Holidays from Hell
I hate holidays, except for one.
And it ain’t Christmas.
Christmas is an especially stressful time of year (c’mon, you know you look at it with that sense of looming, gnawing dread). On any stress scale, right up there with spousal death and divorce is the “holiday” of Christmas.
Holidays are supposed to be fun and joyous; Christmas is a time of angst and financial ruin, though. All meaning is lost – if I were Jesus I’d be pretty ticked off about it. I mean, how would you feel, on your birthday, if people all stood around giving each other gifts? [Never mind the other things that are all wrong about Christmas: December 25 is not Jesus’ real birthday; it’s a pagan holiday subverted by the Church to make the converts quit their pagan stuff; etc.. That’s a discussion for another time.]
And before you even think about getting all bunged (pronounced “bunj’d” with the soft “j” sound) up over my slamming Mothers’ Day, consider the facts. In the first place we don’t need a Mothers’ Day, what we need is a Women’s Day. Mothers’ Day leaves out all those hotties who happen to know what birth control is – unfair, I say!! Secondly, the very woman who so strenuously lobbied to have Mothers’ Day recognized as a true celebration of motherhood came to hate it and lobbied just as strongly to have it removed from the calendar!!
Anna Jarvis, an American minister's daughter, was born in 1864 in Grafton, West Virginia. She was what the Victorians called a “spinster” (a very ugly term with many negative connotations). She was a teacher, and she was pathologically devoted to her mother (like Norman Bates, Elvis, Ed Gein, and people of that ilk that just “love they mama” more than anything on the earth).
Jarvis was childless; she was “horrified” (her word) to see adult children “neglecting” (also her word) their mothers. She made it her goal to change this attitude and indifference. She thought that one day each year should be set aside to pay tribute to all mothers, using the maudlin justification, “Theirs is the only love that asks for no return”. [Puh-leeze – talk to Casey Anthony about a mother’s love. Or Ma Barker.]
Jarvis and her sainted mother moved to Philadelphia, and she carried her Mothers’ Day idea with her. She agitated locally, and started a massive letter-writing campaign, enlisting supporters and writing hundreds of letters to Congress, clergy, labor leaders, doctors, and mayors.
Nothing much was done until the media drive of her own mother’s death brought the idea to the fore again. On May 10, 1908, Jarvis arranged for memorial services to be held on her mother’s behalf in both Grafton and Philadelphia. White carnations had been her mama’s favorites, so Jarvis had them distributed at those very first services. This was the first Mothers’ Day and because it happened to be the second Sunday in May, this was the date selected for the future (the second Sunday in May).
Her over-sentimentality caught the public’s attention. She continued to lobby for the day. She and a group of followers initiated another campaign, with politicians and administrators falling in line. These lobbyists used many methods of “persuasion”, none more effective than emotional extortion: anyone not pro-Mothers’ Day “just did not love his [or her] mother”.
In 1910, the governor of West Virginia introduced Mothers’ Day in his state. Several other states were cowed into following suit, with the ultimate guilt trip thrown at then-president Woodrow Wilson. On May 9, 1914, he caved in to the pressure and made Mothers’ Day official throughout the United States, keeping the “second Sunday in May” date.
This holiday became a juggernaut (it is the second most commercially viable Hallmark holiday; only Valentine’s Day generates more cash). Jarvis saw what happened to “her” holiday, though, and as early as the mid 1920s she was already beating a drum to get rid of it. She spent the rest of her life railing against this golem of hers, agonizing over the fact it was not celebrated as she intended.
She was probably a little more than steamed, too, that she got no credit for the idea and was largely forgotten (meaning, no money was coming her way). What little money she had of her own Jarvis spent fighting a losing campaign against the commercialization of “her” day. She drove herself to poverty; friends had to pay for her upkeep. She was placed in a nursing home (which friends paid for). Having lost her eyesight, she spent the rest of her days in the facility, dying there at the age of 84 in 1948, a bitter old woman hating her creation. Mothers’ Day, of course, continues to generate much lucre.
Valentine’s Day, its sloppy sentiments aside, is the worst of all the Hallmark holidays. I don’t need Valentine’s Day to remind me I love my wife/girlfriend/woman I brought home five hours ago from the gun show. Valentine’s Day is not a private, romantic idyll between two unselfish lovers (as it should be). Instead, it is an over-the-top display of crass conspicuous consumption, and the “look at me” element cannot be denied.
How many men have sent flowers to a woman’s place of employment? This is nothing but a selfish bid to draw attention publicly to the gift giver. Guess what, ladies? Any guy that does that is bucking for a pat on the head. He may actually love you, but his love for himself overrides that. He wants the world to know what a great guy he is, not how much he loves you.
