Happy Thanksgiving!!! Isn’t it hard to believe that in this, the worst year in recent historical memory, the Earth continues to spin and we find ourselves here again on the last Thursday in November? It sure doesn’t feel like it, but it’s true. Today is Thanksgiving. And it sucks more than ever.
Usually when we rage on a holiday here at Discourse Blog it’s because of American imperialism, racism, patriotism, false myths, dumb behavoir, or some combination therof. All of those things apply to Thanksgiving, though I’ll admit that the “Thanksgiving is bad” take is as old and well-trod as the internet itself. Case in point: Katie Notopolous wrote about how Thanksgiving sucks for BuzzFeed way back in the sepia-toned days of 2012. You can click through to see for yourself, but I’ll save you the effort and just say: the idea that Thanksgiving sucks is so incredibly tired that almost all the images in that post are broken.
OK, so if that’s that case, then why does this post exist? Because in 2020, Thanksgiving sucks in a whole new way. Before we get there, though, let us count the ways that turkey day is positively fowl. (Yes, bird puns are on the list.)
First and foremost, there’s the unequivocal and horrifying genocide of Indigenous Americans by white Europeans, and the fact that the foundation for Thanksgiving is essentially a myth that serves only to perpetuate harmful falsehoods and stereotypes. It’s one of the many ways America uses the guise of tradition to rewrite history, which is particularly jarring in a year in which Attorney General William Barr had the audacity to respond to a question from CBS News about his own legacy with, “Well, history is written by the winners.” And in a historical sense, the very idea that white colonialists would decide to performatively give thanks with an annual feast is actually deeply sinister when you think of the atrocities they performed on Native people and land.
The literal whitewashing of history would be enough to condemn Thanksgiving on its own. But the particulars of what we actually do on the holiday itself, and the way we have to then discuss those things, are also trash-worthy. That's why the next item on the “Thanksgiving is bad” list is the “Turkey is bad” discourse, which has been exhausted to the point where I now expect we might come fully back around soon to “Actually, Turkey is Fantastic You Just Don’t Know How to Cook.” Personally, I don’t eat turkey anymore, but I’ll place my coin in the Turkey Is Bad cup. Nostalgic food has its place and yeah, turkeys are indigenous to the Americas, but as a meat? It is simply fine.
Third, let’s return to the fact that I don’t eat turkey (or any meat for that matter) anymore. I won’t go into the full details of “grim reality” behind millions of animals being slaughtered and consumed in the name of tradition each year, but in brief: Many, many turkeys are raised in horrific factory farming conditions and genetically modified in ways that make their short lives even more miserable before they’re mass murdered in a manner that frequently misfires, causing even more suffering for these defenseless animals. It’s inhumane, disgusting, and bad for the environment, and the fact that we continue to do it with no sign of slowing down is actually extremely on brand for this holiday, isn’t it?
Then there’s Black Friday! Our annual tribute to capitalism grows grimmer by the year. The “holiday” has become a bloodsport luring desperate shoppers into stores with the promise of savings at the expense of retail employees and often the shoppers' own health.
And what about football, the official sport of Thanksgiving? It also sucks. The game is unbelievably dangerous for players, a political mess with alarming influence, and has an abysmal history when it comes to social justice issues. It’s also boring as hell.
If all that wasn’t enough, there are many more reasons to hate Thanksgiving to various degrees depending on how much you like your family and/or how sensitive your digestive system is: There’s being trapped with bad relatives who have bad politics, eating too much, drinking too much, seeing your high school friends at the supermarket after your mom yelled at you to go get some cranberry sauce, et cetera, et cetera. If you feel a need to hate this holiday, this holiday absolutely provides.
Now we get to why this year is particularly bad for Thanksgiving—beyond the fact that it basically shouldn't be happening at all due to COVID. Everything bad about Thanksgiving is worse this year. The indignities towards Native people are exacerbated by the horrendous toll that the pandemic has taken on Native communities in 2020—a toll that is in part the product of centuries of racism, brutality, and neglect.
Our need to shop has even more dire consequences in 2020. Simply being in a store this year could kill you. As we race toward the busiest shopping season of the year, retail workers, who’ve already had a hellish year, continue to contend with jobs that require them to put themselves at risk while their employers fail to protect them. And millions of Americans are struggling to provide for themselves and their families as they stare down the holiday season and Congress struggles to pass another stimulus package before the end of the year deadline.
All that said, there’s just not a lot of rage in me about Thanksgiving this year. Mostly I just feel tired and sad. The U.S. is currently experiencing a COVID-19 surge, hospitals across the country are at capacity, and mounting evidence suggests that many Americans still plan to gather for the holiday, despite CDC recommendations. And as we prepare for what will surely be a banner weekend for public shaming, this is and always has been a government failure of historic proportions. It’s not just President Trump’s denial and mass manslaughter via inaction. Politicians across the board have failed time and time and time again to lead by example, or enact the full lockdown policies that would help contain the virus. They’ve also failed to just give Americans the fucking money they need to stay home and stop the spread of coronavirus.
So yeah, if ever there was a year to look at the history of American stupidity and dominance, relate it to our common situation, and say “actually, NO thanks!!!” it’s this year.
Whatever your usual Thanksgiving routine is—whether it’s with family, a friendsgiving, or going to the bar or the movies—things probably look different this year. We can’t do what we love or see the people we love. Instead, we are largely isolated, and a day traditionally marked by togetherness (for good or bad) has now become a focal point of anxiety and sadness, soon to be followed by more reasons to be upset and stressed. This year the entire holiday season feels like Christmas lights on January 1, except the lights also burned the house down and you feel guilt-ridden about the whole thing except someone else actually put the lights up in the first place and then stood by and watched it burn when they could have simply called the fire department. Nostalgia covered in grief wrapped in fury: the turducken of 2020.
Today I plan to take a walk, bake some bread, watch TV, do some volunteering, and talk with my family over Zoom. I’ll count my blessings, and be angry and sad, and I’ll make a point to remind myself of all the ways Thanksgiving sucks to cheer myself up.
I won’t write my gratitude list here, but I will take one small moment to get sincere on main and say that I’m grateful for Discourse Blog and grateful for all of you who are here with us. If you’re hanging out online today, feel free to chill with us in the comments or, if you’re a subscriber, over in our Discord chat. Online is hell, but today and throughout the pandemic, online has been the place we can still all gather safely. And as bleak as it is, I’m thankful for that. So after you have your pumpkin pie and talk to your loved ones, come say hi or shout some of your strongest Thanksgiving food opinions. It’s not the dinner table, but this year, it’ll do.
One last thing: You may have seen we’re doing our first ever donation drive this week! We’re raising money for The Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund, and you can help us support this great cause, and save money on a Discourse Blog subscription in the process. You can read all the details here.