Friday, November 20, 2009

Whodathunkit? -- The Three Best Things You WANT To Know About Thanksgiving.

It's time for another Whodathunkit?, that feature I run just before every major event in American life to give you the facts you really want to know about that big event. It's the only blog post guaranteed* to make you a hit at the next big social event!
(*note: "guaranteed" means "not guaranteed.)

This Whodathunkit?, as the title says, will give you the Three Best Things You Want To Know About Thanksgiving, which by my calendar is less than a week away. (That's how you know my calendar is an American calendar: It has Thanksgiving on the proper day, the day God and Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt decreed. Some calendars -- I'm looking at you Canada-- claim Thanksgiving is some other day, which is completely ridiculous. Canada's Thanksgiving, for example, is supposedly set on the 2nd Monday in October, and it meant to celebrate -- give Canadian thanks for -- the end of the harvest. That's so dumb. Everyone knows that "Thanksgiving" has nothing to do with the harvest and everything to do with surviving through the winter, or, as I pointed out last year, hoping to survive through the winter.

Yes, those Pilgrims were an optimistic bunch, having a Thanksgiving dinner before they had anything to give Thanks for, but at least they weren't so strange as to set the holiday on some Monday in October. Which itself isn't as bad as some other countries' Thanksgivings. Like Croatia's Thanksgiving. Did you know that Croatia celebrates Thanksgiving?

Did you know that Croatia was a country? Now you do, and you'll thank me the next time you're watching Jeopardy! and the category is Countries That Sort of Rhyme With 'Moesha'.

Croatia's Thanksgiving doesn't give thanks for being Canadian, or for not-yet-having-survived the winter, like real Thanksgivings do. Instead, Croatia's Thanksgiving celebrates "the seizure of the city of Knin by the Croatian Army during Operation Storm in the War of Independence." The highlight, that website says, "is the ceremonially lifting of the Croatian flag on the Knin fortress"

Which sounds dramatic and all, but is it as touching a ceremony as when the President pardons a turkey? I think not.

Another country that gives thanks is China, but they do it exactly the way you'd expect a bunch of Communists to do it: By using "Chinese Thanksgiving," or "Chung Ch'ui," as an occasion to exchange traditional "moon cakes," only the traditional mooncakes are used, in times of war, to hide secret messages and "thwart their enemies," according to the website "More4Kids," which is obviously very diligently working to make sure that Kids don't trust the rest of the world, judging by their comment that "there is a lot of bad stuff happening around the world," and so kids should be thankful they live in America.

In America, at least, Thanksgiving is still celebrated on the proper day -- a Thursday in November, although which particular Thursday it is depends heavily on whether the president needs to jump-start the economy; I'm surprised that President Obama didn't decide to move Thanksgiving up a week earlier this year, the way FDR did during the Depression. The Great Depression, that is. Well, the other Great Depression.

Anyway, Obama didn't use that trick to get our economy going, preferring instead to try the "let's let people get new pickup trucks using federal cash" trick. Apparently, the secret manual of knowledge about Americans, the manual that presidents use to control Americans' lives, has been lost.

Or maybe Obama didn't need to move Thanksgiving up, since corporations have done an effective job of ignoring Thanksgiving entirely and simply starting Christmas whenever they darn well please, as evidenced by the November 6 release of the 1,000,000,000th version of A Christmas Carol.

Jim Carrey's latest desperate bid for our attention -- next he'll resort simply to setting his hair on fire in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York -- isn't the only thing jumping the gun on the Christmas season and relegating Thanksgiving to the back burner. ABC Family is airing two Christmas movies tonight, November 20, but they're three days behind Richie Rich's Christmas Wish and Merry Madagascar. I hope Richie's wish wasn't that Thanksgiving continue to be a separate, independent holiday.

Because it won't be. I predicted last year that eventually Thanksgiving would join the ranks of holidays we don't really celebrate anymore, and this year is proving that prediction even more true. A local Middleton, Wisconsin bar advertised today on the radio that people could watch the Packers-Lions game "on Thursday" at the bar. The Packers and Lions play on Thanksgiving, so not only did this bar offer to let people come sit in a bar at midday on Thanksgiving, but the ad didn't even mention that the day was Thanksgiving. In the ad, it was just Thursday.

This might well be the last year that Thanksgiving is even a holiday; it may be that next year Thanksgiving isn't celebrated at all. Preposterous! you say? (Good for you! Nice vocabulary!) It's not preposterous, though: as more and more people have to work on Thanksgiving, at bars and at the stores that are now open during the day on Thanksgiving, how long will it be before everyone just decides to work? If all your kids and relatives have to work at the stores where people want to shop, how is that a holiday? Three years ago, four major retailers were planning on being open more or less their regular hours on Thanksgiving. Now, almost every store is open at least part of the day on Thanksgiving, including retail giant Fashion Bug.

