The Politics of Thanksgiving


Edan Reilly

As fall begins and the holiday season opens, families gather to catch up, discussing the ins and outs of the whos and whats missed through the past seasons. Inevitabley, the comfort of family gives way to confidence in controversy, where aunts and uncles seek reassurance through the surrender of cash, grandfathers discuss the obvious fact of the matter that John. F Kennedy is alive and well, while mom and dad fight over whether the family is watching the Macy’s Day Parade, or football. Eventually, arguments grow to the bounds of relationships, emerging from the slightest of disagreements. The most imminent of these ever so massively influential discussions? The conversation of applying the emotional and physical maturity of a child to the concept of limitations surrounding the traditional, celebratory practices of Americans everywhere leads us to one of the biggest questions:  At what age should a child be allowed to make the switch of sitting at the adults’ table during Thanksgiving dinner?

Quinlen, 13, remains an annual resident of the childrens table. “I don’t understand what the point of having two different tables is,” She began, “I thought the holidays were supposed to be about coming together as a family.” Quinlen says she frequents the underage table with her younger siblings at Thanksgiving. She complains of the messes and chaos conceived at a table with no adult buffers, allowing the freedom for children to perform the act of being thankful in their own ways. “I think it separates the family, and creates a way for the adults to pawn their kids off on the older siblings and cousins of the family.” When asked of possible bias in her answers, Quinlen simply stated, “It doesn’t matter.” To her, Thanksgiving- like other holidays- is a time for family to come together, regardless of age, and to be thankful for the family we have in the first place.

Jason, 18, resides in a family with the distinction of two tables. Currently, he sits at the kids table saying that at the adult table, “They always talk about things I don’t understand.” Jason describes his placement as a combination of his own and his dad’s choices. “I support it because I think it makes sense. If I don’t understand what is being said at the adult’s table, neither would a kid.” One interesting point of Jasons’, however, was when asked if there are factors outside of age such as maturity, sociability, and family demographics that should determine one’s placement, Jason simply said, “No, sixteen or seventeen is a good age to make the switch.” Jason remains in support of the distinction, “However, I do think a middle table would be beneficial for teens, just so we can talk about our own things and own conversations instead of sitting with kids and having theirs,” he finished.

Crystal, 43, enforces the distinction of tables within her seven-child household. “I’ve had kids pick up the wrong cup one too many times.” She started, beginning her argument with her experience of practicing the holiday both ways. “Having two tables breaks up the crowd and makes Thanksgiving a little less stressful- especially after you spend all day cooking.” She also expressed the freedoms her kids have of getting up from their table to talk to those who sit at the adults’ table so that they don’t feel isolated and left out. “As much as I like being able to have my own personal space, and talk about adult things, my kids should be part of my Thanksgiving celebration as much as anyone else.” Crystal believes allowing for flexibility helps create the structure without hurting anyone’s feelings. “My teens sit at the adult table, while usually everyone 12 and younger sits with each other nearby. They all get along and have fun anyways so it’s not much of a debate for us,” She concludes.

In all, we see that different families, ages, and statuses within a household birth different opinions on the most indubitably relevant argument of the holidays. While some may support the differentiation, others are left feeling discriminated against, ultimately leaving the choice of division up to individual families. While some may argue the importance of unity in such celebratory practices, others may emphasize the coming of age staple derived from the graduation of the kids’ table, vital in experiencing a full childhood. As shown, different family politics create different demands, leaving this decision up to you.