Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

a holiday meal


As Kimmie recently pointed out to me, the number one way that Americans celebrate everything is to eat.

Other countries have interesting and often beautiful or whimsical rituals and ceremonies to celebrate or commemorate all sort of things, from the spring celebrations of Imbolc (Ireland) and Kanamara Matsuri (Japan) to the winter festivals of Bodhi (Buddhist) and Hogmanay (Scottish).

Sometimes there are special meals or special foods at regular meals. That’s one thing. But here, among us Americans, it’s something else.

We celebrate Valentine’s Day and Halloween with candy. We celebrate Thanksgiving with a big meal (and football), of course. Christmas is gift giving and then a big meal. And what do we do for New Year’s? Food and drink (alcoholic where appropriate) and … um … more football.

We celebrate Memorial Day and Independence Day and Labor Day with picnics and barbecues … oh, and parades. Although, even though a lot of American skip the parades, I would bet that fewer of them skip the barbecue.

I would guess that’s one of the reasons why we don’t really celebrate Veterans Day anymore: too cold in November to have a barbecue.

It shows a singular lack of imagination but, to tell you the truth, I’m not really complaining. I like all that eating. Not as fond of the cooking but willing to do it because of the eating.

And that’s what’s fun about this time of year. FEWD!

I like Thanksgiving Day a lot because Thanksgiving dinner is full of foods that we generally only eat for Thanksgiving. If you think about it logically, there’s no earthly reason why we have to only eat this stuff for Turkey Day but we do … or at least, I do.

Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that I eat stuffing or cranberry sauce or sweet potatoes. It is the only time of year that I make home-made dinner rolls. It is the only time of year that I buy apple cider for the teetotalers in my household. There’s no reason why I can’t do any or all of that on a regular basis except that, if I did, then Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be special anymore, would it?

By rights, in order to eat a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, we should be eating what the Pilgrims and the Native Americans were eating at that first Thanksgiving … except that we can only really guess about that.

Maybe we should try eating foods that are native to North America? Turkey, squash (I think), corn, potatoes … and now I understand why my grandmother used to serve lima beans with her Thanksgiving Dinner.

And then, we are slowly losing our holiday traditions in favor of making them into retail selling days.

President’s Day Sale!

Veterans Day Sale!

And, more recently, Thanksgiving Day Sale.

Except that none of the retails has yet acquired the intestinal fortitude to call it that.

It is said that you learn a lot about a culture by examining its rituals. We Americans are diluting all of our rituals and ceremonies and frequently replacing them altogether with reasons to go to stores and buy things. Rampant consumerism threatens to make us collectively much less interesting that most of the rest of the folks with whom we share this planet.

That said, it will be interesting to see what archaeologists 500 years from now make of us.


3 thoughts on “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

  1. Our country obsesses on materialism, and I think that’s related more to capitalist economy more than anything. It’s about making the biggest buck as fast as you can, and what better way to show off those bucks than by buying a ton of things?

    I, for one, am grateful that you didn’t instill THAT kind of mentality in us kids. I far prefer celebrating the holidays with loved ones and special meals over sprinting to the nearest retail store to blow $1,000.

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  2. I’ve seen some articles, in Think Progress and some other places, that suggest that the main reason anybody at all runs out to shop on Thanksgiving is because household wages have stagnated so badly that people feel they have to catch those holiday sale prices. I have mixed feelings/thoughts about this explanation: I find it plausible but I also think there are some who really just enjoy the shopping frenzy in the same way that I would enjoy a concert featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra.

    When I was a kid, my mom made a special point of wanting us to never forget what the holiday was about because even back then she was complaining about crass commercialism. So, every year, we went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. To this day, I remember that ritual as one of the most beautiful spectacles of my youth and it gave the holiday a warmth and an aesthetic that really mattered to me and colored my ideas about the holiday. I didn’t do the same thing with you guys because it has been many years since I’ve been able to bring myself to set foot in a Catholic Church (although Pope Francis might just change my mind for a minute) but I hope that the warmth and quiet of our holiday celebrations have been able to capture a different aesthetic.

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