Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Simon and Garfunkel--"Hazy Shade of Winter" (mp3)
Leo Kottke--"In Christ There Is No East Or West" (mp3)

It may be a personal stereotype of mine, but I find elementary school music teachers to be a wacky sort. I'm basing that on my own experience, and that of my children. Music teachers for the young tend to be the kind who accentuate emotions, expressions, and enunciations beyond what even a child would find acceptable. Kids know these women are odd, too, though they probably can't articulate exactly why. The woman at my children's elementary took it one step beyond, as we found out every year at the Thanksgiving program.

"I don't know why," she would say, "but Thanksgiving always makes me think of war." And she would launch the children into a program of patriotic battle songs--"Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the like. Maybe a couple of "gobble, gobble, gobble" songs thrown in for show.

For years, I made fun of her. Now, I think she was on to something.

Thanksgiving is the strangest holiday we have, and her inexplicable connection to war helps to capture the essence of it. It is, arguably the most important family meal of the year, since it is a holiday that is only about that meal. There is no event, no church, no particular visiting for the most part (unless your family is blended, for one reason or another) for the simple reason that most of your family is likely already with you, if at all possible.

And yet, it is also a holiday of loss and longing. If it were a French holiday, they would call it Remembrances Of Things Past. Maybe it's because there is such a focus on family and nothing but a meal and a few half-interesting football games to occupy our minds that the palpable nostalgia tends towards loved ones who are no longer there. Maybe it's the weather. While Christmas always holds the promise of snow, and even if it doesn't come, all of the music will allude to a kind of virtual snowfall, Thanksgiving, more often than not, holds the promise of a bleak day--leaves off the trees, possible rain, likely cold, empty streets, a grey day where night comes early and there's little to do after darkness falls but lie around wishing you had eaten just a little bit less.

That description would lead you to believe that I dislike Thanksgiving. Au contraire. I've never much minded opening old wounds to take another look at them, and having a day with not much going on that invites revisting childhood and ancestors and even lost parents is an opportunity that our fast lives don't afford us very often.

So enjoy the gray day and the chance to think deeply about someone(s) you haven't thought about for awhile, and if the chance comes to head outside with the cousins or their children to throw the football around, either in anticipation of the meal or to try to work some of it off, by all means go for it. For just like soldiers in a war, our own love of comrades and family keep us focused on our tasks at hand and sane during the times between.

FOOTNOTE: I am in Florida for Thanksgiving this year. Florida sucks for Christmas; it feels all wrong. But for Thanksgiving, somehow it feels perfect. The bright sunny days and cool evenings, the bustle of activity, the plethora of old people, the joy of being outside as much as possible, it's all so alive. No complaints.

"Hazy Shade of Winter" first appeared on Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends; Kottke's version of "In Christ There Is No East Or West" is from his out-of-print Greenhouse cd.

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