In a Groove, and Glad of It

HolidaysThanksgivingCommutingFamilyThe PilgrimsTravelTom Brokaw

Speaking of Thanksgiving, familiar customs have become a vital if invisible part of modern life. In a time when just as you get used to every new set of rules, everything changes again, old customs provide a predictable comfort -- even more than telling off Tom Brokaw or Judy Woodruff in absentia. We know our customs will arrive on time, unlike, say, the cable guy.

Next to self-centered birthday celebrations, which reflect personal tastes, Thanksgiving is arguably the best holiday. Being thankful is good. And you can do it while sitting.

This holiday is free of hassle and buildup. It simply arrives, along with the same family-familiar faces that have arrived every Thanksgiving since you were little -- accompanied by the exact same fruitcake, too.

Many societies establish harvest holidays. People jogging on Thanksgiving clearly descend from religious sects proscribing pleasure. The Pilgrims had their hang-ups, too, as evidenced in those rigid Capt. Ahab hats, very big buckles and their immense white collars positioned like sideways napkins.

The Pilgrims' official scheduler was especially wise to reject the union demand of Monday for the Thanksgiving holiday. Everyone then would have to return to self-denying piety the very next day, cold turkey.

Thursdays are perfect. You've got a short workweek run-up and none of Christmas' escalating pressures -- the cascading shipping deadlines and that infernal count of shopping days left.

Most Thanksgivings involve obligation-free eruptions of steady eating, lying around, eating, changing channels, eating, sleeping. And, then, in the afternoon, more of that. Evening too, except by then the Pepcid has kicked in. A gentle, indolent way to mark the harvest work of others.

Ingeniously, even without wood-burning microwaves, Thanksgiving's designers knew to build in three days' recovery, not just from overindulgence of the eating and imbibing sort but also from the customary Thanksgiving family stories: about childhoods, where the day's recipes originated and how they've been changed, about the time Uncle Jim fell asleep into his squash and the short word Dad once uttered upon spilling wine on the new tablecloth.

Three days also gives the Green Bay Packers time to get home and allows three nights for TV news to show the same holiday travelers as last year stranded by unexpected snowstorms. Quick question: Wouldn't sudden sun be more unexpected in heartland winters than falling snow?

Without the threat of imminent inundation by snow, Southern California males are forced to find excuses to avoid another Thanksgiving custom: shopping tomorrow. Too much traffic is true but stale. The fires are gone. No earthquake warnings at present. Concern for Shaq's bad calves?

What America needs is a fresh, new customary excuse to avoid the custom of shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe an inspiration will arrive with the next bowl of chips.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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