The night before Thanksgiving is still a magical place
Last year, I wrote about how the night before Thanksgiving was what inspired me to start Aw, Would You Look At The Time.
This year, I adapted that into an audio version to play on one of WFMU's radio shows this week.
Hope you enjoy! Here's a transcript of this version:
While I was growing up, the only time I was able to catch a new episode of The Late Show with David Letterman was the night before Thanksgiving.
It was the perfect storm of media consumption — the rare occurrence of a weeknight where
A. There was no school the next day, and B. I had enough energy to stay up past 11 o'clock.
In this case, in anticipation for one of my favorite holidays of the year.
Tucked into bed, I surfed the channels on my console TV that sat on the floor in my bedroom, a privilege gained from my TV repairman father.
Once it became past my usual bedtime, I was able to catch the shows I couldn’t see any other time of the year.
Which brought me to the Late Show with David Letterman.
As a kid who thoroughly enjoyed the holiday’s influence on movies and television, I was ecstatic to watch something themed to Thanksgiving so late at night. I was getting just a little drop of celebration previewed before the big day. I felt like the exact audience for this.
Dave would feature his mother from Indiana via satellite, and he would try to guess what kind of pie she was making for Thanksgiving.
They would have Thanksgiving-themed segments, and Dave would ask the guests about what they were doing for the holiday.
There was something so special about watching that show at that time of night,
at that time of year,
in that place, in that context, That just kind of set up this unique experience I couldn't get any other way.
This midnight happenstance eventually became a secret tradition for me each year.
At 11:35pm on Thanksgiving eve, my wood-paneled television set was tuned to channel 3.
I took in the ambience of the live studio audience, the music from the house band, and of course the voice of Dave, the master of ceremonies for the night.
These Thanksgiving editions of the Late Show were not necessarily their best episodes, but watching them each year in such a specific environment—alone, late at night, buzzing with holiday excitement—resonated with me more than what was actually coming straight out of the TV. The environment developed its own separate expression.
Speaking of time…while I was writing this, I noticed something funny.
I tried to find old episodes of Letterman’s Thanksgiving Eve shows. November 23rd, 2000. November 28th 2002, November 24th, 2005.
I looked them up on the calendar. Those episodes were all on Thanksgiving Day, not Thanksgiving eve.
To double check this, I reached out to David Yoder, who runs a website called DDY's Late Show Fan Page. He has episode logs of every Letterman show as far back as 1985. According to his logs, David Letterman started doing Thanksgiving day episodes starting all the way back in 1989, before I was born, and then all the way up to 2008. The Late Show didn’t start doing their Thanksgiving themed episodes on Thanksgiving Eve until 2009.
So what was I remembering? Was I just so excited about Thanksgiving the night before that I inserted the Thanksgiving theme in my head? Or did I also just stay up the following night and catch the actual Thanksgiving show, and combined the two episodes in my head?
Time is a funny thing, and so is nostalgia. Enjoying art and media through the lens of time can add a whole additional layer of depth and emotion to it, and apparently a whole new life in a person's mind….but that's the thing that good art was always designed to do, right? Whether my memories are accurate or not, I still have created this annual media-based ritual that makes me feel good. And will probably stick with me forever.
Even though Letterman’s show is now retired, I still find the late night talk show comforting. I have made it a point now to catch Late Night with Seth Meyers on the night of Thanksgiving, as Seth Meyers has made it a tradition each year to bring his whole family on as guests for that episode.
It’s not exactly the same feeling. The voices are different, the music is different. My TV is a lot thinner. I live in another town. But that time and tradition still brings me a comforting familiar feeling I try to recapture every year.
I’m curious about what the night before Thanksgiving means to you. What do you attach to it?
For some people I know, it’s the night you’re at the bar in your hometown, bumping into people you casually knew from high school.
The Miller High Life is actually not that bad, and after the 2nd bottle you start to romanticize what life would be like if you moved back home. You could start your own business in that empty storefront on Main Street. Just a little quieter life, but you’re at your most productive. You stop, look around, and second guess that thought. Even though you would be able to unironically enjoy the country pop that plays on the weird app-controlled jukebox any time you want, you know that by springtime you’ll realize why you left in the first place.
For some people I know, it's the night you’re prepping. Cleaning the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms, and the front steps, especially for those guests you suspect will be arriving earlier than you’d appreciate. You put the extension on the kitchen table and add two more chairs. You even mop this time. After the final sweep, you light a candle that smells vaguely like pumpkin pie, or vanilla. Pumpkin pie vanilla bean? The kitchen’s closed for the night. You flick the light off. Only the candle and the light underneath the mounted microwave illuminates the space. While you’re running through the house attending to the other rooms that need to be made up, each time you walk by the kitchen, you take just a slightly longer glance. The counters are so tidy, the stovetop is the cleanest it's been all year. It’s the calm before the storm.
And of course for some people I know, there are bad feelings attached to the night before Thanksgiving. Feelings of dread or anxiety. Sadness, maybe even anger. Loneliness.
Of course we don’t want to relive those feelings.
So if that is you, I wish for you to find that tiny tiny feeling you can summon on a specific time of night, on a specific time of the year, that you can control, and want to relive.
Even if it's just watching TV for an hour before you go to bed.