Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving 1, Christmas 0

Let me ask this personal and rather leading question: isn't Thanksgiving the best holiday on the U.S. calendar? It's a matter of opinion, I know, but for a moment consider Thanksgiving as the number one holiday. Of course, ask that same question to any kid and he or she will immediately counter with Christmas or Hanukah, no doubt thinking of all the loot. A great-aunt of mine who had a passion for hats would have insisted on Easter. Many politicians would reflexively state the Fourth of July. Tree surgeons everywhere might say Arbor Day. Gyms and Jenny Craig would certainly cite New Year's Day.

But getting back to the U.S. calendar, the two biggies clearly are Thanksgiving and Christmas, with energetic nods toward Hanukah and Kwanzaa. I know that's true, because Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two holidays that profit airlines the most. People don't send Columbus Day cards and there are no songs entitled "I'll Be Home for Halloween." So as we move inexorably toward what retailers feel is the most wonderful time of the year, I think it's fair to compare the two.

In my opinion, Christmas is the most overrated, costly, and stressful of all the holidays. So much money, angst, and planning for one day out of 365 makes very little sense to me. Consider this: wasn't Christmas meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? Is not “christ” the root word of Christmas? If your answer is yes, then let me ask this: are flying reindeer and happy, industrious elves part of the iconography of the Christian Church? I only inquire because I’ve never seen them on a stained glass window. And although it’s been a while since Sunday School, I don’t remember Santa Claus in the manger with the baby Jesus, unless he was traveling incognito as a wise man.

It's not news to say that Christmas has become way, way over-commercialized. To my jaundiced eye, it’s a monstrosity, a burlesque of what it once was. It’s about shopping at the last minute for stuff you can’t afford to give to people who will look at it once, shake it twice, put down and forget. It’s traffic jams and fighting over parking spaces in mall parking lots. It’s writing the same hackneyed phrase on a million Christmas cards to people you hardly ever talk to. It’s a careful gift wrapping job ripped to shreds and the thoughtful note accompanying the package cast aside unread. It’s four page statements with your Visa and MasterCard bills and credit card debt stretching from the south to the north pole.

Okay, I got a little carried away. Let's just say I'm not a fan of Christmas.

Now let's take Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday of November is the bugle call for family, friends, and loved ones to stop what they're doing, take a breath, and gather together around a table to share a meal. Simple as that. With all the distractions that pull us apart, what could be better than a bountiful meal to promote some real face-time among the people who matter most? They're all there in person! In the same room! You can't Skype a turkey or text cranberry sauce. If someone says something funny, people can actually hear other people Laugh Out Loud. And then there's the message behind the holiday, giving thanks, pausing to consider one's blessings, acknowledging that, while life is by definition imperfect and filled with setbacks and disappointments, there still are plenty of things that go right, and one of the reasons for why things go right is because we're all in it together.

So this Thanksgiving as I lay back in my recliner after a big meal, belt unloosened, top trouser button unbuttoned, watching NFL football through sleepy, contented eyes, I will count my blessings and try not to think of the shopping season ahead. I will keep score. And right now I predict Thanksgiving will have the early lead over Christmas.