By: Lime Green Giraffe Copy Editor, Lillabeth B.

I have visited my mother’s side of the family for Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. This holiday is steeped in tradition, more so than any other that I celebrate, not because it has rules, but because it is the way we have always done it. There is comfort in tradition.

We wake up at staggered times: my grandmother, then my mom, then Dad, then me. We heat up some cinnamon rolls for our breakfast and enjoy the bad lip-syncing, charming hosts, and lively Broadway performances of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. When it ends, we all drive to my uncle’s nearby lakehouse, where he has already started cooking, and half-watch a football game that only half of us care about. Then, just as the conversation has started to run out, the dog show comes on, and while none of the previous attractions have engaged the whole family, all heads turn when the National Dog Show is announced. Why, you may ask? Because the dog show is undeniably, unarguably, the best part of Thanksgiving.

A Brief History Lesson

Yes, that is the National Dog Show, not the Westminster. I spent a long time thinking the dog show on Thanksgiving Day was the Westminster Dog Show. I learned while researching this article that the Westminster Dog Show takes place over two days in February, and the National Dog Show is aired on Thanksgiving every year.

The Westminster holds such a place of prestige because the Westminster Kennel Club was the first kennel club founded in America. In fact, its first show was held at Madison Square Garden, making it the rock concert of dog shows, two years before the first National Dog Show in 1879. The Westminster Dog Show has been televised since the 1960s, while the National Dog Show was first aired on Thanksgiving Day in 2002.

Perhaps this detail, along with the event’s hoity-toity name, accounts for its notoriety, and the fact that the National Dog Show is often mistaken for it. The Westminster has also been parodied many times, adding to its fame. Most recently, Jimmy Kimmel Live featured a bit titled “The Westminster Dog Show Without the Dogs”, in which the pups are photoshopped out of clips of the handlers darting around, staring with great concentration at what has become a patch of fake grass.

So Serious It’s Not

Kimmel’s joke points out the inherent silliness of the event that makes it so enjoyable. What was once a distinguished sport for gentlemen has become a competition watched by millions, and handlers clearly take their duties very seriously. However, out of context, it is a bit ridiculous. Men and women in business attire run back and forth with perfect posture; a handler opens a dog’s mouth as a judge leans in to inspect its teeth; dogs trot around with giddy grins or stand stick-straight on a bench, staring at their handler, bewildered. If aliens landed and saw this spectacle, they would understand the duality of human nature--sophistication and stupidity.

The Cute Factor

A family is brought together by the dog show because the love of cute dogs is one of the few things everyone can agree on. While many would not be eager to pet a puppy on the street, very few have ever looked at a smiling golden retriever and been anything but charmed. Sweet doe eyes, wide smile, floppy ears, shiny coat--what more could anyone ask for?

For example, take another annual American holiday--the Super Bowl. Personally, the excitement that accompanies this occasion is lost on me. Not to rain on anyone’s football parade, but I just would not enjoy watching it. The Puppy Bowl, however, will keep me engaged from beginning to end. Who will win: Team Fluff or Team Ruff? I don’t know, and I don’t care, but I will watch those puppies playing for two hours and have a great time. The twists and turns! A pup barrels straight toward a touchdown...but stops for a water break. An unexpected puppy wanders into the endzone with the football! Score! The hamsters in the blimp above go wild! The Puppy Bowl becomes more and more popular every year, a tribute to the divide-bridging power of a dog’s cuteness.

Everyone Knows Just Enough

If I can be persuaded to sit down to watch a football game, I have essentially no clue what is happening. I have been to enough of my school’s football games to know the lingo but not enough to decipher its meaning. First down? Greek to me. Linebacker? Gibberish. I do, however, know what a French Bulldog looks like. Or a Shih Tzu. Even a Burmese Mountain Dog.

Unless you have a professional breeder, trainer, or dog show handler in your family, your family likely resembles mine in that we all have some basic knowledge of dogs and dog shows but not so much so that we are incapable of being both bemused and fascinated by this strange ritual. My family would know, on average, four out of the seven groups in Best in Show; we could recognize most of the breeds, though we probably could not have named them. We feel a certain pride that we understand this prestigious competition, but we are still surprised and delighted by the winner.

“But Lillabeth,” I hear you asking, “Lillabeth, what about the delicious food? What about other traditions, like playing board games or taking a walk as the sun sets? Should one of those be the best part?”

And to you, I answer yes. Each of those parts is the best part because the moments of Thanksgiving cannot be ranked. They are all the best part when you spend them with the people you love. Whether that is your biological family, your adoptive family, your chosen family, or your found family, Thanksgiving is special because it is about sharing, from its roots in a not-so-true story about peace between two very different cultures. We share food, stories, laughter, and love. For a short period, in a world that never stops moving, we are together. We are arguing about which dog is cutest. And we share a happy moment.

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