Your Thanksgiving, not mine

Today is Thanksgiving, your holiday, but not mine.

I have nothing against Thanksgiving at all, but it was never a big deal in my family, nor in my neighborhood. 

I don’t know why.

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want. (Saturday Evening Post)

No massive ingathering of family, no huge steroid-injected bird, no sense of being in a Norman Rockwell painting.

I call my sister, the best person I know, to check my memory against hers. Her recollection matches mine — no big deal at all.

So I speculate. No ingathering of family, maybe because one set of grandparents lived one floor above us in our red brick, five-story tenement in the South Bronx. The other set of grandparents lived in the five-story, tan brick tenement across the street. 

Imagine that — all four grandparents within shouting distance. The grandparents were all immigrants, from various hellholes (for Jews) in Eastern Europe. Boy, did they have reasons to give thanks, and I’m sure they did, but not on the fourth Thursday of November.

To my memory, few families did in my Jewish and Italian neighborhood, with a scattering of Irish and Slavs.

My memories start in the post-War years, when no one had a car. We were working class, lower class, poor without feeling poor.  No one had much, but we all had the same.

Maybe there wasn’t enough money for a Thanksgiving feast, but I don’t think it was lack of money, because Christmas brought out the big guns (or Passover for the Jews).

Turkeys are dirt cheap today; I have no idea what they sold for then, but I’m sure they weren’t as easy to cook, or as good.

We probably had a regular dinner on Thanksgiving, with maybe a special side dish, and I’m sure we gave thanks, but it was no Broadway production.

When I was married, Wife No. 1 wanted to show off her cooking skills, and we did have a big Thanksgiving meal, like in the movies, with friends from our Philadelphia neighborhood. As I remember, and I could be wrong, it was one and done.

The Italian family of Wife No. 2 did make a big deal out of Thanksgiving, but that came easy to my wonderful mother-in-law because she threw a huge meal every Sunday, with the family gathered around. The Sunday dinner is a wonderful facet of life in Italian South Philly, and peobably elsewhere inside and outside the city.

Over the years, here and there I had friends with a big bird and a big table, and I was happy to attend, lugging a cherry cheesecake from the now-departed Aramingo Diner. 

Also over the years, the story of Thanksgiving has, um, evolved from a happy feast between thankful Pilgrims and charitable Indians.It is now Native Americans being infected by disease from Europeans who stole their land and their patent for corn. (This is the New York Times 1619 version. I prefer the original.)

The Plymouth Pilgrims were thankful for a good harvest in 1621, and to be alive because about half their number had died. Now, in 2020, Americans are facing massive deaths from the coronavirus and the government has warned against gatherings with people from outside your immediate family.

Some will take the advice, others will not.

This has been a long, strange, awful year. 

Can we still be thankful? 

Yes, because we live in the greatest Democracy the world has known — and we have three vaccines being rushed to market.

And because we believe next year will be better. 

22 thoughts on “Your Thanksgiving, not mine”

  1. HAPPY THURSDAY !!!
    HAPPY THANKSGIVING !!!
    Ya did it again, pallie ! Welcome to America. Most of us live for family tradition. Gather at mom’s house ( never say dad’s ) on almost every Sunday. Everybody in the kitchen. HINDSIGHT : All houses, on the first floor, should just be one big kitchen !
    This tradition goes back to post WW II. My mother’s family gathered at a lake in Jersey every Sunday. Naturally, being Italian and the lake in Jersey, lots of sauce, meatballs, corn and swimming pots in and out of there someplace.
    Yes. Plenty to give thanks for in this great country of ours. It is a work in progress, never the less, Welcome.
    Tony

  2. Being Italian, just about EVERY holiday celebration turned out to be a shouting match among the many Aunts and Uncles and Cousins crushed together in a small West Philadelphia house. I considered it a success if no one bled.

  3. Philadelphia, PA

    Dea Stu & readers,

    Happy Thanksgiving to one and all !

    Admittedly, it’s not a good year for gatherings. In spite of that, Thanksgiving is perhaps America’s most universally observed holiday –right down into the inner commitments and details of family obligations.

    Next year will be better. Shouldn’t we all get with the program? Shame on the NY Times!

    H.G. Callaway

      1. Philadelphia, PA

        Dear Stu,

        For many years after the Civil War, only the Blacks celebrated the 4th of July in the South. These days, among many on the left, patriotism of any sort is anathema, and it is equated with blind nationalism, imperialism and the celebration of the military–not that I agree of course.

        H.G. Callaway

        1. I was referring to what is CURRENTLY practiced, and I included the * to denote some people, mostly Blacks, do not observe Independence Day because they don’t feel “free.”

  4. Being Jewish and Italian and having grown up in Philly in the 1950s/1960s, I don’t recall Thanksgiving being big with Jews or Catholics. Its probably because the holiday was/is originally biggest with the WASPs who founded this country and who until WW2 or so, were the ruling class.

    Orthodox Jews until recently generally avoided holidays that were not Jewish religious ones….especially Thanksgiving since it is a copy of Sukkos/the Feast of Tabernacles, a harvest festival.

    With more assimilation for all ethnic immigrant groups, Thanksgiving became more popular.

    1. Every time I read Stu’s column, his respondents teach me something about Jewish thoughts and actions. Thanks.

  5. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu & readers,

    Do we see some roots of urban “multiculturalism” and identity politics here?

