Thanksgiving, 2017: A study in competing contrasts


Tonight I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving Day with a part of the United States expatriate community in Manizales, a beautiful city set high in the central range of the Colombian Andes. A city in the sky amidst a sea of mountains, the city Nobel Laurate Pablo Neruda referred to as a sunset factory. A city full of unusually attractive women and tens of thousands of hopeful university students, hundreds of churches, some very beautiful, especially the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, one of the western hemisphere’s tallest religious structures. A city of numerous nature preserves set in one of the world’s most biodiverse areas, one of only eight regions with a full range of climates concentrated in one metropolitan area, snowy winter coexisting with hot summer and everything in between every single day, separated only by relatively short distances, many within walking distance.

Thanksgiving in Manizales is a bit different compared to thanksgivings in much of the United States, for those who can afford it. The American community gathering here tonight will be eating pizza (from Domino’s, a tiny touch of the United States) and lasagna instead of turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and vegetables. No, Domino’s does not deliver here, we have our own, and a McDonalds, tiny touches of America we frequently belittle, but which make it a bit more like home.

Life is strange, a study in competing contrasts. Kind of highlighted for me as I think of aspirations and meanings and realities. As with many, perhaps most families able to celebrate the day, our family tradition included not only overeating and tepid pro-football, but a meaningful few minutes when we shared with each other those things during the past year for which we were most thankful, a semi-religious act in many cases dedicated to thanking our perceived demiurges as well as each other. Beautiful really. But perhaps because I’m far from my family and very involved in international political analysis, I can’t help but reflect on the state of our world. I guess, on reflection, I think I’m thankful we’re still around.

The United States seems awful, worse than I ever remember it being, polarization is the rule and killing people elsewhere the tradition, all in the purported name of democracy and freedom which of course must be curtailed in order to provide security. It seems to me that if it weren’t for self-deception the people of the United States would not be able face themselves so I guess I should be grateful for self-deception. Colombia is a bit better but facing a choice between peace and progress and a return to the abyss, and it seems the latter is a bit more probable than the former. Politics in both the countries I most love has become, not the science of governance for the common welfare but the art of separating the vast majority from the benefits that should be theirs, kind of like the Pilgrims and the Indians following the first Thanksgiving, a day of thanks for the ability to plunder and to force others to worship in the manner Puritans thought best, … or else.

Elsewhere things seem to be improving, although our shadow seems to cast a pall everywhere.

What a strange holiday, one that should be pure and beautiful and full of hope as families across the United States gather to celebrate and give thanks, a day when reality is suspended a bit more than it normally is and omnipresent hate is stifled just a bit, something to be thankful for I guess, except for those who are so poor and so deprived and so belittled that truth refuses to yield.

We humans are a fascinating species, a very strange and very complex species. We believe we’re the only living things on the planet with a capacity to think, to grasp truth and ethics, to evolve on our own terms. Perhaps we are. But just how good a job of it are we doing? The doomsday clock is purportedly within minutes of midnight, the allegorical setting for our destruction, but it’s been pretty close to that spot during my entire life.


Why can’t we let other people decide what’s best for themselves rather than insisting on imposing our will near and far? Why can’t we live in peace concentrating on our own affairs, our families, our neighborhoods? Meddling to assure the triumph of what we deem good has seemingly only led to the spread of evil and hate at home and abroad. What sense is there in that for the vast majority of humanity and how is it that that vast majority of us seem so easy to herd. Are we like lemmings feasting before a date with mass suicide? Was Jonestown a harbinger of what awaits us?

Strange thoughts for a Thanksgiving Day, but perhaps appropriate. Much too appropriate for my taste. Pessimism certainly seems in the air but perhaps I’m unusually pessimistic because my family seems so far away, and then again, I’m a New York Jets fan, except for one January in 1969, always a cause for disappointment.

Still, … perhaps hope is blossoming somewhere and will soon be spreading, perhaps we’re just in the deep darkness preceding a new dawn, after all, …

I’m a Yankees’ fan as well.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at or and much of his writing is available through his blog at

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