Of Course Thanksgiving Is the Best Holiday

(Photo by Getty Images)

Dear Capitolisters,

There’s a good chance you’ll be reading this week’s newsletter shortly before or after you did something in preparation for Thanksgiving—traveling, cleaning, cooking, avoiding family, etc. This time of year can be hectic for all sorts of reasons (see previous sentence), but I hope you’ll take a minute to be thankful for not merely the things you have, but also for the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving.

No, really, it’s the best—and it’s not even close.

I can already hear some of you scoffing at this claim—skepticism I’ve unfortunately experienced in both my real and virtual lives. But that doesn’t make my claim any less true, and today we’ll conduct a deep-dive analysis of the many reasons why, objectively speaking,Thanksgiving is the best holiday there is. 

Start With the Date

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it’s a day off on the fourth Thursday of November. Leaving aside the bad presidential economics and bizarre political controversy surrounding President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to set this date, it gives the holiday permanent and elite status as the only major U.S. holiday that always starts a four-day weekend. (Yes, technically some people work on that Friday, but most don’t and—let’s face it—unless you’re in retail, you’re not really putting in max effort on Black Friday.) All other U.S. holidays, by contrast, have either fixed dates (Independence Day, Christmas, New Year’s Day, etc.) or fall on a Sunday or Monday. Both of these alternatives create obvious drawbacks: The former causes the dreaded midweek holiday (which is no holiday at all), and the latter means you’re right back to work the morning after the revelry and, at most, a three-day break.

And don’t even get me started on the “holidays” like Halloween that have a fixed date and no time off. That’s an automatic holiday fail, my friends.

Thanksgiving, by contrast, always gives you a real and delightful respite: You get in the spirit Wednesday afternoon, celebrate Thursday morning through the night, and then have three more glorious days before having to trudge back into work. Whether you spend those 72 hours sleeping in or shopping or traveling or just eating leftovers, this situation is undeniably superior to all other post-holiday situations. 

Combine the four-day weekend with the fact that Thanksgiving comes after an almost-12 week break between major paid holidays—a drought surpassed by only the brutal Presidents’ Day-to-Memorial Day stretch—and Thanksgiving is a Top 5 holiday on this metric alone. No other day comes close.

Of Course, the Food

There’s a pernicious myth circulating the internet that the traditional Thanksgiving meal—turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and some sort of green thing you pretend to eat—isn’t good, but this is just a sad cry for help from people without a good cook in the family. Seriously, people, this food—especially this stuffing—is good. It takes a little work, but that’s also part of the joy: Because many Thanksgiving staples take hours, even days, to prepare, we get to enjoy their incredible smells—and maybe a little taste or six—for far longer than just the main event. It’s a multiday olfactory extravaganza, featuring ingredients from across the country (if not the world). And no other U.S. holiday celebrates—nay, demands!—such a wonderful feast.

Furthermore, focusing on just the Thanksgiving staples ignores not only how American families have unique traditions for preparing those classics, but also how most of us supplement the basics with other incredible things—appetizers, sides, drinks, desserts, tamales, whatever—that either reflect other family traditions or are new experiments that might eventually enter the main Thanksgiving rotation. (My mom was constantly experimenting with sweet potatoes—the soufflé is the best variation.)

All this supplementing and experimenting gets us to the other amazing thing about Thanksgiving dinner: the leftovers. Roast turkey sandwiches (on homemade dinner rolls), honey-baked ham, stuffing doughnuts, gourmet desserts, you name it. Chances are, if you had it at Thanksgiving dinner, you get to have it again the next day or even the next week. (Or, if you’re like me, just a few hours later in the evening when the food coma abates and you start craving a turkey-and-butter sandwich.) If you plan ahead, you might even have enough to enjoy Thanksgiving in June:

So, sure, barbecues and Christmas cookies and Easter brunch and Champagne are fun and tasty, but Thanksgiving again dominates the field.

The Themes

Thanksgiving also scores big when it comes to things we celebrate on the holiday—in both words and deeds. We gather with family and friends to do three things—celebrate our nation’s earliest days, share a great meal, and give thanks for what we have (including said food). No gifts, no parties, no frills, just cheering America, eating great food, and being thankful for the tangible and intangible blessings we have, with perhaps some football on in the background while we nap. And, whether religious or secular, the themes are the same—we all get to enjoy them.

Given all the pessimism out there regarding our modern American abundance (especially in regards to food), this open expression of appreciation is no small feat. The only shame is that we don’t do it more often, because—even today—there’s plenty to celebrate. Thanksgiving, in fact, gives us two great examples: First, on the relative cost of dinner …

…and, second, on all the “leisure time” we devote to making it:

That only Americans (no, sorry, Canadian Thanksgiving doesn’t count) stop our busy lives to engage in this great ritual—while everyone else in the world is working or otherwise being jealous of our awesome Americanness—is the icing on the (carrot) cake. 

Other holidays have important themes too, of course—freedom, sacrifice, atonement, renewal, blowing stuff up, etc.—but, in practice, our focus is often (even usually) elsewhere. I mean, when’s the last time you heard someone complain about Thanksgiving becoming too commercialized, about all the crowds and traffic at the Thanksgiving service or fireworks show, about the pain of putting up and taking down the Thanksgiving decorations, or about how Thanksgiving Eve* parties are a giant waste of money for annoying amateur revelers? Thanksgiving, on the other hand, remains about the boring things it’s supposed to be about, and that’s good.

*Drinksgiving, by contrast, is actually a fun time with old friends (preferably at a dive bar).