Fashion Bug.

But can you blame them? If everyone else is open on Thanksgiving, and they are, then Fashion Bug has to open, too, or all the holiday shoppers will spend all their holiday money on factory remnants at other stores. So my prediction last year - -that someday Thanksgiving will mean "eating Turkey Hot Pockets and McDonald's Pumpkin Pies while standing in line at Best Buy" is closer than ever to coming true. I predict that we are at most two years away from people simply opting to have their big "Thanksgiving dinner," if they have one, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, while using Thanksgiving to either work, or to shop.

Until then, Thanksgiving is theoretically still a big event, and we'd better make the most of it, which I'm doing by providing you The Three Best Things You WANT to know about Thanksgiving. As always, I will leave the boring, ordinary facts to the mainstream media; let them tell you how to deep fry a turkey without blowing up your house (hint: you can't, and it's foolish to try), let them talk about the football games and the crowds of people lining up for Black Friday (soon to be Black Wednesday). Here at The Best of Everything, I give you stuff that will amaze your friends, inspire your neighbors, dumbfound your acquaintances, and otherwise exhaust your thesaurus with synonyms for amaze and friends.

Friendly-amazing things like...

1. Thanksgiving is a more philosophical holiday than you think, raising profound questions in our deep-thinking society.

holidays are an occasion for some introspection or soul-searching. On the Fourth of July, we ask questions like What's the meaning of liberty, and I wonder if that firecracker would really blow my hand off if I held it while it exploded? On Valentine's Day, we ponder such quizzes as How many roses can I get using the $1.78 I have in my change dish in my car, and Why didn't I plan ahead and save a couple bucks from last night's poker game?

But Thanksgiving brings out the really big questions. Questions like this person's question to "Askville:"

What would you prepare your vampire lover on Thanksgiving?

That's a real question, or at least a question asked on Askville, which makes me think that whoever asked it was serious, because a question like that is too stupid to not be serious. (That person apparently continued to have problems that holiday season, asking what to give her vampire lover for Christmas...)

I was curious about what other questions people might ask about Thanksgiving. So I went to Google -- how everyone, including Richard Dawkins, proves everything, nowadays; Google is the foundation of science, replacing dark matter in the lives of scientists who don't want to think -- I went to Google and did a search for What do you do on Thanksgiving. I was sure I'd get lots of questions suggested, given that just typing What do you do led to these other questions that people had asked:

I did pause a moment when I saw the fifth question down, but then I got distracted from feeling sorry for that person and instead wondered if perhaps the same person had searched those questions in order, and, if so, what that person's day had been like, first realizing that they're bored, then meeting a drunken sailor, then wanting to sing the drunken sailor song, but their iPod freezes up, then looking up the lyrics, only to realize that the drunken sailor has broken her heart and made her cry, then...

Well, I continued typing, the questions got more elegant, yet:

But eventually I finished typing and found an entire article about what to do on Thanksgiving in Orlando, which I read, only to find out that in Orlando, stores are open on Thanksgiving, too, so Thanksgiving is dying even in the Magic Kingdom.

Thanksgiving doesn't just raise questions about vampires and sex and Disney World, though. It also makes people ponder the origins of life, something being done by the person who called the Butterball Turkey hotline to ask if turkeys have belly buttons.

No. They don't -- I hadn't ever even thought of the question, and now I know the answer! But that person's question has made me wonder this: What kind of person sits around wondering whether turkeys have belly buttons, and why didn't that person just look at the turkey they were cooking?

That Butterball hotline gets 10,000+ calls on Thanksgiving Day; I wonder whether anyone calls it the rest of the year, and whether one could call for non-turkey related questions? Like, if you couldn't get through to the Kleenex hotline, could you call the Butterball hotline and ask them, instead?

And did you know Kleenex had a hotline? They do, and I was going to look up the number but I got distracted by the fact that there's a frequently-asked questions section of the Kleenex Website, one which includes this (apparently frequently-asked) question:

What are some innovations Kleenex® Brand Tissue has introduced to the facial tissue category?

As I read that, I imagined hundred, no, thousands, no, tens of thousands of people looking up the phone number for Kleenex, and then calling up to (breathlessly) ask the operator: What are some innovations Kleenex® Brand Tissue has introduced to the facial tissue category?

One innovation, by the way, is that Kleenex invented the first three-ply facial tissue. America Rules!

One thing Kleenex leaves off its site is the credentials it's help line operators have. Butterball doesn't do that; they trumpet the experience their people have: "Each of the turkey experts attends "Turkey U" to prepare for the calls that will be coming in."

