It’s hard to take Thanksgiving seriously. The holiday is more a celebration of food and football than a sober day of reflection. Not many other countries could pull off dedicating a day every year to feasting in honor of how good we all have it. There’s gaping inequities in the United States, but not many of us would trade places with the residents of most other countries in the world, let alone the residents of anyplace in the world for the first few thousand years of human existence.
Thanksgiving marks the time when radio stations become obsessed with squeezing every Christmas song ever written onto the airwaves as many times as possible for a month. On television, we are treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet of cheap and cheesy made-for-TV holiday specials. And entering a mall is like participating in a sparkling festival of holiday-season hyper-commercialism complete with lots of shiny decorations.
Then we have to endure the hollow attempt to make the holiday meaningful when someone decides everyone at the Thanksgiving table needs to say what he is thankful for. And there is much to be thankful for. Another person at my Thanksgiving dinner who was unique in that his cynicism was as intense as mine was thankful that the Lions were not going to play that Sunday and ruin another one of his weekends, especially after Thursday’s catastrophe. And there is more for me to be thankful for: My name is going to move up a couple lines in the Daily’s masthead in February (“Lowliness is young ambition’s ladder.”). The University recently mailed my brother a letter of acceptance into the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (Just wait until I can control page 1.).
But for most of us — college students I mean — Thanksgiving is not a time to ponder what we are thankful for or what is truly important to us in life. For a lot of us, Thanksgiving is just another trip home, another reason to see all the people we don’t see when we’re away at school.
These are the same people we talk about incessantly to our friends and acquaintances at school — all of our great high school friends and how wonderful high school was because of them. And then when we see them, we’re underwhelmed and spend most of the time talking about our college friends.
The people who were so important to us in high school no longer are. We can’t find the time for them, and even when we do, conversation with them is now awkward and difficult, not effortless and flowing as before.
Even though we extol the virtues of home to everyone at college, it’s not so great when we’re actually there — usually, it’s unbearably boring. We try to impress the people we knew before college by telling them about how much cooler our college friends are than our high school friends, by trying to show them how much nicer our clothes are now than the ones we wore in high school, how we’ve accomplished so much and have become so important in the short time since we were in high school. Sometimes we tell people we knew in high school that we hated the whole experience, and we’re so glad it’s over. But trashing high school is just another way college students distance themselves from their high school selves.
And while we’re home, we drive down the same streets that we drove down every day when we were younger. And we remember our old routines and our old teachers. We look back at high school with unwarranted nostalgia. It was not perfect, and neither is college.
We’re incredibly insecure about this imperfection and our own imperfections, but we hide our insecurities in our attempts to impress everyone at home. Some of us are still teenagers, most of us aren’t old enough to buy alcohol, but we try to come off as completely put together and self-aware.
In truth, none of us are really done growing and figuring ourselves out. That’s the point of college, although it’s not clear the college experience is really helpful for everyone in this regard. There’s nothing magical about spending four years away from home, except that every now and then you do meet friends who help you figure out what kind of person you want to be and who make you feel like a better person for having known them. It is these friends, not the food or the presents, that we should be thankful for.
Pesick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.