From the Vault – Murphy’s Law – Taking back Thanksgiving

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

[This column originally ran on the site on Nov. 20, 2013.]

I’m certainly not the first person to point out that Christmas has overtaken Thanksgiving (and Halloween … and Labor Day …). As Aaron R. Davis mentioned yesterday, advertisers come out with ads earlier and earlier each year to help drum up sales. It’s just the way things are. It’s inevitable.

Which is why I’m not here to complain about it. No, instead, I’m here to help. I’m rooting for Thanksgiving. To me, it is the greatest American holiday. There isn’t the pressure of Christmas to find the right gift, fighting the crowds to get the year’s hottest items. Instead, you simply eat some turkey and cranberries and pumpkin pie, watch some football and (hopefully) take a few minutes to reflect on what you are thankful for in your life. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.

So I say we start a campaign to take back Thanksgiving. Christmas can’t be defeated, but it can be contained. But we have to fight fire with fire. We need to make Thanksgiving a bigger spectacle.

Which is why we need an iconic Thanksgiving mascot. Christmas has Santa Claus, Easter has its weird egg-hiding bunny. Thanksgiving needs its own icon.

Now some of you might say that it already has one – the turkey. That’s the go to for Thanksgiving commercials these days. Often a cartoon turkey will appear on the screen, perhaps in an adorable buckled hat and he’ll gobble for the camera. But this is no good.

We eat turkeys on Thanksgiving. It’s perverse to personify these birds before plucking their feathers, shoving stuffing up their butts and slow cooking them to perfection. Don’t add insult to injury. You don’t see pigs with Santa hats on-screen around Christmastime to remind you of the delicious ham you are going to have that night, so let’s stop parading our food around as some kind of half-assed Thanksgiving mascot. We can do better.

Perhaps you are thinking that a pilgrim or a Native American mascot may be the way to go. But just give up that thought right now, you sill bastard. It’ll never work.

For one thing, pilgrims are super boring. Try picturing a pilgrim in your mind. You’re mind is fighting it, isn’t it? It wants to picture race cars or spaceships or Michelle Williams slowly eating an ice cream cone … not some plain-clothed, miserable old pilgrim.

You think today’s youth care about some boring old farts in itchy clothes and dumb hats? Not a chance. They’ve got Miley Cyrus swinging around on a wrecking ball half naked on YouTube. They don’t care about cranky old puritans.

Besides, focusing on historical characters is problematic. Spoiler warning in case you aren’t up to date on American history, but: we weren’t so nice to the Native Americans. Sure, they helped the white folks on Thanksgiving day and helped them to survive the cold winter, which was a sweet moment of unity, but pretty much everything that happened after that was awful.

And going with a Native America mascot is no better. Even if you are seeking to honor the Native Americans for their help and you manage to avoid a problematic name like “The Washington Redskins,” it still isn’t the best idea to co-opt Native America culture in order to sell some turkeys. Best to avoid it all together.

So what does that leave?

You have to focus on the holiday itself. It’s about families gathering together to share a meal and to share thanks. So you have to tap into that and find a mascot that represents that.

A Martha Stewart-esque mother in the kitchen preparing the food? No good. It plays into outdated gender stereotypes that don’t hold true for all families … plus Martha Stewart is kind of creepy.

Some kind of charming father figure? Nope. Santa already has that cornered. Plus, it alienates people with daddy issues.

Brothers and sisters are no good either.

No, what I suggest is tapping into people’s extended families. I think America’s new Thanksgiving mascot should be … fun loving, slightly drunk Uncle Morty.

You know, Uncle Morty, the guy who shows up to Thanksgiving dinner, has a few too many cocktails and adds an exciting and harmless train wreck feeling to the day’s proceedings. You may not have an Uncle Morty, but you definitely have an “Uncle Morty” in your family.

Now, you have to be careful in depicting Uncle Morty. He can’t be the family member that gets drunk and talks about politics or the one who gets drunk and starts asking you overly personal questions. Morty needs to be the fun drunk who gets overly excited while watching football and starts reminiscing about his days on his high school squad or the drunk who falls asleep on the recliner with his plate of pumpkin pie resting half-eaten on top of his sizable belly. He’s adorable, not creepy.

Let’s start the campaign. We’ll get Zach Galifianakis to play Uncle Morty in some TV spots. We’ll print up shirts and hats and pins. People will start sharing stories about their real life “Uncle Mortys.” We’ll make a giant Morty balloon for the Thanksgiving parade.

This can work.

We just have to start the campaign in July so we can get a jump on the Christmas ads.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at

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