But enough of that. On to number 2:

2. New York Isn't The Only Place Holding A Parade, You Know. I'm always amazed that parades still exist, period. They seem so anachronistic, like pocket watches or intact families. Who wants to go sit outside and watch bands go by, and local politicians riding in convertibles waving, when we could be watching a little kid forced to memorize a speech for his dad's benefit? And by memorize, I mean "read from the papers he's holding in his hands and the cue cards that aren't shown on camera:"

You know what's sad about that? That kid was, I bet, forced to do that in an effort to get him onto TV and make him famous (and his parents rich), and the best his dad could parlay that into was a chance to say "Let's Play Hockey" at a hockey game. Even Balloon Dad did better than that -- he got dinner in New York City with ABC executives.

But being in New York means that Balloon Dad and Hockey Kid will miss the other Thanksgiving Day parades, like the "Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade," which will have their own giant balloons and floats, but which will no doubt be put to shame by the real Thanksgiving parade at the site of the real Thanksgiving: Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the real Pilgrims celebrated real Thanksgiving...

... In July...

But never mind that! There's a parade in Plymouth that celebrates everything Thanksgiving! It's got a detailed model of the Mayflower! It's got a depiction of the first Thanksgiving in 1621! It's got...

... a replica Victorian church complete with carolers?

Dang it! Et tu, Plymouth? Even in the Cradle of Thanksgiving, Christmas is taking over? It has to be Christmas carolers, right? After all, there's no Thanksgiving carols, or even Thanksgiving songs, right? Of course there aren't.

On to number 3!

3. There's are Thanksgiving Songs! I should really learn to read on before I ask those questions.

If it's caroling you want, Plymouth, and people who look past Thanksgiving to get to Christmas, then it's caroling you will get.

Everybody thinks there's no such thing as a Thanksgiving Carol, but everybody's wrong, and everybody should have asked me, and should have asked The Knox Clan, who wrote themselves some Thanksgiving carols, carols they've posted on The Knox Clan blog, carols like "Something Smells," an unfortunately-named carol sung to the tune of Silver Bells, with lyrics like:

Should I spray
The stink away
And have a take-out Thanksgiving Day


But, you say, those are just knockoffs of Christmas carols, aren't they?

You're very perceptive. If you won't accept those as Thanksgiving songs, then how about actual traditional Thanksgiving songs, songs that you know and love from your childhood, provided your childhood was in the 1670s or something. Songs like Here we go over to Silly Tilly's, a delightful song celebrating the animals' Thanksgiving together. Or songs like the stirring Singing, the Reapers Homeward Come, which features this stirring opening verse:

Singing, the reapers homeward come, lo! lo!
Merrily singing the harvest home, lo! lo!
Along the field, along the road,
Where autumn is scattering leaves abroad,
Homeward cometh the ripe last load, lo! lo!

Now, that song may not exactly be your cup of tea, but it's at least a billion times better than every single thing Lady GaGa will do in her life. Although, in the interest of fairness, I feel compelled to note that road and abroad aren't really rhymes.

I tried searching for a video for Singing, The Reapers Homeward Come, but all I found on Youtube was this:

But that video does have its own charms, so it was worth the effort.

The number one Thanksgiving carol of all time, though, is certainly Alice's Restaurant Massacree, which you probably know as "Alice's Restaurant" and my kids know as that song that I play which goes on forever and is just a guy talking.

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" tells the absolutely true* (*probably not) story of how Arlo Guthrie dumped some garbage for his friend, Alice, and got a ticket for littering, a ticket that later kept him from being drafted into the Vietnam War.

Arlo gets all the fame from that song, even though it was abandoned-church living Alice M. Brock who set off all the events by being a lousy housekeeper.

Alice M. Brock deserves a little fame herself, for setting off that probably-not-true chain of events, and she's gotten a little fame herself: she's not just a lousy housekeeper with questionable taste in friends, but also an author, having written and illustrated the book How To Massage Your Cat. She also illustrated a book, owned an art gallery, and writes a blog. The blog is called "Alice's Blog," and can be found by clicking this link.

On that blog, I learned that Alice isn't just memorialized in Arlo's song, but in another song, as well, the aptly-titled Another Song About Alice:

How many people do you know who have inspired two songs about themselves? I only know, like, ten. Counting our cats.

Now, let's have Arlo sing us out:

1 comment: said...

Wow, lot's of great stuff here. I will spew the knowledge out at thanksgiving, especially about the Thanksgiving parade. Also - I am in complete agreement with you parades. Boring. We have a mummers parade in philly that the whole cit's a party but its still a dumb parade.

- KD