Thankless Thanks

I recall last year trying to write an entry about giving thanks. I thought I’d posted it, and I find I had the same issue then as I have now – I can’t seem to quite find what I want to say. Like the silly cultural tradition of the new year’s resolution, we in america, […]

I recall last year trying to write an entry about giving thanks. I thought I’d posted it, and I find I had the same issue then as I have now – I can’t seem to quite find what I want to say.

Like the silly cultural tradition of the new year’s resolution, we in america, at least (does anyone outside the US practice something like this? I don’t know) take one day of the year to ‘give thanks’.

This, like christmas, is ostensibly a religious celebration. The act of giving thanks is in fact, thanking your chosen deity for whatever you have.

It’s the funny dichotomy of american culture; we were founded in many ways by religious pariahs, zealots who fled home country rarther than assimilate into a less-devoute population. So much of the very core of american culture is, still, puritan and deeply god-fearing. The notion of the first thanksgiving is one of a feast held to honor god for providing.

Yet, we are also the nation that has Separation of Church and State written into the most basic foundation of our culture, the constitution.

Thus we have Thanksgiving and Christmas days as national holidays, yet we’re not able to call it christmas in school anymore, we have to refer to ‘winter holidays’.

I’m not a christian. In any way. I’ve talked about it before – my atheist upbringing, my lack of any faith or spirituality. I celebrate these holidays as cultural tradition, not as spiritual or religious festival. Yet they’re important to me in a deep and fundamental way. I love the holiday traditions. I love christmas music, lights, tinsel. I love the fall colors, the traditions of ballgames and parades. These are my culture as an american. Dress up and decoration, songs and games, friends and family. Tribe.

But I also know what lies under it all. Deeper than western cultural traditions, deeper than christian gods.

These things lie in the roots of humanity. The solstice, the harvest, rites of spring, high summer fests. Back before any god we can even give a name to today was invented and worshipped, people gathered in caves, in fields, around fires. They ate, drank, celebrated. They tried, in simple, foolish, primitive ways, to influence the universe. They sought fertility, the tried to call the sun back when it seemed gone. They thanked fortuitous gods, begged favor of those deemed angry. Celebration, and offerings.

Every single seasonal holiday we practice today goes back to those days, those traditions. Ancient beyond measure before christ or allah or yahweh or buddha.

So what does one do when one does not believe in a divine provider? Because the bounty on our tables today – the absurdly vast turkey, breads and vegetables, fruits and sugar-sweets, wines and ciders, they come not from a god. They were farmed and raised and killed by men, bought with the dollars we spend our days working to earn. What I place on my table, I worked for. What my friends serve to me today, they worked for, writing software, designing computers, treating ailments of the heart and soul, moving numbers around.

What do we do, those of us who are providers?

In many ways it’s a hollow, empty holiday. It’s a feast of excess; the sins my culture considers acceptable. Sloth and Glutton. We cook far, far too much, buy too much, and consume until we all want to vomit. We celebrate those acceptable sins.

Where are my sins? Where is the celebration of Lust and Anger?

I’ve tried to find personal meaning in the tradition of giving thanks. In the way that christmas is, to me, a celebration of love, a time to think about the people in your life who have true meaning, a time to show and speak of love, thanksgiving should be about some such action, thanking those who’ve helped, those who have brought value, those who provide. Those who enrich my life by being in it, in whatever way.

I can’t seem to find it. Harvest has no meaning; suburban born and raised, in california where seasons mean that my favorite vegetables cost more or less, not that they’re available. Where we can fly in lamb or mussels from the other end of the globe when they’re not in local season.

And so, this holiday is a festival of festival. It’s a day to feast for the sake of feasting.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s mixed together with the fact that my birthday is at the ass-end of November, and by quirks of our calendar falls from time to time on thanksgiving day. Maybe it’s the melancholy I feel as an adult, remembering what birthday meant as a child. This time of year I always feel a vague sense of nostalgic sadness.

