An old Thanksgiving Day essay from my days at The Smart Set:
It takes Satan to bring out the true spirit of Thanksgiving. That’s because it can be hard to give thanks unless you know why you are doing it. Plenitude is lovely. Abundance is a delight. I think of the famous painting by Norman Rockwell. A large American family sits around a comfortable table as the venerable mother carries a moose-sized turkey as the centerpiece. The painting was originally titled “Freedom from Want” and was part of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, meant to promote the buying of war bonds during World War II. If there is an unsettling message hidden in the Rockwellian sentimentality, though, it’s that these people, this nice American family, knows nothing of want. They are giving thanks for an abundance that is taken for granted.
When the devil is on your doorstep, however, thanks takes on a different timbre. The American most consistently preoccupied with thoughts of Satan was probably Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne never trusted in the good times. He saw the devil lurking in every moment of pleasure, waiting for the chance to pounce on the unsuspecting reveler when his guard was down. Hawthorne’s story, “John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving,” is appropriately evil-obsessed. Utterly bleak, it is a difficult fit in the traditional American story of goods asked for, goods delivered, thanks given.