    —Annette wrote—
    Being Jewish and Italian and having grown up in Philly in the 1950s/1960s, I don’t recall Thanksgiving being big with Jews or Catholics. Its probably because the holiday was/is originally biggest with the WASPs who founded this country and who until WW2 or so, were the ruling class.
    —end quotation

    It strikes me that this comment conflates “WASPS” born with and without the proverbial “silver spoon.” Those without benefit of being born with a “silver spoon” certainly never belonged to a “ruling class,” many were even descended from late in the 19th-century immigrants. Yet the generalized prejudice persists. This is harmful to many having no hint of ever belonging to any ruling class.

    The WASPS who did form a ruling class of sorts during and after the Gilded Age (1870-1900) were just those folks who got very rich in the massive industrialization of the country after the Civil War. They were in the right place at the right time. We have now, however, our own neo-Gilded Age of globalization, quite “cosmopolitan,” and multi-ethnic. Any ethnic coloring of silver spoon will apparently do equally well. Let’s see how this one goes.

    The “Protestant establishment” of old is as dead as the Pennsylvania Railroad. Yet the myth of a need to fight it persists. It’s a politically driven urban myth. (Heaven help us if we were ever to set aside differences in ethnic and religious backgrounds for larger purposes?)

    In my own impression, Thanksgiving most resembles typical European harvest festivals –and the European celebrations of the foundings of the local parish or congregation–which persist throughout the old continent. Though, as I recall, President Lincoln (1863) first declared a national day of Thanksgiving, it later effectively displaced the celebration of “Evacuation Day” (November 25th) marking the departure of British troops just after the Revolutionary War. For a century or more, “Evacuation” of the Brits was regarded as sufficient ground for a celebration –this on the part of “WASPS” and non-WASPS alike.

    H.G. Callaway

    1. The progressives created the hyphenated American (e.g., Italian-American, Chinese-American, et cetera) to de-homogenize us. Once the Left Balkanized the nation, it found it easy to pit us against each other. Damn diabolical.

      1. Philadelphia, PA

        Dear Benedict & readers,

        The talk of “hyphenated Americans,” arose, so far as I know, at the time of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was very critical of the concept, but his rejection did not go down very well because of the high level of immigrants in the population at the time. Integration of immigrants into a pre-existing population in generally a long, slow process; and we don’t have a single ideal model in any case. Americans, now as then, are not anything like “Englishmen living in the colonies” after all. There are plenty of examples of prominent Americans of British background quite Anglophobic.

        The chief reply to Roosevelt (who was himself a “progressive,” “Bull Moose” = Progressive party of 1912), was that there is nothing wrong with being a “hyphenated American,” so long as “the hyphens bind and do not separate us” to the extent of Roosevelt’s feared “gaggle of quarreling nationalities.”

        That is to say that the early 20th century “progressive” acceptance of the “hyphenated Americans,” did not amount to the “multiculturalism” and identity politics of our times. It did amount to rejecting forced assimilation to any pre-existing cultural pattern. The idea was simply that new immigrants need time to shake off old patterns and adopt those that would benefit them in their adopted country. But notice that we have always borrowed something or other from later-comers, too. (Italian cooking anyone? Bagels for breakfast?) That’s why even Americans of British or English background are not “Englishmen living in the colonies.” They certainly do not all belong to any “ruling class” –and never did.

        I think multiculturalism (basically its a British import to these shores, consider the 4, ethnically defined sub-polities of the U.K.) and identity politics are fairly regarded as functioning to “Balkanize” the country. Meanwhile, you’ll notice that recent immigrants to Philadelphia, such as the Albanians, have gone into business and are often doing quite well –having escape the life-and-death ethnic conflicts of old Europe.

        H.G. Callaway
        HG1Callaway (at) Gmail (.) com

  6. Dear Stu & other comments,
    You all are so cynical! I was raised in an Italian American home full of love. On Thanksgiving morning we would go to
    the parade, at the time on Market Street and Santa would climb the ladder in the Gimbel’s Building. We’d come home & my Mom, Dad, my brother and me and 2 bachelor uncles would give thanks and have a wonderful time together.
    I tried raising my now adult children with that same love, welcoming home and dinner together with being thankful for
    having each other, good health, saying Grace before meals. So I was raised to appreciate a beautiful Holiday that didn’t involve buying presents but just being together. Even this year I was with my adult children, grandchildren…my
    husband no longer with us but we always mentions those that are missed. Sorry you all feel so negative!!!

    1. Philadelphia, PA

      Dear Barbara (if I may),

      Many thanks for your beautiful memories and appreciation of Thanksgiving. I don’t know how anyone could resist!

      You evoke a memory of childhood. Groups of us would take the “El” in town and spend an entire Saturday in the toy department on the top floor of Wanamaker’s –maybe after watching Santa climb the ladder up to Gimbel’s?

      Howard
      H.G. Callaway

      1. HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
        as November slowly sinks into ………
        Stu,
        My first thought when I saw “negativity”, is you are picking on us Christians, misspelling “nativity”.
        Then I realized that you are picking on Barbara Maglione. ( wonder if she had any cousins up in Port Richmond ? ) I, too saw her reply and “passover” it. You get upset at me when I get long winded, or I could give plenty of long details about family time. I think Ms Maglione misspoke.
        Tony

    2. Barbara: just because there was a lot of yelling and screaming and tsuris at my Italian grandmother’s house during the holidays doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of love, because there was. Several of my uncles came from the old country, so they were used to being loud and pushy. But love was in the air… along with whatever someone could throw.

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