This has been a very bad year. For a host of reasons I won’t even begin to describe, it has been a year I can’t wait to put behind me. 2004 was a glorious year, filled with energy and love and friendship. 2005 was it’s dark counterpart, and even as my life begins to settle down, there is a ball of anger and stress and pain in the pit of my soul. So perhaps it’s a difficult time to to think of giving thanks. Yet still, I should be able to find meaning in this day.

10 thoughts on “Thankless Thanks”

  1. Every day we are able to put our pants on without the help of a nurse, or feed ourselves without half of the food ending up on our chin is a day to give thanks.

    Did you know that Thanksgiving was supposed to be a day of fasting until Ben Franklin wrote an essay about celebrating our bounty in this new world?

    I’m a believer in some kind of “higher power.” I don’t believe in religion, though (I said a prayer tonight without anyone hearing).

    But I’m with you on the cultural thing. Do as the Romans do while in Rome. Our heritage (sp?) is founded in the love of the earth and her bounty, what she gives us and what we take.

    Isn’t it weird that gluttony, sloth, greed, and some lust are the pillars of christmas?

    And who hasn’t coveted that present that your cousin got, but not you?

    Oops. Broke a commandment too.

  2. As far as religion goes, I have always felt that faith in God is a sign of character that I myself do not happen to possess. True faith, that is, not the Boutique Jesus that seems so fashionable these days.

    As to fretting about a higher power myself, I always figured Mr. Spock had that one pegged right: That one must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should, regardless of one’s own personal trials and travails. (insert Einstein-inspired metaphysical statement here, maybe with a dash of Feynman and a sprinkle of Sagan.)

    And I know what you mean about the late November birthday; mine’s the 27th, which luckily is not a holiday this year. I think that’s why I prefer to work on my birthday.

    I hope your 2006 is like your 2004. For that matter, I hope my 2006 is like my 2002. 🙂

    Disclaimer: This comment composed at the tail end of a 18-hour web design binge. The writer is barely aware of his fingers, let alone his comments. 🙂

  3. Whirl, it wasn’t so much my cousin’s present I coveted, but my cousin. Grrrowl.

    Brandon, happy birthday, and thanks again for the internet crash space. You rock, dude.

  4. Ok lets make a holiday of Lust and Anger…. We’ll call it Passion.

    Fuck Valentines… that sickly sweet celebration of Adonis and Venus. Who fucking cares about hearts and cherubs- that’s just a sentimental guilt trip.

    Passion will be beyond store bought gifts… it will be on your knees with face deep someones groin and eating them out with abandon… it will be tied up and gagged and gang banged…

    Just tell me when.

  5. I have just celebrated my first thanksgiving, and I just see it as an annual harvest festival. In other words, let’s eat this food while it’s fresh. Would also explain why the Canadians do it a month earlier.

    But to be honet, the Bavarians do it bigger (Octoberfest).

  6. As Henrik said, Thanksgiving comes a month early in Vancouver. In my own mind the two dates bookend Autumn’s best moments, it’s final glorious haze, and the world seems beautiful and it’s easy to be thankful. This is pretty much when I pour out all the love I built up through the summer, a kind of harvest and exhultation – we had joy, we had fun, blah blah blah. We had really great sex. We played on the swings. And we laughed together.

    And then it’s over, and I feel cold. The second American thankgiving always makes me feel incredibly sad, because it’s the start of real winter. And with its trappings of (as you say) gluttony and excess it’s also a foreshadowing of Christmas, which I seem to find more hateful and emotionally crushing with every passing year. I think of Neon Christmas lights the way Bela Lugosi feels about the sun. They burn my fucking psyche.

    If I knew where you lived, I would proceed to send you a birthday present now, just because. Happy post thanksgiving, Karl, and thanks for being who you are. It means a lot to know you’re out there.

  7. I thanked the lord above I have all of my teeth.
    Then tore the hell out of dinner.

    Other than that I pretty much just did what I do for my new years resolutions… said I was still thinking of some good ones, get back to me next year.

    Happy Belated Thanksgiving sir.

  8. Boing Boing: RIAA targets mashups

    MashupTown, a site that hosts and distributes mashups (two or more songs ingeniously mixed together to make a third) has taken down all of its files after complaints from the RIAA to its hosting partner.

    Mashups are a really dumb target for the RIAA. T

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