Trust me, menfolk: if you’re going to be stupid and waste a boatload of money for flowers and trinkets on Valentine’s Day (even though you should love and cherish your woman every damn day, not on just one “special” manufactured day) SEND THEM TO HER HOUSE WHEN SHE IS HOME ALONE!! She will understand better in that smaller gesture how much you actually do love her rather than with the overtly public ego stroking of gifts delivered in front of an audience. The impact on her will be far greater and certainly more sincere. I know of what I speak (because I love women, and I also do not need public adulation to validate how awesome I am). This is inarguable and not open for further discussion (although you are free to talk among yourselves).
The Hallmark holidays are stinkeroos for another reason, too. The best three things in human existence cannot be found in any of the Hallmark holidays: sex, sex, and sex.
No, actually, the best three things in life are sex, sleep, and food!! And one holiday guarantees you at least two out of the three best things (or all three depending upon how suave and debonair, or drunk, you are). And that holiday is the most wondermous Thanksgiving Day.
The holiday that marries all good things into one is Thanksgiving Day. Stress? What stress? Barring the annoyance of your “slow” Uncle Bubba Ray (drinking directly from the gravy boat again, when you keep telling him shot glasses are wayyyyy classier) there’s not much to agonize over on Thanksgiving.
It’s the holiday of eating and lapsing into a tryptophan-induced coma from eating too much turkey, and for groping the women (whose presence on the planet is the only thing I’m thankful for, ever). That groping thing is probably something only I do on Thanksgiving, but for everyone else you get food and sleep, 2/3 of the total greatest things picture.
But, as in all holidays (and Thanksgiving is no exception), there is evil lurking in the [turkey] wings.
Native Americans loathe Thanksgiving Day. They have been vocal in their distaste for decades. Hmmmm . . . I can’t imagine why they’re so upset, but let’s go back into the past and take a look at Thanksgiving’s origins in America and we’ll see if we can find out . . . [Insert cheesy time-travel special effects here]:
So, too, the forthright Germans have another brilliant and concise word that I love, Schadenfreude. This translates roughly into “deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others”. And it is Schadenfreude that lies behind the Puritan’s veneration and commemoration of the earliest Thanksgiving celebrations.
The Spanish were here first (and but for a few odd circumstances and a lotta Spanish wussiness, we would all habla Español today and not English). The Puritans were not the first or most successful of the early colonizers but they were excellent communicators and self-promoters. Their history is better known than most colonizers, including the earlier Spanish, because they made a point of not-so-humbly blowing their own horn almost as soon as they set a silver-buckled, black-shod foot upon Native American soil.
Schadenfreude led the way to the first sense of Thanksgiving (not the feast itself but the sentiments behind it). The first Puritan colony barely survived its first winter here, and that was only through the help and intervention of the Native Americans living in their area.
To show just how ill-prepared the pilgrims were for the New World, these “enlightened” religious crackpots brought many Bibles and other things of irrelevance to start new lives; among the lot not one of them, however, brought a simple set of fishing gear or a plow! [“How doth thy boiled Bible taste there, Malachi?” “Tis quite delectable, Goodwife Prudence. But, I must sayeth, I would kill for but one trout!”]
Although co-existing grudgingly, the Native Americans bartered and often simply gave foodstuffs to the starving little group that first year. Once the Puritans learned the Natives’ growing techniques (and actually applied themselves to something other than contemplation of Providence and enforcing pillory timetables) they survived on their own.
The first Thanksgiving in America, of course, was not called that. Harvest festivals and feasts have existed for millennia, and the bounty of a good year demanded celebration universally. In mid-October 1621 (about ten months after landfall) the Puritans had much for which to be thankful. They’d just suffered through a terrible winter, one of deprivation, “general sickness”, and many deaths. They had good neighbors (the Native Americans who helped the Puritans). Their first complete season of growing was successful and the harvest was good (again, thanks to the Natives). A celebratory feast was certainly in order. Schadenfreude entered their giving of thanks as well – they were grateful that their Native neighbors were having difficulties and many were succumbing to disease brought by the Puritans to the New World.
Indians historically (and this seems to be anthropologically proven in almost every primitive society) had a sense of community and communal sharing that is hard to grasp.
The father of pioneer girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was an oddball named Charles Ingalls. He made the mistake of foolishly settling in Kansas’ Indian Territory illegally when Laura was quite young (before the idealized Walnut Grove days fictionalized in the television series). Charles was a strange bird who didn’t always do his homework. He knowingly settled on land given by the US Government to the Native Americans (the Ingalls were later forced off the place by the US Army).
Mrs. Ingalls reported on the natural curiosity of her swarthier land mates. But the Native sense of communal sharing terrified her: Indians sometimes showed up at the Ingalls’ cabin without warning. They would go through her dry goods in silence, and perhaps would take some sugar or flour and then leave. This was not stealing in the traditional sense. For starters the Ingalls family was living on Indian land at the Indians’ pleasure. Secondly, the Native culture didn’t recognize ownership in the same way Europeans did.
