Nerd Factor: The Annexation of Thanksgiving
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Longtime readers know that I have been fascinated for a while by the so-called War on Christmas. A kind of concocted outrage that seems designed to get viewers to return to certain news stations after the commercial break, drive up page views on websites, and outrage those who like to quickly pass along memes without thinking about them much. The complaint goes that Christmas is somehow being wiped out.
This is ludicrously wrong. Christmas is just fine.
In militaristic terms, Christmas is advancing, not retreating. And it is eating up all sorts of calendar territory in a blitzkrieg of winter imagery and commercial frenzy. Only the mighty Halloween truly stands able to resist it.
Meanwhile, Thanksgiving has been completely annexed. Geopolitically speaking, the holiday is a puppet state, propped up by Christmas to foster the illusion that Christmas has not extended its borders outside of December.
Don’t believe me? Consider the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a popular morning event where families might see an odd turkey-based float or two along with various cartoon characters and promotional bits for Broadway shows. But how does the parade always end? Why with the arrival of Santa, of course! The great general of Christmas rides in on his sleigh like Caesar entering Rome. The Holly Jolly One is cheered as only a seemingly beneficent bringer of toys can be.
Oh sure, there’s a traditional meal on Thanksgiving. Nobody forgets the meal. And there’s some football too for those who enjoy it. But even those events are lost to the power of Christmas. After all, there must be the planning of the great Black Friday shopping expeditions that begin the next day.
In retrospect, Thanksgiving never really stood a chance against Christmas. The moveable feast never had the kind of popular culture armaments to defend itself.
Quick, name a Thanksgiving song.
You thought of “Over the River and Through the Woods” right? Except it’s apparently called “Over the River and Through the Wood.” So we actually don’t know the song well enough to really call it by its true name. I don’t know about you, but the only reason I can name that song is because it’s sung incessantly throughout A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Unsurprisingly, that is the only major cartoon special for the holiday that springs immediately to mind.
By contrast, Christmas can fire off musical barrage after musical barrage of holiday songs. In fact, I suspect Mariah Carey has done more Christmas songs herself than there are straight-up Thanksgiving tunes. Television specials air like mad. And Hallmark Channel transforms into a nearly month-long cycle of Christmas films with all the gusto of a cult leader running a mad ritual.
There is, by the way, a truly great Thanksgiving movie. It’s called Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and it stars Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy. But look, it’s no Die Hard (the greatest Christmas movie of all time no matter what Bruce Willis is saying).
It may no longer be possible to liberate Thanksgiving. It may be doomed to be a permanent satellite state of the Christmas Empire. But I guess it’s still there for a little while on that Thursday, at least as long as the pumpkin lasts.