Four years before his death in 1910, Mark Twain wrote his estimate of Thanksgiving Day. The passage didn’t appear in print until 2010 because Twain stipulated that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death. As usual, Twain was a century ahead of his time:
“Thanksgiving Day … originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians.
“Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.
“The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist—the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due.
“But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.”
The imposition of historical reality isn’t the only thing that has sullied Thanksgiving. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. I liked it as a kid because of football and because it meant that the searing South Texas summer was finally over and because it always fell near my birthday.
Later, my affection for Thanksgiving grew because it was such a quiet refuge: a day for family and good food, without the tinsel and bad music of Christmas. For entertainment, we had an epic football rivalry: the Texas Aggies vs. the Texas Longhorns, the Lone Star equivalent of Cats-Griz.
The Aggies and Longhorns don’t even play each other anymore, much less on Thanksgiving Day. Like the holiday itself, their rivalry fell victim to bigger markets elsewhere.
Thanksgiving has become little more than a semicolon between the sugar-induced hijinks of Halloween and the shopping madness of Christmas. Is it mere coincidence that “shopping spree” and “murder spree” are so closely related?
Now, big-box stores publicly proclaim their eagerness to sacrifice their employees’ holidays on the altar of Black Friday. Instead of a day of national peace and unity, Thanksgiving has become a retail battleground that exacerbates the vast gap between those in America who have money to burn and those who have to give up holidays to scrape out a living for another season.
In my dream world, the malls, the big-box stores and all the wannabes shut down at their regular time the day before Thanksgiving and open at their regular time the day after. Somebody stays open on Thanksgiving to fill emergency drug prescriptions, pump gas and supply that forgotten can of cranberry sauce, but everybody else goes home.
Then we all sit down and eat and talk and snooze. Sometime in the afternoon, even if America someday bans football as too dangerous, we muster enough players for a game, a sort of ritual sacrament recalling our past traditions. We could call it rugby.
It’s just a dream of a lost America. I’m not saying that the government should tell people they can’t go sport shopping on Thanksgiving Day; I’m just saying that a few public executions every year would encourage the others.
In a few years, Thanksgiving would reclaim its former glory, and perhaps America could then take on a less ambitious project: adopting the following simple constitutional amendment:
1. No game of baseball played within the borders of these United States shall permit the use of:
a. The designated hitter rule.
b. Any playing surface other than natural grass.
c. Any bat made of materials other than wood cut from American-grown trees.
2. Congress shall have the power to enforce the provisions of this amendment by legislation, including the imposition of punishments both cruel and unusual.
It may sound harsh, I know, but it is the only way to restore American greatness.
David Crisp has worked for newspapers since 1979. He has been editor and publisher of the Billings Outpost since 1997.