At the time of publishing this column, it’s fair to assume those reading it are likely to be waking up in Paris or heading home for the evening in Osaka. Normally, the East Coast of America is still cosily tucked up in bed, but this morning presents a slightly different situation. Today is American Thanksgiving – a day of holiday, a day of celebration and, more often than not, a day of huge overconsumption.
A lunchtime bird to feed your family can take up to five hours cooking time. So it seems appropriate to be saying good morning New York. For those living outside of the US, Thanksgiving can be something they have trouble wrapping their heads around. The holiday broadly celebrates the arrival of pilgrims on American shores, a successful harvest and the farming assistance given to new immigrants by Native Americans. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a holiday for all to give thanks to “the Almighty Hand,” and to pray for peace.
Pilgrims, Almighty Hands and the giving of thanks don’t seem particularly secular. Yet, Thanksgiving is arguably the most popular secular holiday in the US. It is estimated that over 40 million Americans will be travelling home and will consume an average of 4,500 calories each. Void of strict religious connotations, it’s a day which American Jews, Muslims, Christians or atheists can celebrate alike. But the religiosity that permeates much American political and institutional rhetoric means thanks really should be given for a day that simply celebrates new arrivals to the country.
Last weekend, the candidates in the GOP primary race staged a “Thanksgiving table” and participated in a debate of sorts, run by the conservative Family Leader and the National Organization for Marriage at an evangelical church in Iowa. There, Thanksgiving’s secular tones were forgotten. Instead it became a competition as to who could out-Christian who. GOP race leader Mitt Romney and fellow candidate, Jon Huntsman, weren’t present due to their Mormon faith. And discussion on immigration policy was far removed from any sort of welcome feast. Perhaps Newt Gingrich made it most clear on Tuesday’s CNN debate. Stating that he would support the nationalisation of immigrant families who had been here over 25 years, he added the caveat that they should be good, Church-going folk.
As ever, it seems religious fervour isn’t far from the thoughts of the American right wing, even during the secular period of Thanksgiving.