When I was hired to teach at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the department chair and I chatted over cups of coffee on a number of items, among which were topics to avoid in the classroom: drugs, religion and politics. Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and it’s as good an idea to avoid the politics at the dinner table as it was in the classroom.
Anyone not living in a cave knows that America held an election two weeks ago, and the results show that ours is a politically divided nation — rural versus urban, with the suburbs being the battleground between older versus younger and college-educated versus non-collegians. The president’s core supporters are very largely whiter than those who oppose him. Even here in mostly white, mainly Trump-supporter Carroll County, there’s a pretty fair chance that someone attending your Thanksgiving celebration will have with deeply held views that differ from your well-reasoned, obviously correct perspective on the headlines of the day.
That’s certainly true among those who will be attending our family gathering. Hopefully, we will stick to topics less charged than voting irregularities in Florida or the president’s Veterans Day conduct, although I don’t know how we will bridge the gap between my nephew’s foolish fetish for the New York Giants and my rooting for the Ravens. At least he’s not a Steelers fan! I guess we will just agree to disagree on the virtues of our respective teams.
And that is a good idea for politics, too. Our enjoyment of the day will doubtless increase by leaving such divisive issues aside for the while. Even if everyone at your Thanksgiving table is on the same political side, you should avoid it: ragging on your political opponents will not overwhelm you with gratitude for the comforts you enjoy, and Heaven forbid, your out-of-town relatives don’t share your opinion of the president — it won’t be a kitchen fire you’re trying to put out.
Harvest festivals such as Thanksgiving, celebrating the Earth’s bounty and the gods’ goodness, go back to the start of civilization. As early as 1607, settlers in the Virginia colony held thanksgiving services. The Plymouth colony celebrated a holiday of prayer and thanksgiving in 1621. Observances have been held more or less continually since the First Continental Congress; it wasn’t until 1942 that the U.S. Congress set the holiday’s date as the fourth Thursday of November. Before that, the last Thursday in November was chosen by President Lincoln and changed to the third Thursday of the month by FDR, the better to stimulate the economy. The Christmas shopping season traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, and Roosevelt hoped the extra week for shopping would improve retailers’ bottom line. These days, it seems Christmas shopping picks up around Labor Day. Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, with many retailers offering bargain hunters a whole extra day to storm the malls. I wonder if folks would shop less and celebrate Thanksgiving more fully and with more enjoyment if their conversations were more about the things for which they’re thankful, less about the things that divide us?
We have 365 days in which to fume over what the other side is doing. Surely, we can spare a few of them — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Eid, Kwanzaa, Diwali, you know, those happy holidays — for being happy and enjoying the company of friends and family, even those from the other political tribe.
And lest we forget there are hundreds of homeless in our community for whom this is just another day. You can make it more than a chilly Thursday for these invisible residents of our community. Contact your local house of worship or one of the many community outreach services like The Shepherd’s Staff to find any of several Thanksgiving meals for them. Taking a couple of hours to make their Thanksgiving better will also make yours more memorable, more meaningful.
Wishing you the happiest of politics-free Thanksgivings.