To all American friends and readers: Happy Thanksgiving. It's the best of all holidays. From a sensibly-sentimental piece I wrote a few years ago:
Thanksgiving is the most genial holiday. I know this because the Canadians have their own version of the greatest of all American holidays. If one were to select a single word to describe the holiday, it might be "wholesome". Not wholesome in a eat-your-tofu kind of fashion, but in a simpler, gentler fashion. Thanksgiving has all one needs from a holiday: family, friends, food.
At the tail end of fall in some parts or crusted by the first snows of winter in others, Thanksgiving either feels ripe and misty or crisp and clear. Either way, it rewards a long morning walk along the river or through the park, preferably in the company of a squirrel-chasing spaniel or labrador, followed by a return home for a warming glass of hot port, a log fire and the time-honoured, same-as-they-always-are rituals of the feast. (Plus, of course, the annual tradition of watching the Detroit Lions lose a football game.)
The food matters. It's the stuff that binds the rest of the holiday together. There's something comforting about the annual debates about stuffing and how best to roast your turkey; something reassuring too in the essentially unchanging menu. This is no time for fancy-dan experimentation, no matter how much you may ordinarily dislike pumpkin pie.
Most of all, however, it's the consolations of family and friends that matter. Thanksgiving - at least as I've experienced it - prompts an unusual feeling, namely that Dr Pangloss was, for one day at least, correct: all is indeed for the best in this the best of all possible worlds.
And as the years slip away this becomes more, not less important. The contrast between Thanksgiving and the other great annual holidays is instructive. There is, for instance, the enforced jollity and frenzied back-slapping of the New Year that becomes ever more intolerable. Instead of celebration and the promise of a fresh year, one dwells upon the missed opportunities and squandered promise of the year just past. New Year is a melancholy affair, shot through with regret and best endured by taking to bed early, armed with a bottle of whisky and some Dostoevsky.
Committed Christians may find that Christmas retains its original charm, but for the rest of us the words "festive season" have become all too synonymous with ghastly office parties, familial discord and bloated consumption that obscures, nay buries, the original point of the festival in the first place. Despite the sudden austerity of the age, there's every reason to suppose that the consumerist blackmail Christmas demands will again be paid this year. Christmas is only Christmas, but Thanksgiving is what Christmas ought to be.
As for July 4th and its equivalent days of celebration around the world? Well, it's all very jolly and the fireworks sure are pretty, but in the end there's something a little bit vulgar about all the tub-thumping, Sousa-soaked celebrations.