The (Lack of) Stress

Because of its relative simplicity, even boring-ness, Thanksgiving also lacks much of the stress that accompanies many American holidays. Sure, it can be stressful to travel, and meal prep can be taxing, and the proverbial “Thanksgiving uncle” might get a little mouthy. But—as anyone stuck in summer beach traffic knows all too well—travel stress accompanies any holiday (unless you wisely don’t travel), annoying relatives attend most holiday events (Pro Tip: Just ignore them), and the remaining Thanksgiving stresses are relatively insignificant, especially compared to Christmas. We don’t spend weeks shopping for the perfect gifts, decorating the house and a tree (sometimes several), dreading next month’s credit card bill, or worrying about whether our friends and family will like what we’ve picked out. We don’t buy fancy new outfits or expensive tickets to overhyped events, and we don’t go on pool-season diets that never quite work. We just show up, maybe do some cooking (which can be quite fun and rewarding), eat, help clean up, nap, watch football, eat again, nap again, maybe scroll our phones for a cheap TV, eat again, and then call it a day. It’s holiday relaxation at its best.

And, thankfully, almost 80 percent of us are smart enough to avoid politics altogether:

The Sports

For those (like me) who enjoy sports, Thanksgiving weekend is an absolute delight—even if you weren’t (again, like me) born and raised in Dallas and thus involuntarily brainwashed to plan dinner around the Cowboys game. This week, we get three NFL games on Thursday and one on Friday; college football “rivalry week” games Thursday through Saturday; dozens of quality NBA, NHL, and NCAA “feast week” basketball games all weekend; more NFL on Sunday; and even some MLS Cup and European soccer thrown in there too. (Though watching English soccer on Thanksgiving weekend seems wrong to me.) It’s not the best sports week of the year (that’s undeniably this week in April), but it’s pretty darn great—especially since you have actual Thanksgiving stuff and lots of holiday downtime for watching the games.

The Music/Movies

For all of Thanksgiving’s bounties, it’s inarguably thin when it comes to music and movies. Sure, there are a few Thanksgiving songs out there—some even pretty good, plus several more than can be humorously shoehorned into the holiday season—and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is an all-time classic, but nobody is seriously out there humming Thanksgiving tunes on their way to the grocery store, belting out Thanksgiving classics after one too many sips of nog, or rewatching a Thanksgiving movie marathon on TV. By contrast, other holidays—especially the patriotic and religious ones—come with tons of music and plenty of films that would be considered legitimately great regardless of whether there was a holiday attached. (Handel’s Messiah is the obvious best of the musical bunch, but there are many other gems, and the Fourth has plenty too.) Thanksgiving doesn’t have that, to its discredit (though, again, it does have all those sports).

On the other hand, the downside to all that good holiday music and film is that—capitalism doing what capitalism does—it’s inevitably played on repeat until our ears and eyes bleed, remixed and rebooted into oblivion, and joined by mountains of terrible stuff that’s just trying to ride the holiday waves to one-hit-wonder riches. Thus, for every Bing Crosby version of “White Christmas” or Nat King Cole version of “The Christmas Song,” there are a respective 128,000 and 80,000 versions—no, literally!—of those songs that generally stink, plus tens of thousands of other Christmas songs that (probably) stink even more, including inarguably some of the worst music ever made

The same generally goes for movies too. For every Die Hard or Elf or Love Actually, there are dozens of Christmas movies/sequels/remakes and Hallmark specials (admit it: you “enjoy” these ironically) that are as bad as the Christmas classics are good. Thanksgiving might deny us the pleasure, but it also spares us the pain.

As an aside, it’s also useful to note that holiday media saturation is bad enough for people merely tortured for a few minutes in the occasional shopping mall or living room, but it’s sheer misery for the poor souls working at malls, restaurants, and other public places that are in the holiday spirit for a good 10 weeks before the holiday arrives. It’s traumatic. (Yes, I know this from personal experience.)

Just Say No to Creepmas

Speaking of those 10 weeks, Thanksgiving is also great—important, even—in that it serves as a hardy bulwark against the ever-expanding and insatiable Christmas season. Christmas is fine and good and stuff (bad music notwithstanding), but it’s supposed to be a few days (12, at most). Yet the wicked combination of profit-hungry capitalists and arguably unstable Santa superfans has caused the Christmas “season” to now consume much of the year.

If it weren’t for Thanksgiving (and to a lesser extent Halloween), there’d be nothing stopping these madmen from putting up a tree right after the Fourth of July fireworks end—and destroying Christmas in the process. Indeed, when everything is Christmas, nothing is.

Summing It All Up

Compared to every other major U.S. holiday, Thanksgiving wins—often handily—on the calendar, the food, the themes, the sports, and the Creepmas prevention. It’s also near the top on the (lack of) stress, though it loses a couple points because of the travel and (potential) family strife. Thanksgiving truly only struggles on the music/movies front, which can often be a blessing given the relative omnipresence of certifiable holiday junk. Other factors, such as weather, are too variable or subjective to be included in any legitimate scientific analysis like this. (November is generally delightful here in the South, but I’m sure it’s miserable in places like Iowa or Wisconsin.)

Examining each these factors for the biggest U.S. holidays—and applying a 10-point scale for each factor—we can see that Thanksgiving wins in an absolute rout (and recent polling shows America agrees):

Graphic by Joe Schueller. Data available upon request; must credit Scott Lincicome/common sense.
Graphic by Joe Schueller. Data available upon request; must credit Scott Lincicome/common sense.

So, my fellow Americans, let us stop the endless holiday debates and instead devote our finite attention to what matters most this week: Giving thanks for family, friends, America, stuffing, and—of course—Thanksgiving itself, the objectively greatest holiday of them all.

(Happy Thanksgiving!)

Thanksgiving Chart(s) of the Week

Something to be thankful for:

We’re just not hardwired to give thanks (hence, why Thanksgiving is so important!):

Finally, a new pie chart:

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