When we used to do Thanksgiving as cross-dressing and insulting authority:
Thanksgiving was a Northeastern regional commemoration until Abraham Lincoln promulgated it as a national holiday in 1863, and it was celebrated in lots of different ways. One of those ways was for young men to dress up as women or in fantastic costumes and promenade, and mug, and make fun of authority. It was a “masculine escape” from the family, an opportunity to break rules and be outlandish. In our increasingly regimented national security state, we could do with some of that old Thanksgiving cheekiness, though we need both sexes now.
Thanksgiving in the nineteenth century in some parts of the country was a combination of Eddie Izzard (cross-dressing), Lady Gaga (wild costumes and breaking conventions), and Jon Stewart (mirthful insults directed at high political authority). Some historians suggest that the homey, nuclear-family Thanksgiving meal was a reaction against all this public rowdiness. Alas, so successful a reaction that the carnivale side of the holiday has been erased from public memory (Elizabeth Pleck, “The making of the domestic occasion: The history of Thanksgiving in the United States,” Journal of Social History (Summer 1999) Vol. 32, Iss. 4; pg. 773, 17 pgs).
‘As William Dean Howells put it, “The poor recognize [Thanksgiving] as a sort of carnival,” a masculine escape from the family, a day of rule breaking, and spontaneous mirth . . . Drunken men and boys, often masked, paraded from house to house and demanded to be treated. Boys misbehaved and men committed physical assaults on Thanksgiving as well as on Christmas.”
(Well, that last part we don’t miss)
“Groups of men, crossdressing, who called themselves the Fantastics or Fantasticals, masqueraded on Thanksgiving beginning in the 1780s. . . Subsequently the Fantastics copied these and other elements of English mumming, such as drunkenness and ridiculing authority . . . An editorial in a Pennsylvania newspaper in 1870 defended the Fantastics, on the grounds that “it is better to be merry than sad, and if, as some genial writer asserts, a good hearty laugh takes a nail out of your coffin, a parade of the fantasticals can not fail to lessen the bills of mortality.” ‘
William Shepard Walsh, “Curiosities of popular customs and of rites, ceremonies, observances,” Social Science (1897), p. 924 wrote as the Fantasticals were fading from public memory:
Another and somewhat strange way of observing the holiday in New York has been, up to very recent years, to dress one’s self in the most fantastic costume imaginable and parade the streets. . . Hundreds of companies of these motley persons, under some such name as the ” Square Back Rangers,” the ” Slenderfoot Army,” or the ” Original Hounds,” and dressed chiefly, as an old account says, as “clowns, Yankees, Irishmen, kings, washerwomen, and courtiers,” thronged the streets all day. These “ragamuffin parades” have fallen into disuse except for a few small boys, but as recently as 1885 they were in full swing, as the following paragraph, printed in the Sun on November 27, 1885, testifies:
” Fantastic processions burst out all over the town in unusual abundance and filled the popular eye with a panorama that looked like a crazy-quilt show grown crazy and filled the popular ear with the din of thumping drums and blaring trumpets. Thirty-six companies of fantastics had permits to march around making an uproar, and they did it with great success. Local statesmen went around.with the down-town paraders and helped them whoop things up. There were lots and lots of fantastics who hadn’t any permit, and who didn’t care either. They were the thousands and thousands of small boys who put on their sisters’ old dresses, smeared paint on their faces, pulled on red, yellow, brown, black, and indiscriminate wigs, and pranced round their own particular streets, without the least fear of police interference.’
So, as we sit, pants unbuttoned and droopy-lidded, around the flat screen television watching other people work off their calories, we could get an inkling of past Americana if we imagined uncle Joe dressed up in one of Madonna’s wilder costumes and making an obscene gesture in the general direction of the state capitol.
If only present-day Americans were not so apathetic and timid that they gave up the most basic rights enshrined in our Constitution almost without a fight just because Dick Cheney sneered at them and muttered something about national security — if only they showed some spunk and dared break social conventions and get uppity in the cause of personal liberty rather than that of corporate perquisites from time to time– now that would be something to be thankful for.
End/ (Not Continued)