In the UK people complain about Christmas getting earlier every year, to the tune of Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. In the US, however, Christmas comes when it is told – that is, on the day after Thanksgiving, announced on calendars as ‘The Biggest Shopping Day Of The Year’. Across fifty states, while the turkey, the cranberries and the pumpkin pie are settling down for the night, coupons are carefully cut out of colossal piles of newspaper adverts, while alarms are set for thankless wee hours, all for the pleasure of braving the November elements and the restless lines outside Best Buy. Most people have their Christmas shopping done by about midday, if they survive the crowds fighting over the last half-price laptop. Tensions run so high that in one news report, one Wal-Mart customer said he would be bringing a gun for security next year. There’s no need, you can buy one while you’re there.
The rush to the shops ushers in the green-and-red coloured (green money, red accounts) season, drawing a close to what is surely America’s Favourite Holiday. It is also perhaps its purest, unsurprising given Thanksgiving’s supposedly puritan origins. The pressure of Gift-Giving is utterly absent, as is the boring seasonal complaint about the commercialisation of a religious feast. Unlike at Christmas time, Hollywood churns out no big awful Thanksgiving movies. It is unsullied and simple, yet wholly American – this is one holiday the US feels no need to share with the world (except the Canadians, who hold their own Thanksgiving a month earlier). It is a family feast, and boy is it a feast.
It all begins on Wednesday afternoon, aka “One Of The Biggest Travel Days Of The Year” (the other being the Sunday after). TV is pretty much limited to live reports from airports and congested freeways, interspersed with tips on cooking the turkey and stories about the Pilgrims. If anybody actually makes it to the family homestead in time for Thanksgiving morning, they can expect to watch the quite dreadful Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live from New York. If you have watched any New York-based comedy, you will know that this parade is huge, and consists largely of enormous themed balloons of characters such as Garfield or Ronald McDonald. In those shows something ‘hilarious’ always goes wrong, such as Porky Pig floats away or collapses onto a crowd. This year, for real (as Ali G might put it), one balloon actually did fall down, injuring a small girl. Now I know I always found such events ridiculously corny as a sitcom joke, but in real life I must admit I found it pretty amusing. Much more amusing than the American Football, which is the other Thanksgiving televisual tradition, but by then I was well into the pre-meal snacks.
Now according to the American public broadcasting channel, whose opinion I value over all other US channels (which is not saying very much, really), Thanksgiving was meant to be a fast, until Benjamin Franklin came along with his bag of vowels and said it should be made a feast. An extra point in Scrabble for one thing. I don’t know how true that is, nor do I care, but let me tell you, if it’s done to tradition it’s the biggest dinner you’ll ever eat. The turkey is generally gigantic and takes about a month to cook. Dessert this year consisted of a showdown: pumpkin pie (excellently cooked by my wife) vs apple pie (wonderfully baked by her mom). We aren’t talking Blur vs Oasis here; I had both, and my stomach wasn’t complaining. Where pie is concerned, there is always room at the inn.
I washed it all down with a few glasses of local hefe-weizen beer, and put my feet up to watch the evening movie. Sadly, it was a repeat of the seriously dated Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I knew Santa was already on his way, bringing his bad movie tv with him. While watching the scene of the big mothership with my belly making strange alien noises, a thought occurred to me: I’m glad it isn’t Thanksgiving Every Day. If it were, the average American would be a whole lot fatter – now there’s something to give thanks for.