There isn’t a whole lot to Thanksgiving. A day off, a parade, a big meal and a couple of usually boring football games. No breathtaking gifts, costumes, or fireworks.
So why do I love it more than all the other holidays?
Reason #1: It’s more universal and inclusive than many holidays. Religious holidays like Ramadan, Easter, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, and Yom Kippur are special for their respective practitioners. But they aren’t experiences that we can share broadly with other friends, neighbors and co-workers. Not everyone embraces Thanksgiving, but it seems like it has more participants than religion-based holidays. Thanksgiving’s celebration of blessings and gratitude can be spiritual and/or secular in nature, whichever the celebrant prefers. And in a tense pluralistic society, we need all the shared celebrations we can get.
Reason #2: It’s relatively non-commercialized. I make a big Thanksgiving meal for family and friends, but it doesn’t require weeks of preparation and a huge investment. I also love Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July and Halloween, but the way some celebrate those holidays can be pretty expensive. For example, Americans nowspend more than $7 billion per year on Halloween. Thanksgiving, at least the way we do it, is relatively simple, affordable and approachable.
Reason #3: It’s nap-friendly. What other holiday are you allowed, expected even, to have a little shuteye mid-event? In a nation where lack of sleep is now considered a public health epidemic, a lazy, trytophan-laced holiday is awfully nice.
Reason #4: It’s effectively four straight days off. In the most overworked nation in the developed world, days off are precious commodities. For many, Thanksgiving delivers four consecutive days off. How awesome is that? Not everyone gets a four day weekend out of the deal, but lots of people do, and that beats the heck out of all those one-day holidays.
Reason #5: Thankfulness makes us happy. The number one thing most of us want out of life is to be happy, and a day dedicated to contemplation about all of the blessings in our lives makes me very happy. There is a lot of science proving that being less self-centered is effectively self-serving.
For example, this 7-minute video shows how contemplating gratitude makes us happier, and expressing gratitude to another person makes us happier still. Watch it. It’s a more meaningful Thanksgiving pre-game show than John Madden offers.
Thanksgiving isn’t perfect. Native Americans certainly have every reason to be resentful of uninformed pilgrim glorification, though that part of the holiday does seem to have faded from prominence over the years. Moreover, a decent meal remains beyond the reach of too many families, much less a feast. We can make Thanksgiving better by adding more generosity and historical candor into the traditional recipe. But all things considered, I’m always awfully thankful when Thanksgiving rolls around.
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