Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Sorry if there should have been a spoiler alert for those waiting to be surprised by their daily desk calendar. It’s the strangest sort of holiday. It doesn’t have direct religious significance since nobody’s God was born, died, or fought aliens on it. It doesn’t have quasi supernatural elements like Halloween, it’s not a day off in honor of somebody. It’s nominally patriotic in that it certainly has an American mythology built up behind it, but yet it has become almost entirely secularized from those roots in every day life. Of course Christmas has become largely secularized as well, but it has also become thoroughly commercialized in proportion.
There’s something absolutely pure about Thanksgiving, this single day that was set aside as a good idea. Everyone flies home from whatever corners of the world they actually live in most of the year, we sit down, we eat, we watch football. The most succinct and true definition of home might be that it is the place you go to on Thanksgiving.
Yet the most irritating part of the holiday is when that irritating distant aunt (invariably the one that always gave you ugly sweaters three sizes too big or small for Christmas as a kid) insists on “Let’s go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.” I hate that smug question. It’s a no win proposition. Most people blather something like “my family,” “my loving blah blah blahs.” One or two people will be smartasses and say “my iPhone,” or “the fact that I only have to answer this question once per year,” or “this awesome turducken.” And then the person who insisted on the little game, along with others of their ilk who would have suggested it if no one else had, will give a detailed, planned out, and drippingly saccharine speech about everything wonderful in their life which has been cribbed out of a lifetime of Hallmark cards.
The thankfulness game is a red herring, its simplicity serving to obfuscate what thankfulness really is at its heart. It’s not about what you have, whether tangible or not, it’s about what you believe in. What I believe in is what I am thankful for, and the rest is just the window dressing.
And so in the comments, tell everyone what you believe in, and below are the five best “I Believe” speeches, from books, movies and this life we call real. They’re in no particular order, because I don’t believe in starting fights during the holidays. Only in finishing them.
Martin Luther King
“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!”
“I’m a simple man with a simple mind, with a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. I believe in democracy. I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out in plastic for three cents a unit.
I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq. And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be it Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal saviour.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it’s yoghurt. But I refuse to believe it’s not butter. Most of all I believe in this president.”
“And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown. In the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth. That we always make it just by the skin of our teeth, but that we will always make it. Survive. Endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure longer than his home planet — will spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.
This I believe with all my heart.”
“Well, I believe in the soul. The cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Goodnight.”
Sam (American Gods)
“I can believe that things are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen - I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of casual chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”