Let's Make Thanksgiving Better

I know just how you feel, Billy, but trust me, there's a better way

Okay, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings here, but Thursday takes us to five weeks out from Thanksgiving, which means that the creeping dread you have started noticing lately isn’t just down to the fact that life is full of misery and you’re never going to have it as good again as you do now, but is also your mind’s way of alerting you that we are beginning our descent into the Holiday Season, where excessive socializing and forced cheer are the order of the day, and things won’t get back to normal until well after January because you will still be paying the bill by having drinks with all the people you put off during the busy season by saying, “Let’s meet up after the holidays.”

Is there a solution? A simple way to, if not eliminate then at least reduce the amount of Seasonal Anxiety from which we all suffer as autumn turns to winter? I have spent the last few years my of life in the lab, dedicating myself to searching for a solution to this terrible burden. Here is what I have come up with:

First, let’s stipulate that it is indeed Thanksgiving that kicks off the Era of Bad Feelings we associate with this time of year. If there were some way to change that we would be pushing back the anguish until the middle of December at least.

Second, let’s allow that Thanksgiving is a necessary celebration. Apart from Super Bowl it is the one non-denominational national holiday that encourages excessive consumption and is the only event not centered around a specific faith that promotes family togetherness and automatically includes a four-day weekend, presumably to help you recover from the family togetherness.

Next, let’s consider what it is exactly about Thanksgiving that activates so many of the stress feelings we begin to experience roughly a month before and do not fully get over until Arbor Day. Making travel plans are, to be sure, a precipitating factor, but what really incites the tension is the amount of time leading up to the holiday that you have to pre-plan how upset and angry you’re going to be.

Nobody, as we all know, makes you quite as crazy as family. Whoever you have turned yourself into in your life’s journey decides to wait in the car as soon as you step into the door of whatever home you are all gathered together in to tolerate Thanksgiving that year, reducing you to an easily-baited caricature of whoever you were when you were twelve. The taunts, insults and shames of childhood are all readily available to the other participants, who reach for them at the first sign that they might be victims of similar slings and arrows. You find yourself playing out roles that none of you want to reenact, and knowing that it didn’t have to be this way and yet here you are makes you even angrier at yourself and those around you.

What’s worse is how you have already played out these fights in your mind. Your sister is going to be drunk and angry. Your brother is going to be morose and whiny. Your dad will gently rib all the kids at the table about exactly the wrong thing and then be shocked and hurt when people choose to take offense. Let’s not talk about your uncle. Your mom will be freaking out the whole time and the only element of surprise in the entire holiday is what will be the precipitating event to actually make her break the glass this year. You have spent a good six weeks seeing all of this transpire in your mind and now it’s happening live, plus why is the heat on so goddamn high, it is perfectly warm out.

But what if there was a better way? What if we could fix Thanksgiving so that we could once again embrace its original purpose of eating until you puke and spending just enough time with your family that you are equally glad to have seen them and to not have to see them again for a while?

How about… Surprise Thanksgiving?

Listen to my plan with an open mind, because it is wildly unorthodox and nobody likes change, but as the result of years of thought and consideration I have anticipated all the issues attendant to it and am unveiling it now because I feel like it is finally time for America to come together and embrace it. It is much too late to put it in place for 2013, but I feel like if you all read it now and have the possibility sitting in your minds somewhere, by the time you emerge from the wreckage of this year’s holiday, wishing you were never born and cursing the horrid creatures who somehow emerged from the same wretched womb from which you sprung, you will see its wisdom.

So: In an office in the White House there is a concealed wheel with 52 chambers. At the beginning of each year the President of the United States drops an orange ball into the wheel in a televised national ceremony that begins the process of Surprise Thanksgiving. He or she spins the wheel and walks away.

Every Monday thereafter, on TV and the Internet for everyone to see, the President walks to the wheel, cranks it, and we all wait to see if the orange ball drops down into the tube directly below it. Most times, it won’t. 50 or 51 times a year, depending, there may be no ball.

But the Monday on which the orange ball drops down, the President tells the nation that she or he is happy to announce that this year Thanksgiving is this Thursday.

Cue the panic as everyone scrambles to make travel arrangements. Plans are rescheduled. Launches are put off. Projects that are due on a certain date are bumped back. Tests are canceled. You have four days to make it to Thanksgiving and that is all that matters.

In the rush and craze to get yourself to your destination, are you thinking about what your cousin who hates [insert ethnic group here] is going to rant about this year? You are not. You are focused solely on figuring out how the hell you’re getting home and what you’re going to do about everything you’ve had planned for that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday now that they are off the calendar.

And once you get home? Who is angry at anyone else? At worst you all have airlines to complain about, but most of the holiday is spent with each person trying to top the one before on how difficult their own arrangements were to make, how arduous their trek and how much it meant to them to come home. Mom keeps the stemware intact, and Dad gets to ask you all kinds of questions about which highway you took to which other highway and why didn’t you use a different route, which you are more amused than irritated by.

There are, to be sure, small considerations that make this plan impractical initially. What do we do if Thanksgiving is in a warm weather month but we like to have turkey? (Rotisserie.) What happens if Thanksgiving encroaches on another holiday? (Extra day off.) What if we really don’t like our family and can’t stand to see them? (“Ugh, you know how it is with Surprise Thanksgiving, everything was booked solid. Maybe I’ll catch up with you guys on Christmas,” and then you get to go hang out with all your other friends that feel the same way.)

Again, do not say yes or no to this proposal immediately. Roll it around in your brain for a little bit, coming back to it once a week or so until Thanksgiving is upon you. I think as the dread grows and the holiday approaches the wisdom of this idea will become more and more obvious. It is my strong belief that by the end of this terrible time there will be a huge groundswell to institute Surprise Thanksgiving, or, as I hope it will come to be known, Thanksgiving. It is my gift to all of you. And if you’re having a hard time coping with the Thanksgiving we’re stuck with until we get it together to put my dream in place, here is some advice that will help you through the horror.

Photo by Andy Dean Photography, via Shutterstock