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It's Tradition, so Suck It Up

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | November 23, 2011 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | November 23, 2011 |

If you are reading this, you are most likely either grinding out the last few hours of procrastination before your boss allows you to leave for the long weekend, or you are outside of America and getting irritated that content is tapering off and not looking forward to two more work days with a void of content. Tradition is what this thing called Thanksgiving is all about. Oh, there is a stack of other junk: family, football, enormous quantities of food, but the hinging of all that on this random day is pure tradition.

And it is random. Last Thursday of November? At least Easter only looks random but is actually a convoluted calculation based on cycles of the moon and whether the Pope gets scared back under his hat by his own shadow. Most holidays at least have some universally understood reason. Christmas and Easter are religious. Halloween has to do with the dead. Most national holidays are some variations on anniversaries of independence. Thanksgiving though is just the kind of sort of not really anniversary of a big party between two groups of people, one of whom annihilated the other within a few years. So from that point of view, it’s logical that the holiday traditionally has the entire family get together I suppose.

We’ve got a giant turkey sitting in the refrigerator, waiting to get cooked for several decades tomorrow. Now a turkey is essentially a mutated chicken from a culinary point of view. As far as I can tell from a completely unscientific point of view, it is a chicken with an out of control pituitary gland that made it grotesquely over-sized at the expense of having inferior meat. Why do we cook this thing? Tradition.

I always said that when I had my own house and my own family and my own responsibility for Thanksgiving, I was going to make steaks. Because damn it, a steak is better than a damned turkey. Whether you brine, marinate, season, deep fry, or baste that bird, it is never ever going to be better than a steak, even though it takes approximately a thousand times the effort to make. But even though this is a lonely Thanksgiving, just Mrs. SLW and myself, we’re roasting a 14 pound turkey anyway. Why? Tradition.

Tradition gets a bad rap though. It’s a force that makes us do things that really aren’t worth it, that we would never do from a cost-benefit point of view. Turkey sandwiches are delicious, but they’re not worth cooking that giant bird, so from a purely rational point of view, I’d never get to have turkey sandwiches. But tradition makes me do it, so I get my sandwiches.

It’s the same reason why half of us regularly burn two-thirds of our little four day weekend traveling to distant corners of the country. It is not worth it to drive twenty-two hours each way to Wichita to see your mom. But tradition says that you are going to do that on Thanksgiving, whether you like it or not.

So as you suffer through the next four days of travel nightmares and cooking enormous dry poultry carcasses, remember the sandwiches and the fact that you’re seeing people you wouldn’t manage to ever make the effort to see if not for tradition twisting your arm, best of intentions or not. Tradition might just be good for something.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.