The Profound Ambivalences of Thanksgiving ; Part I:  Jefferson on an American ‘Tradition’

(in two parts)

 Los Angeles, Fourth Thursday of November 2019

As an immigrant with a certain political sensibility, I have always been filled with ambivalence towards Thanksgiving—and that is putting it mildly.  July 4th doubtless has a more honored place on the American calendar in many respects, but Thanksgiving has long appeared to most people as the quintessential American holiday.  It was a religious celebration before it became a holiday and its history predates by more than 150 years the founding of the Republic.  Most holidays (of this kind) are full of good cheer, but Thanksgiving is much more than that, and not only because the Thanksgiving table is overflowing with food and that one eats to one’s fill—and more.  Thanksgiving appears to endorse a more democratic conception of what it means to be American:  thus, as an illustration, we may witness a 3-star General, or the Vice President, serving Thanksgiving meals to soldiers stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Thanksgiving, I was long inclined to believe, was that one day when the foreign student in the US was positively supposed to feel welcome and find herself invited to an American home.  On this singular occasion, at least, fellowship and conviviality often seemed to triumph over race, religion, and identity politics more generally.

NormanRockwell_Freedom_From_Want

Norman Rockwell, “Freedom From Want” (source:  Wikipedia)

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