Charles recalled sitting in their cabin one evening when an Indian he had never seen before came into his prairie cabin, produced a pipe, squatted down on the hearth, and indicated for Charles to light him up. Charles gave him a bowlful, they smoked quietly, and then the Indian took Charles’ grouch bag of tobacco with him and left. Charles later learned this man was a member of a chief’s family and it was considered an honor to have shared his pipe (and Charles’ “gift” of tobacco).
The Puritan festival was supposed to be a religiously solemn celebration. The local Native Americans (contrary to the romanticized version of these two contentious factions calling a truce and breaking bread in peace) were not invited nor were they welcomed.
They did crash the party, however, in typical Native American communal sharing fashion. And they brought friends. And more friends. And soon there were more Native Americans than Puritans celebrating. The simple feast became a real shindig with games, sporting events, the firing of guns, and the sounding of bugles. And the planned one-day celebration extended to at least three days.
Now, I ask: which Thanksgiving celebration would you rather have attended? The original Puritan one, or the one with the party crashers? [I’ll take “I Like Native Americans” for $200, Alex.]
But this was not all bunnies and rainbows as it might seem on the surface. This camaraderie did not last, and as time wore on the Schadenfreude of the Puritans toward the natives grew exponentially. As proof, when the New Englanders decided to make official a day of giving thanks the Schadenfreude is clear. In the edict setting the event, note the italicized phrases [highlighting is mine] and ask yourself about their meaning:
“The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being persuaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.”[First Thanksgiving Proclamation, June 20, 1676. Courtesy of US Historical Documents Archive]
Note the “Christian” love-thy-brethren sentiments in this document (most notably in referring to the natives as “heathen”, thus reducing them ideologically to sub-human levels). The highlighted passages underscore what’s really going on here. The New Englanders believed the New World was destined for them (they refer to themselves in the document as “Covenant people”). It was meant as theirs by divine right. They are establishing a day of Thanksgiving not solely for their own good fortune but more in thanks for the misfortunes of their neighbors, the Native Americans.
To start with, Thanksgiving was observed sporadically. But, as in Mothers’ Day, it was a woman who lobbied to make it a national holiday. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a “Thanksgiving Day Proclamation”, and it was made a regular annual national holiday. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the US.
America, Jr. (a/k/a/, Canada) also observes Thanksgiving, but they do it closer to the actual time the first one really happened, the second Monday in October. [Which makes much more sense than November. Nobody ever said we were too bright or big on the details – we’re ’Merkins, gol dang it!]
Canadians had their first version of it in 1763, when the citizens of Halifax, Nova Scotia, celebrated the Treaty of Paris (wresting Canada from those silly French and giving it over to the less silly British). In Ontario, Thanksgiving Day was first observed in June 1816, in appreciation for the end of the war between Great Britain and Napoleon. The Canadian Parliament, in 1879, proclaimed it an annual holiday for Canada. After mucking around with the dates it finally settled into its current place in October in 1957.
In America, all families have their traditions and routines. An element of commonality is the dreaded Kiddie Table (if you’re a kid). This is where all the snot-noses usually sit and strap on the feedbag. As a child your goal is to graduate to the Big Table where the adults sit. That, sadly, can take a long time. It usually requires the natural death or assassination of a senior Big Table member before a post opens up. But be patient, kids!
Another grand tradition is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is a somewhat newer tradition (if you call within the last 100 years newer – compared to the year 1621, you bet). The televised parade, though, is much better than seeing it live on the streets of New York. It’s wayyy cozier to watch everything from the comfort of your home rather than hobnobbing with the sticky masses.
An annoying, even newer “tradition” is the insertion of American football into the schedule, equating it with Thanksgiving Day. This irks me beyond reason. Football takes 79 hours to play a game that on its clock is supposed to run an hour. The last 15 seconds of any game takes 34 minutes. I would rather watch paint dry than sit through the crushing, soul-destroying boredom of this man-on-man “action” that passes for entertainment (and that includes the Superbowl, an exercise in hyper-inflated, bloated commercialism if ever there was one).
Along with my disdain for football, there is another creepy practice. I do not now engage, nor ever have engaged, in the bromantic pastime of male-bonding. Bromance and hanging with “the boys” is not for me. If I’m in a place where the men all eat and then adjourn to watch football in some man cave afterward (excluding the women) I’m so outta there. I’ll leave if I can. If I can’t, I’ll go find the women of the house and see what they’re up to (usually more interesting, plus it might lead to the other item on the three best things in life list).
I hang with the ladies, girls, hot aproned maidens. [This lovingness, of course, works best if you’re not attending a dinner with your female relatives. That danged Uncle Bubba Ray – I’ve had to pry him away from his teenaged niece, Cheri Lou, too many times. “Cheri” is pronounced “cherry”, by the way. Other people’s female relatives are all prime pickin’s, however.]
No matter what your household eats or does, just remember Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of giving thanks for your own fortune (and not for the misfortune of others like the Puritans did). We are truly blessed in this country – let’s focus on that fact and not the crapulous, boring football games.
Now – where’s my pie?
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