Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving and getting

Thanksgiving is an almost uniquely American holiday. (I know there is a Canadian version but this weekend I will follow US tradition by putting that aside.) It celebrates a time in the 1620s when this country's immigration policy was not only one of open borders but of active assistance to immigrants. This is just as well because the immigrants to the US from Europe during that time would have been stuffed without help from local inhabitants. Thanksgiving celebrates that help although it is not lost on anyone that US immigration policy is now considerably different, I suspect for historical reasons, perhaps recalling that open immigration perhaps didn't work out so well for past inhabitants.

Nonetheless, it was clear that in the 1620s, it was food that was a core issue for new settlers. For that reason, every year, US families gather together to prove to everyone that food is no longer an issue. And yesterday we joined one such family for what we understand to have been a dinner combining every single tradition within a modern suit as is humanly possible.

Like Halloween, Thanksgiving had received some hype for our kids. Our respective children had played together for a year. They had been told that their grandparents house, where our event would take place, was a house of wonder where there was candy and toys literally in every corner. Our children were sceptical and given some Halloween disappointments, expected a good meal, but nothing to write home about. In this case, the myth turned out to be the reality.

This was a house that did not like taxes and one tax that had been identified as evil was my health tax -- re-dubbed the 'candy tax.' Soon upon entering our kids were told that in this house the candy tax had been repealed. Not only that but candy was freely available. It was everywhere. Lollipop displays, bowls of M&M's and some Swedish red fish that now rates in their eyes as one of the greatest culinary creations in human history. To wit, when a discussion turned to what people might have as a last meal my daughter resolutely stated her menu of "chocolate, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and those red fish." I could see my son looking around in wonder and then feeling the walls to see if they were made of gingerbread. 

But it wasn't only that, there was also the toys. There were toys everywhere. These were grandparents who in no uncertain terms were going all out. (And not just in toys but in attire. The grandmother was dressed as a pilgrim and the grandfather had a roast turkey adorning his head). Months of investment going around yard sales and discount shops had paid off. The toys were stacked many feet high. Our kids didn't know what to do next. They could do no more than frolic around with the distinct impressions that dreams can indeed come true. "I can't believe it. It is exactly what they said it would be."

And the house itself was a pure delight. The walls were covered with memorabilia. It could have been a museum to well, museum shops. Every room had a theme. From the revolution to broadway to a hunting lodge and then a bathroom where every wall was a mirror, including the ceiling and right down to the light switches (see photo). You could see yourself drifting a thousand times over in all directions. Going there is quite an experience.

Suffice it to say, this was one situation in which engaging in any type of what might be called parenting was futile. So we didn't. As it turned out, the children were not the only ones who would be saved from starvation. We too were seduced by the red fish but then the adults were presented a meal that actively sought to destroy any pretense for restrained living with course after course of mash potatoes, assortments of pies and a turkey whose size would have required a trained game hunter to have brought down. It is just as well we didn't have to attend to the children as it was not really possible to move. It was quite a feast and then they brought out dessert.

Eventually, much to our surprise, it was one of the native grandchildren who succumbed first to the unrestrained consumption. He knew it was coming and, with full cheeks, was ushered into the bathroom by one of his parents. One can only imagine that scene as several thousand kids simultaneously 'tossed their cookies.' By the look of his parent upon exiting, this is a dream-like fantasy that could have been spared reality.

My children eventually collapsed from exhaustion but kept their load. Our fears that they might not fall asleep were unfounded. And then next morning, much to our amazement they wanted to eat breakfast. On time and as usual. We offered them vege sticks. They didn't eat.

It is interesting to speculate why Thanksgiving has grown in popularity over the years. These days it has been combined with another past time, shopping, although for the life of my I can't understand how and why people would rise themselves today to get to the shops by 4am. If there is a greater example of market unraveling I haven't seen it.

But in looking around this family gathered all in one place from afar with the knowledge that half of them were away from their families, I think the holiday may be a negotiated consequence of duality. In the US, where so many families live in different cities, Thanksgiving allows one family gathering to be allocated while I guess at Christmas or another occasion, the other side of the family gets together. It provides the extra holiday so that in each family both sides can have their piece of the action. It is a market response to a fundamental scarcity of allocating members to large, annual family gatherings. We were happy on this occasion to be part of this one.