Headmaster’s Thoughts – November 2006

I am thinking of putting on a bright red clown nose.

November begins with my least favorite holiday and ends with my most.

Who cannot like Thanksgiving? The premise may be totally mythical (see James Loewen’s rather angry book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” published by the Touchstone Press of Simon and Schuster in 1996): the Indians provided the food, the Pilgrims had nothing to do with it, and it was only declared a national holiday in 1863 when Lincoln needed a patriotic holiday to hold the Union together. But still, even if the origins are invented, the fact is that the myth has become the national myth of our origins, and it ritualizes a literal thanksgiving for the blessings that each of us have in living in prosperity in a free country. There is lots of goodwill. Anyway, I like a big turkey dinner.

The holiday I do not like is Halloween. It has been interpreted as a license for mischief by young miscreants (how often do you get to say that word?), a marketing opportunity for shops that sell fake spider webs, and a chance to traumatize little children with stories about ghosts and goblins. Not a good national holiday, one would think. Where is the upside for those of us who don’t sell fake spider webs?

I would like to invent a holiday. It might have the same name and spirit as Thanksgiving Day, but it would be better. It would not glorify greedy pilgrims (to whom, the Sons of the American Revolution will confirm, I have absolutely no genetic ties), and it will not require little children to use either construction paper or feathers to make Indian or Pilgrim costumes and re-enact a morality play. But it would require someone to explain how we should give thanks. First, and foremost, thanks to our parents. I have said before that parenting is the most difficult, exhausting, and frightening job in the world. And it gets so little appreciation. Second, we would give thanks for living in a country that, while not perfect, certainly offers us freedoms that have become commonplace only in the last few centuries anywhere. You know the list. Third, we should give thanks because there is actually food on the table, and there are other families in other countries where that might not be the case. And so on.

Then I would make every one at the table put on a clown nose and look stupid (I really did this once at our Thanksgiving dinner and finished up with a great photograph to prove it). Once the noses are on, I would try to persuade everyone to acknowledge that a sense of humor may be more important than the food we are eating (for those of us who have food, that is). This would replace the third grade morality play. Everyone eating would have to acknowledge that they (as we all do) look and act ridiculous at times. Anyway, clown noses require less time than construction paper and feathers. If I am making a profit for the sellers of clown noses, I think they deserve better than the spider web sellers (yes, I know they are probably the same people, but clown noses are a better cause). Maybe I should call it National Clown Nose Day?

I have put the red clown nose on.

So it has come to this: I am replacing Halloween and Thanksgiving with National Clown Nose Day. It will take place on the first really rainy day after November 15th. It will refer back to that date in history when men and women in clown noses defeated the entire Nazi army (or Attila and all of his Huns), using only buckets and spades, on a small stretch of beach in Nantucket. The President of the United States will be required to wear a very large red clown nose for the day, as will the Cabinet and all members of Congress. We will be required to hug our parents at least three times during the day, give some money to UNICEF, and read old copies of Mad magazine. All headmasters who have served for over thirty-five years should be carried in a palanquin (again a rarely used word) around the city and be garlanded with wreaths… but I am getting carried away.

I have to go now and take off my clown nose. Oh dear, back to reality.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section In the News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.