By Ed Harris
A Jewish friend of mine once described Thanksgiving as his favorite holiday. He said Thanksgiving is the only celebration of the season that serves to unite people of all faiths, unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, which are drawn from entirely different religious traditions.
In making this assessment, however, my friend was not familiar with the squabbling which takes place among Mishpocha Harris. After all, what would a holiday celebrated by Jews be — even if the event itself is not Jewish — without arguing?
The first item up for debate is the vantage point from where we should sit inside and watch the precipitation come down. Is it better to stay at home, and avoid the expense and hassle of travel, and stare at rain-sodden pewter skies from the comfort of our own living room couch? Or perhaps it might be more fun to load up the car, turn on the windshield wipers, and stare at the gloom from a rental in a local vacation spot such as Cannon Beach or Victoria. Every trip we’ve made to Victoria, the brochure in the hotel room cheerfully explains the cozy little city is located in a sub-tropical temperate zone, affording it an unusually dry, sunny climate. However, somehow despite numerous winter visits, we get the same miserable off-season weather as back home, except with the added privilege of paying for it. I guess Victoria reverts back to sub-tropical as soon as the Clipper disappears over the horizon.
The next item of dispute is what to eat at the family dinner. In theory, the common denominator of Thanksgiving is the turkey, as exemplified by the classic Norman Rockwell picture, “Freedom From Want,” which portrays a smiling family about to devour what appears to be about a 30-pounder prepared by Grandma.
We Jews may not be able to partake of the Christmas ham with the same gusto as our gentile friends and neighbors, but we can all agree on the suitability of a turkey as the centerpiece of a feast. Except, that is, chez Harris: We’ve been overrun by rampant vegetarianism. Meanwhile, our youngest, Izzy, a dedicated carnivore, cannot believe his bad luck. Tevye the Dairyman wondered, “would it have spoiled some vast, eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man.” Izzy probably similarly speculates whether the cosmos would have tilted off-kilter had his parents eaten meat, like, you know, normal people. He’s lobbying to be served his own private dinner, an entire turkey, roasted for an audience of one. Given the fact that in over two decades of parenting, we’ve never once said “no” to any of our children, he’s likely to get it.
Two years ago, we stayed at a hotel that served a Thanksgiving buffet, and conveniently (for them) happened to be the only dining option available to guests. The price tag was about 40 bucks per person. Since we keep kosher, we were limited to salads and vegetables. One needs to consume a lot of string beans to get your money’s worth.
Jews, given our history, have a tendency to side with underdogs, which might color a celebration of conquering Europeans a bit out of character. Plus, my own family contains two authentic Native Americans, one a descendant of the Mayans and the other of the Incas. However, many of the first Europeans who came into contact with the New World believed the native peoples were direct descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes. This would make Thanksgiving in a sense a Jewish holiday, especially as it is also entirely possible that members of Columbus’s crew were Jews fleeing after the expulsion from Spain in 1492.
However, I find this rather fanciful speculation. I know the real facts. My daughter is the modern-day descendant of royalty, an Incan princess. You can see the nobility etched into her face, and I have the Bat Mitzvah and wedding receipts to prove it. Although, to give credit to the pilgrims, my father has noted that Izzy, despite his Central American heritage, rather remarkably has quite the Jewish shnazola on him. Maybe those first settlers were on to something.
Well, enough philosophizing. Someone has to get the Tofurkey into the oven. I know just the person to do it. He answers to the name “Abba.”
Ed Harris, the author of “Fifty Shades of Schwarz” and several other books, was born in the Bronx and lives in Bellevue with his family. His blog, Fizz-Ed, and additional information about his books are available at www.edharrisauthor.com.