Take Back Thanksgiving: a 7-Step Plan for Reclaiming the Holiday

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NBC


Walk the seasonal aisle of any supermarket or drugstore. The halls are decked with lights and tinsel. The shelves are heavy with chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas. Outside it feels like autumn, but inside it has been Christmas for a month. The official start of the holiday season may be this weekend, but the holidays actually start on November 1st at precisely 12:01 am, when the Halloween candy and costumes instantly vanish from the nation's retail stores—possibly into a black hole—replaced by reindeer and mistletoe.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, whatever happened to Thanksgiving? As Halloween and Christmas have grown bigger every year, Thanksgiving has been getting squeezed out. The time has come for Americans to demand something better. Like when Justin Timberlake brought sexy back—if by sexy you mean "sweater vests"—we need to bring back Thanksgiving. What follows is a modest proposal for reinventing the holiday, and so restoring it to its rightful place at the heart of American life.

1.) Exploit the holiday First, clearly, the country must do a better job of exploiting the holiday, particularly in terms of merchandising. Frankly, it's disappointing to see the nation's purveyors of cheap, pointless crap—usually so industrious—missing such a fine opportunity to sell us stuff we don't need and can't afford. Where, one wonders, are the shelves full of Plymouth Rock candy? Where are the sexy Pilgrim costumes? Where are the strings of festive holiday lights shaped like little roast turkeys? What about toy muskets that shoot jelly beans for the kids? It is simply inexcusable that American families are depriving their children the hours of potential joy that could come from owning a Miles Standish action figure or a stuffed Squanto doll that lights up says "Happy Thanksgiving!" when you squeeze it.

2.) Fix Black Friday Ostensibly the day when retailers go into black ink for the year, the Biggest Shopping Day of the Season has evolved from a mildly amusing human interest story to a macabre spectacle of mob violence and schadenfreude. Each year, the nation eagerly watches—feigning concern, but secretly enjoying the sense of superiority we get from watching deal-crazed shoppers trample each other in a desperate quest for discount video games. At this point, we might as well just arm Black Friday shoppers with knives, chains and bats, let Darwin decide the rest, and call it reality TV.

3.) Stop saying "Turkey Day" This is absolutely non-negotiable. Anyone using the phrase "Turkey Day" to describe this holiday must be executed on the spot, shot without benefit of trial. Or a blindfold. Also, their homes should be burned to ashes, the land underneath plowed, salted and cursed by priests. Any children can be spared, but must undergo sterilization. Granted, this seems harsh. But there's simply no way around it. People who habitually call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day" are the worst people on earth.

4.) Fix football Watching the Detroit Lions play on Thanksgiving is the duty of every good American. It would be nice, however, if the team would spice it up by winning more than once a decade. With this year's opponent the New England Patriots and their quarterback, Justin Bieber, a Motown victory seems about as likely as Middle East peace. That's why we urge Congress to pass legislation making it a federal crime for any team to beat the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. It's always nice when Dallas loses on Thanksgiving, of course—shout out to Leon Lett! But the Cowboys have been doing such a good job of losing lately that government intervention doesn't seem necessary.

5.) Write some Thanksgiving-specific songs The Great American Songbook includes approximately 430,000 songs about Christmas. Halloween has its own soundtrack. Thanksgiving, possibly because nothing rhymes with tryptophan, has precisely two tunes worth hearing: Adam Sandler's "Thanksgiving Song" and Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Masacree." That needs to change. Step it up, creative types. Where's that Warrant remake using "pumpkin" in the place of "Cherry Pie"?

6.) Stay home Holiday travel might be the biggest Thanksgiving bugaboo. This year, a few kooks are even trying to make things worse by protesting the use of advanced imaging scanners to screen passengers. Lighten up, people. In a nation without universal health care, you should be happy for the free x-ray.

Or, here's a plan—drive your car. Better, take the bus or train—they still exist. Better still, don't travel at all. Stay home. You moved across the country in the first place to get away from family, didn't you? Staying home will help you avoid all sorts of other holiday horrors as well. The dreaded Kids Table, for instance, or the weird green-bean and fried onion casserole that no one remembers making but mysteriously appears every year. Or the older male relatives who believe that overeating is a valid reason to undo one's pants at the dinner table.

7.) Tell the truth about Squanto Finally, to really freshen up the day, we need to update the ideology. As the nation's reading of its own history has evolved, we have grown uncomfortable with the traditional Thanksgiving story, commemorating a feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, with the subtext is that the indigenous peoples of North America were thrilled to have European settlers arrive, pleased as punch to learn English, convert to Christianity and get smallpox. But it's also not right to judge the 17th century by the moral standards of the 21st.

But the radical/alternative narrative of Europeans as universally evil colonizers is just as simplistic. Most Europeans who came to the Western Hemisphere were not, in fact, bloodthirsty crusaders bent on genocide. They were more like wretched refuse. Nor is it fair or accurate to characterize life in North America before Europeans came as a sort of demi-Eden where saintly indigenous peoples lived in harmony with nature and each other. The "Noble Savage" label is just as insulting and simplistic as any other stereotype. The larger point is that it's hard to imagine events unfolding any other way. That is, it's pretty hard to imagine any historical scenario where the entire North American landmass would have simply remained a untouched wilderness preserve for the last 400 years. Europeans were going to move to the Western Hemisphere one way or the other—no matter what governments did.

That gives us two wildly divergent Thanksgiving stories—the noble Pilgrims fleeing oppression or the noble natives experiencing it. Both are true, with the Hegelian synthesis of the narratives expressed in story of Squanto.

We all learned as kids that Squanto walked into the Plymouth colony, and stunned the Pilgrims by speaking English, showing the settlers how to survive by planting corn, squash, and pumpkins. What's not taught is that Squanto learned English as a boy when he was stolen into slavery by a British sea captain in 1605 and taken to England. He worked for a Plymouth Merchant who eventually helped him get back to Massachusetts, but was seized by another British slave raider, sold into slavery again—this time in Spain, escaped, found his way to England, and talked a ship's captain into taking him to Cape Cod in 1619.

In that wild tale, are all the dichotomies of our nation's birth —a story we can honor without whitewashing. For example, perhaps that stuffed Thanksgiving toy, the light-up Squanto doll, could wish us all happy Thanksgiving in his native tongue.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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