QUAY: What To Read And Watch This Year To Achieve Peak Thanksgiving Vibes

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Grayson Quay News & Opinion Editor
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Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen 

This five-page short story was written by O. Henry (of “The Gift of the Magi” fame) and centers on a similarly paradoxical act of mutual love and self-sacrifice. I won’t spoil too much of the story, but I will stitch together a few passages for you:

“Thanksgiving Day is the one day of the year that is purely American. And now here is the story to prove to you that we have old traditions in this new country. They are growing older more quickly than traditions in old countries. That is because we are so young and full of life. We do everything quickly … They do these things more easily in old countries like England. They do them without thinking about them. But in this young country, we must think about them. In order to build a tradition, we must do the same thing again and again for a long time … True, America is free. But there are some things that must be done.”

We’ve lost our taste for ceremony and tradition. Every day and occasion becomes just like every other. It’s no way to live. If you don’t have any Thanksgiving traditions, start one this year. And then keep at it. For America’s sake.

Alice’s Restaurant

As I said, traditions are good. If you don’t have any for Thanksgiving — or if you’re severed by space and circumstance from the people with whom you do share traditions — you could do worse than “Alice’s Restaurant.” Radio stations across the country play Arlo Guthrie’s rambling, folksy, satirical, 18-minute 1967 anti-Vietnam ballad at noon sharp on Thanksgiving Day. Wherever you are, scan through your radio, and I’ll bet you can find it.

Of course, you could stream the song whenever you want (as I did the Thanksgiving I spent in Málaga, Spain), but if you want to really make it a tradition, you have to let it demand some punctuality from you. It can’t be entirely on your terms. If you don’t have a radio (and you probably don’t), just download the iHeart Radio app and use that.

There’s also a movie version that came out in 1969, directed by Arthur Penn (of “Bonnie and Clyde” fame). The whole thing’s available on YouTube. The film, though flawed, provides an excellent snapshot of the hippie era, as an assortment of beatniks and longhairs come together in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, for “a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.”

But while the song is lighthearted and goofy (as are the jarring scenes in the movie that correspond to the song’s plot), the film is contemplative, even sad. The hippies feast together in a deconsecrated church, raising an important question — will sweeping away the old institutions usher in an era of love, peace and authenticity? Or will we destroy ourselves in our quest for boundless freedom? (RELATED: HART: News Stories I’m Thankful (And Not So Thankful) For This Thanksgiving)

Thanksgiving is a good time to remember that gratitude is not just a free-floating emotion. It must be directed at something or someone, and ought to inspire a sense of duty toward its object. Read G.K. Chesterton’s essay “The Ethics of Elfland” to learn how to “pay for sunsets.”

The Three-Day Blow 

This short story by Ernest Hemingway technically has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. But it feels like Thanksgiving. Not Thanksgiving Day itself, but the days immediately preceding and following it. You arrive back in your small town and head down to the local bar, the one where you can still smoke inside. Your high school buddies are there. Some of them, like you, scattered abroad and have drifted back home for the holiday. Others never left. 

After a few beers and a few cigs, people start to head home. Eventually, it’s just you and that one friend. The one you would’ve died for at 16, though lately your communication is limited to the occasional nostalgic meme about that video game you used to play together. You’ve become different people. 

But tonight that doesn’t matter. You head back to your parents’ place, or his. You sit in easy chairs in front of the fireplace while the wind howls outside. Or you start a blaze in the backyard pit. You pass a joint or a bottle of whisky and talk about whatever: girl trouble, old times, sports, God. But you studiously avoid any topic that might draw attention to the rift circumstance has riven between you. It’ll still be there tomorrow. 

Tonight is about celebrating the organic, local, unchosen connection you shared, the kind of friendship that’s undervalued in a culture that prizes free movement of human capital and seeks to connect us through algorithms rather than human-scale happenstance.

Your friendship doesn’t rekindle. You don’t text each other the next day. But you both know that the other will be there next year. Same time, same place. No questions asked. That’s what this story feels like. 

The Last Waltz 

Admittedly, I haven’t seen this movie, but my acquaintance Sam Buntz wrote such a good essay about it last year that I had to include it. I’ll let him sell it to you (and hopefully I’ll find time to watch it this year):

“The Last Waltz, directed and filmed by Martin Scorsese, is a documentary of The Band’s concert at the Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. The film was released on April 26, 1978 … [The film] is the final distillation of one of the best eras in American music … The Band were remarkably in touch with the ‘Old Weird America’ … They weren’t merely ‘60s hipsters paying homage to this side of the U.S.’s culture, the culture of juke joints and honky tonks, back when you could smoke inside. They were one of its last living artifacts.”

The documentary, often considered the best concert film of all time, also includes performances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and others. You know, the kind of music they (hopefully still) play at that bar where you can still smoke inside. The one where you run into that old friend on Thanksgiving Eve.

Of Plymouth Plantation 

If you want to go back to an even older, weirder America — all the way back to the OG Thanksgiving — you can’t do any better than this journal written by the long-serving governor of the Plymouth colony. 

If you only know the Pilgrims and Indians stories from elementary school, I’d highly recommend picking up (or listening through) a copy, even though the actual first Thanksgiving is mentioned only in passing.

The common shitlib meme is that the history you’ve been taught is a lie designed to conceal the systemic genocide of Native Americans. That’s hogwash, obviously, though there is plenty of bloodshed. The colonists’ massacre of the women, children and elders of the Pequot tribe, which author William Bradford celebrates as a “sweet sacrifice … to God,” is particularly chilling (even if committed in the course of an entirely just war that the Pilgrims waged alongside Indian allies of their own). (RELATED: How To Sneak Away From Thanksgiving Dinner To Blast A Cig With Your Edgy Cousin)

Other incidents deserve equal attention: Bradford’s unshaken faith in God even after half the colonists died during the first winter, the postapocalyptic state of the plague-ravaged natives, the often humorous wheeling and dealing of Squanto, the repudiation of collective farming that provides an excellent polemic against communism and the shocking case of bestiality that makes Bradford question the entire project of building an American Eden. 

Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost

If you need something to watch with the little cousins, it’s hard to do better than this. The autumnal New England vibes are, as the kids say, immaculate. When a local restaurateur lists off menu items for Scooby and Shaggy — “Yankee pot roast, New England clam chowder, maple baked ham and beans, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, and apple cinnamon pie” — there’s real poetry in the delivery. The words stick in your head and make you feel warm inside. The thinly veiled Stephen King character only adds to the atmosphere.

While I cannot endorse the movie’s favorable portrayal of Wicca (the pseudo-wholesome diabolism of which has led too many souls to the brink of hell), I can appreciate the overall feeling of uncanniness. It’s a much-needed reminder of the world the original colonists inhabited — an outpost of Christendom in a heathen land, with old deluder Satan always plotting against them. Witches hid among decent folk, while demons lurked in the forest. I still think of this movie whenever some trick of wind blows the fallen leaves in a perfect circle.

Careful though. The Hex Girls, the film’s all-female goth rock band, may trigger a few sexual awakenings. I myself never recovered and am happily married to an emo girl.

Grayson Quay is an editor at the Daily Caller.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.