Yahtzee and Thanksgiving
November 24, 2011
Do you have a certain family member who is prone to causing a scene at the Thanksgiving dinner table? You’re not alone. Consider using Yahtzee this year to calm your guests with the meditative sounds of clacking dice. The gentle sounds and soothing gameplay have a natural tendency to ease jangled nerves. But the ethical implications of the historic atrocities inherently linked to Thanksgiving are bound to put people on edge during the festivities. Learn how to deal with simmering tensions over turkey.
Today, millions of American Yahtzee fans will celebrate the harvest holiday of Thanksgiving with one-too-many helpings of turkey and a lot of hot dice action. It’s a time of coming together with family and friends to show appreciation for the blessings in our lives. It can also, however, result in a rehashing of past familial arguments or other types of uncomfortable conflict. What could go wrong when your overstuffed, perhaps tipsy, extended family members sit down to a competitive Yahtzee game?
In this week’s mailbag installment, one reader shares her Thanksgiving Yahtzee experience of how a delightful gathering turned sour. Louise Proctor, co-author of The Yahtzee Manifesto, shines some light on the mishap and offers advice on how to host a successful and incident-free holiday Yahtzee game.
Reader letters may be lightly edited or condensed for clarity. The following commentary does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the World Yahtzee Institute or its subsidiaries.
Turkey Day Trouble
Dear Yahtzee Manifesto,
I’ve been a life-long Yahtzee fan and I read The Yahtzee Manifesto with great interest. Each Thanksgiving, my family stages a Yahtzee tournament after dinner. And each year we worry about which weird uncle will say the most inappropriate thing.
Well the Yahtzee was going great – it really is a force of unity! We were having a great time and several Yahtzees were rolled. But the TV was on in the background and they were talking about the presidential turkey pardoning ceremony that they do every year. I like it because it is a way to celebrate non-violence towards animals. Two of my cousins got into an argument over how they select the turkeys to be pardoned and it all got out of control. The game was abandoned because both cousins quit and stormed off. We’ve always believed that Yahtzee exemplifies the inter-connectivity of all life as a force for good. It’s left us wondering how a game of Yahtzee resulted in a Thanksgiving disaster. Thanks for any advice!
Brenda Wallace - Boise, Idaho
We empathize with your turkey-day trouble but it sounds to me that the instigating source was not Yahtzee at all but a combination of other aggravating factors. As you said in your letter, the game was smooth sailing until some players were distracted by something else. Usually nobody wins the blame game but when Yahtzee’s good name needs defending, then I’ll gladly point the finger at the true culprits of your Thanksgiving dust-up.
The first suspicious decision was to leave the television on during the Yahtzee game. I know that may sound like heresy considering that the NFL pulls in massive TV ratings on Thanksgiving Thursday games. For many families, the boob tube is an indispensable part of the holiday, just as much as mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie. Social media, of course, has usurped TV’s supreme power to degrade human brain cells but its effects should not be underestimated.
There is, of course, nothing in the official Yahtzee rules that prohibits TV during a game. And I understand that many people leave the television on just to provide some background noise. But what sound could ever be more pleasant than five dice caroming around the dining room table? Try to evaluate your current level of entertainment and make a cost-benefit analysis of the situation. Ask yourself if watching TV will enhance your Yahtzee game or become a distraction. More often than not, honest reflection points the player to the latter. And in my own personal experience, I’ve endured many bitter Yahtzee games that were sabotaged by the TV’s incessant drone.
But my anti-TV suggestion should be tempered by the fact that Yahtzee is a uniter, not a divider – an idea that you allude to in your letter. A deep sense of inclusion and tolerance is inherent in its unique gaming nature. It should never be used to monopolize the festive elements of a Thanksgiving get-together. Rather all games can be embraced on equal terms. So rest assured that you can enjoy watching football on TV totally guilt-free. Just remember that it is best to avoid sensitive programming involving politics or religious content if you have any reason to believe that it may precipitate a disagreement amongst your guests. I think the political content that triggered your cousins, as lighthearted as it was surely intended, was the primary instigator of the feud. If anything, Yahtzee served to diminish its intensity.
While TV’s influence was the contributing factor to your cousins’ outburst, I believe there were underlying causes as well. The turkey pardon that precipitated your incident is a ritual that promotes violence while masquerading as lighthearted goodwill. The annual ceremony, formalized by George H.W. Bush in 1989, has the President of the United States leading the nation in a perverse celebration of capital punishment and carnivorism. The turkeys are granted clemency and get to live out their lives naturally, free from the worry of ending up as the Thanksgiving main course. But pardoning a turkey is not a symbol of peace or mercy. Rather, it seems to me that this misguided custom is simply a way to make light of the death penalty by injecting a sense of whimsy into a living being’s execution. I see it as another form of indoctrination, as the public is fed the idea that there is such a thing as legitimate murder.
Not only does the presidential turkey pardon make light of state-sponsored violence, it also supports the murder of animals for food. Perhaps not surprisingly, the corporate titans of Big Turkey have dug their spurs deep into the entire affair. The National Turkey Federation is the motor that powers the spectacle. The organization pours millions of dollars into lobbying the government and has been gifting turkeys to presidents since 1947 as a way to pump up poultry sales. Even the most steadfast meat-lover would find it hard to deny the corporate influence of the turkey industry in the highest levels of American government.
That doesn’t mean you have to go vegan on Thanksgiving, although it would be better for the planet – and the turkey. The grateful bird may even become a Yahtzee playing pet themselves. Keep in mind that the powers that be have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It may result in more violence for some people, but not for those at the top. The joviality portrayed by government leaders as they play-act about matters of life and death may have subconsciously programmed your kinfolk to acts of violence.
The turkey pardon is a more recent development in national holiday hijinks but Thanksgiving itself is a tradition borne in blood. As all American children learn in school, the day commemorates a historic feast of brotherhood and camaraderie when Native Americans welcomed English pilgrims to the New World with roasted fowl and cranberry sauce. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Like any good nationalistic myth, the traditional Thanksgiving story helpfully sanitizes the gruesome bits. But in reality the holiday is steeped in slaughter - not only of turkeys, but in a shameful legacy of betrayal and genocide.
The Columbian Exchange, the process where two civilizations that had evolved independently from one another were suddenly brought together, was bound to be a bumpy transition. But in reality it unfolded as a humanitarian disaster with over 90% of the “indian” population struck down by violence and disease. Those who survived saw their indigenous culture forcibly suppressed to accommodate an imported orthodoxy.
Much of the destruction was sponsored by foreign states seeking to expand their power, spurred on by capitalistic impulses. But on more personal levels, positive connections between strangers from other lands overflowed like a cornucopia. Relationships sprouted; nourished by trade, love, and the exchange of knowledge and new ideas. And indeed, the original Thanksgiving dinner was an expression of generosity and acceptance towards one’s fellow humans. Absent the state control and private property, perhaps relations between the two cultures could have been allowed to develop more peacefully.
So suffice it to say, Brenda, I feel that there were many deep underlying causes, some dating back centuries, that converged as an eruption of violence at your Thanksgiving Yahtzee game. When ancient wrongs are ignored or denied, the consequences will be continue to reverberate throughout society. But through a sincere and honest reckoning, the old hostilities will melt away in a warm outpouring of truth. This Thanksgiving, let’s try to see through the twisted propaganda that suggests any form of violence is legitimate. Because as M.C. Hammer, a man who knows a thing or two about legitimacy, said in the seminal “Too Legit to Quit”:
The dreams that I have in store in my mind, and I know;
That I’m makin it, I gotta get mine and nobody’s takin’ it away.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and keep rolling!