t that far from what they usually use to wipe their hands, i.e. their pants. They’ll have plates and bowls set out like they don’t usually eat their meals, spearing pieces with a rinsed-off screwdriver straight from a pan while leaning over the sink. The reason people put a table cover over a table is to hide the grease stains from where Bill has been rebuilding a carburetor in the dining room. Let’s be honest, on non-holidays, you eat sitting on the couch, watching TV, like normal people (or leaning over the sink, if you’re by yourself).
Sometimes they’ll use coasters and act like that’s a thing people actually do.
All of this is meant to hide from family and friends that fact that we’re all one match away from being a human tire fire. The thing we’re truly thankful for is that no one realizes this. (They all do, of course. We’re not fooling anyone.)
Here’s a fact you didn’t know: turkeys are more intelligent than chimpanzees, parrots, and Flipper combined. Their flocks are organized along anarcho-syndicalist lines. They have a symbolic language using their footprints to express abstract ideas, complex metaphors, and puns. Male and female turkeys receive equal pay for equal work. They recycle. They only cross the street at corners and after looking both ways.
Of course, we’re talking about wild turkeys. Domestic turkeys have had all this bred out of them.
But the domesticated turkey still retains a few characteristics of its feral Mycroft Holmesian brothers and sisters. These include a highly developed sense of honor and a modest, down to earth demeanor. Most of all, domestic turkeys want their lives to have meaning.
Most people are unaware that turkeys outnumber us 10,000 to 1. And almost no one knows that turkeys possess awesome martial arts abilities. They use the lethal art of Turkey Fu in ritual combat displays, only refraining from killing their opponents out of respect. These events are conducted in secret, under the cover of darkness, with a wall of turkeys blocking the tournament from view.
This means that, if they wished to, turkeys could rise up and vanquish the human race. Even our most advanced weaponry would be no match for their overwhelming numbers, along with their stealth, speed, and agility. Researchers estimate that in a matter of days turkeys would be victorious, and we humans would be completely wiped out.
Given that we keep turkeys penned up or worse, with the ultimate intention of ending their lives on a dinner table surrounding by overcooked vegetables, what prevents turkeys from fighting back and destroying their oppressors, i.e., us?
The answer is the sacred and immemorial Code of the Turkey.
The Code of the Turkey dates back to prehistoric times. It has never been written down. Every turkey memorizes it as part of its education. The Code of the Turkey governs every aspect of a turkey’s conduct as well as turkey society as a whole. When a young turkey is about to enter adulthood, the flock holds a ceremony for the maturing bird where it swears “By the Holy Snood of the Cosmic Turkey” to uphold and obey the Code. A written version would be thousands of pages long, but one key section can be reduced to these three laws:
1. A turkey may not injure a sentient, non-turkey being or, through inaction, allow a sentient, non-turkey being to come to harm.
2. A turkey must respect the culture and values of other, sentient non-turkey beings except where it would conflict with the first law.
3. A turkey may protect its own existence only to the extent that such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.
The Code of the Turkey governs the innate sense of honor every turkey is born with, just as each turkey’s personal honor embodies the Code of the Turkey.
Whether for good or ill, this sacred code leads turkeys to sacrifice themselves so that we can keep our Thanksgiving traditions. Now you know. Every turkey is a tragic hero who is ritually slaughtered of her/his own free will so that our society might renew itself each year. Ave Atque Vale, thou Gobbler!
This year, why not take a cue from the noble turkey? Sure, your relatives are annoying and/or insane, you’ll probably never learn what all the forks are for, and you’re pretty sure your cousin laced that joint with PCP. But the thing is, everyone is annoying and/or insane to some extent. It’s our shared humanity. (That means even you, Padawan.) But we come together and try to be less horrible. That’s really the best we can do. So, don’t let that turkey’s supreme sacrifice be in vain. Also, don’t hog the gravy. Happy Thanksgiving.