The No-Drama Thanksgiving

Source: The Atlantic | November 22, 2021 | Tom Nichols

How to be serene and grateful this year—and make it last.


Thanksgiving is when Americans are supposed to think deeply on gratitude, but too often what we think of as gratitude is more like relief or satisfaction. We recount all the stuff we love having and the things we’re glad didn’t happen to us (or things we’re glad are over), but in reality, that’s little more than a pharisaical breast-beating about how glad we are to be us and not some other poor bastard. Then it’s off to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Yes, there are the good and wise among us who know how to be grateful. But Americans tend to corrode holidays and turn them into noisy and commercial festivals devoid of their original meaning. (Exhibit A: “President’s Day,” which used to be two days to remember the towering greatness of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and now is just a shopping day commemorating everyone, apparently, from Warren Harding to Donald Trump.)

So how can we find some meaning in this one day that should be devoted to national unity without drama and without stupid arguments with our family? I’m not sure I can help you with your family, but perhaps we can rethink our sense of gratitude.


At the very least, it’s a way to avoid drama. On Thanksgiving, resolve for a day not to engage with anything as temporary as the freakish politics of our current age. This is especially difficult, as Irvine warns us, when “the world is full of politicians who tell us that if we are not happy it isn’t our fault,” and that “our unhappiness is caused by something the government did to us or is failing to do for us.”

Let that go. Instead of trying to straighten out your uncle about rigged voting machines, be cheerful and ask Uncle Ragey if he’d like more pie. Rather than arguing with your insufferable cousin who’s home from college about why Thanksgiving is a racist and genocidal festival, ask Cousin Akshully to help with the dishes and then tell her a story about her family or ask her what dorm food is like these days.

And then, with Lincolnian stoicism, remember that they are your family, that the day could be a lot worse, and that you will miss them when they are gone—because one day they will be gone, and so will you, and no one will care what any of you thought about the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.

Be grateful not just on Thanksgiving but in every circumstance, as much as possible. For people as blessed as Americans, you’d think this would be easier to do. Unfortunately, however, humility and gratitude have not been part of the American skill set for decades. And yet, maybe this year, we can forgo the rote declarations about thankfulness and try to emulate the kind of gratitude—and quiet fortitude—President Lincoln once asked of us.


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