Folklorist Jack Santino observes that Thanksgiving is pretty much the only national holiday that hasn’t shifted its focus to children. In fact, they are often shunted off to the “kids’ table.” The emphasis instead is on grandparents, patriarchs and matriarchs, family traditions going back for generations, and blessings that adults are in the best position to savor.
From Jack Santino, Thanksgiving: A rare holiday that isn’t all about kids – The Washington Post:
‘Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandfather’s house we go,” says the 1844 Thanksgiving poem. These days, it’s more often sung as “Grandmother’s house,” and we’re more likely to travel by 747 than by sleigh. Still, it’s a familiar journey. Thanksgiving remains very much associated with grandparents. More than any other holiday on our national calendar, it’s about honoring the family matriarch, patriarch and more distant ancestors.
Children may enjoy watching the Macy’s parade or look forward to pumpkin pie. But Thanksgiving activities aren’t centered on kids. There are no candies to collect, gifts to unwrap or eggs to hunt. There’s no staying up past bedtime for fireworks or Santa or the ball-drop in Times Square.
I’ve heard neighbors talk about “going home” for Thanksgiving but “staying home” for Christmas. Even with the notoriously bad Thanksgiving traffic, people are willing to travel to their parents’ or grandparents,’ in deference to earlier generations. (It’s become a choice time to bring home significant others for parental approval.) By contrast, with Christmas being so much about kids, parents or grandparents may more often be asked to travel to where their offspring live.
The symbolism of Thanksgiving, too, distinguishes it as a holiday geared toward older relatives. Rather than a baby in a manger, or baby Cupids, or baby chicks, Thanksgiving prompts us to think about the Pilgrims. In many ways, the United States traces its beginnings to the settlers at Plymouth, the Mayflower Compact and of course the celebrated harvest Thanksgiving feast of 1621. We reserve the term “Founding Fathers” for the revolutionaries of 1776, but mythically, if not historically, we see the Pilgrims as our ancestors — the first generation of Anglo-America, progenitors of what would come later and what still flourishes today. On Thanksgiving, we look back to an imagined past in which America was conceived.