Liberman's Thanksgiving Story: The case for inclusion in the canon (with gratuitous links to a Pullum reply, Riders in the Sky, and Divine)

Face it, Christmas gets all the art. Nobody ever collected a Treasury of Thanksgiving Tales; there’s no such thing as a Thanksgiving Pageant. Want to gather the family around the piano for a little celebration in song of our late-November holiday? That’ll be quick—it’s “Over the River and through the Woods” and you’re done.

But here at William, James we don’t go the easy route. We could, of course, just produce another compendium of Christmas stories: very warm, very feel-good fare suitable for dark December evenings. It’d land in the stores sometime around Labor Day, languish on the shelves for eight weeks, then pick up sales sometime after Halloween, going full steam till 12/24, then stuck out on the remainders table with a steal-this-book price tag on it to move out before the crush of next year’s inventory. Easy peasy.

To paraphrase Riders in the Sky--that would be the easy way, but it wouldn’t be the William, James way. No, here at William, James we instead have published the only known Compendium of Thanksgiving Stories for the Entire Family. Except it’s not a Compendium, it’s not what we’d normally call “for the entire family,” and it’s not exclusive to William, James. It’s really just one post that was selected for the Language Log bedside edition, FAR FROM THE MADDING GERUND.

I speak, naturally, of Mark Liberman’s timeless tale of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, “Same-sex Mrs. Santa: ‘the semantics are confusing.’” It’s a classic, heartwarming story of a transvestite dressed as Edna Turnblad (the John Waters creation for his movie Hairspray, originally played by Divine) who realizes his (her?) dream of riding in the Macy’s parade as Mrs. Santa in what some may call a same-sex marriage, though the semantics are (is?) confusing.

I suggest you begin a new Thanksgiving tradition right now, today--gather the children round for a family-bonding moment to read Liberman’s story. It starts on page 306 of your book and wraps up on 309 (OK—just print it out on your printer at work if you don’t have the book). As Mark avers in a note at the end, it’s a truly American story for a truly American holiday. As a bonus you can read Geoff Pullum’s response, “Like, I care whether semantics are or is?” (not collected in the book; it’s truly a bonus).

Then maybe you’ll raise your voices for a rendition of “Over the River and through the Woods,” having thus expanded your repertoire of Thanksgiving traditions.

If you’re like me, you avoid eating birds, but that has never prevented me from thoroughly enjoying this holiday and warmly wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to anyone who’ll listen.

Are you there? Happy Thanksgiving!

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