Everyone knows what's fake about Christmas: Cheery carols piped into stores immediately after Halloween. Buying gifts for relatives whom we can't abide.
But what about Thanksgiving? Now that it's over, let's be honest. Yesterday, the vast majority of us gathered with loved ones and thanked heaven for the turkey, our families, our health.
But how many of us kept some of our gratitude to ourselves? What about the stuff we were really grateful for this Thanksgiving, but that we could never have admitted with Grandpa and our cousin's toddler twins listening in?
I have a male friend who says his honest prayer would have been: "I'm so grateful to be at this bounteous table, among happy wives, husbands and children -- while I remain single, childless and free."
A female friend's most truthful prayer would have been even simpler: "I'm so thankful my period came."
Much that is truthful -- and for which we're truly grateful -- isn't for public, or even intimate family, consumption. So what if society is increasingly permissive about which ideas and language are fit for public dissemination? This TV season, I've heard a once-verboten word -- referring to buttocks, not the donkey -- on "Frasier," "Survivor: Thailand," "CSI" and "Scrubs." The ultra-frank "NYPD Blue" even features variations of the s-word.
Yet "The Osbournes" notwithstanding, most families watch what they say around each other.
And not just at Thanksgiving.
In keeping with the time-honored tradition of praising people and things after they're gone, I'll admit there's lots to like about turkey day. It hasn't been as commercialized as those other venerable holidays -- Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, etc. It isn't the financial or emotional drain that Christmas often is.
Who could dislike a day that demands little more of us than the time it takes to fix dinner, stop by Boston Market or just show up? Who could dislike a day devoted to gratitude -- that elusive, deeply spiritual notion that eludes most people most of the time?
Because much that we're grateful for doesn't bear mentioning, I asked several people to tell me the icky, secret stuff they couldn't admit at the table.
"If I was completely honest, I would have said, 'Thank God that I finally have a girlfriend,' " confessed a once-lonely college student.
Why not say that in front of his parents?
"They've tried to be in my business my whole life," he explained. "So I hide everything from them that is humanly possible. . . . You always want to have a secret compartment to store certain details."
Young people aren't the only ones with secret compartments. The father of a much-loved 13-year-old daughter says he'll never utter his most heartfelt prayer.
"If I could be totally honest at Thanksgiving, I'd say, 'I'm grateful the abortion didn't work,' " confesses Raoul, 46, a New Yorker whose daughter survived a botched abortion -- an operation he'd initially desired. The fact that he adores the child whom he once wanted no part of makes her "miraculous."
"But I could never tell my daughter that."
Some stuff nobody wants to hear. "No holds barred?" asked one of my son's friends. "I'd say, 'I love having a great body that other people appreciate.' "
How shallow. But I'm deeply grateful for the VCR, for knowing that when life stinks, I can pop in "Aliens" or "Clueless" and instantly feel better.
Who'd admit that at the turkey table?
You certainly can't mention sex -- though millions of us are awfully thankful for it. This Thanksgiving, snickered a married male friend, "I would have said, 'We're working on a second child, and I'm thankful that we're in the ovulation window.' The ovulation window is a good place to be."
Not only is sex guaranteed, he continued, but "you're told minutes after you walk in the door, 'Get to it.' I don't have to do the marriage-courtship dance."
Maybe honesty is overrated. My thoughtful friend Rodney, 42, says he's fascinated by the neurological disorder Tourette's syndrome because in rare cases, sufferers' involuntary outbursts "may be accurate."
"They may blurt out what the rest of us are thinking," he continues. "Clearly, not having the mechanism to be deceptive could be a problem. In an orderly society, you can't have people saying anything that pops into their head."
On the other hand, Rodney says, "the relationships I prize most are the ones in which I can be most real."
To his way of thinking, what's unfortunate about Thanksgiving utterances isn't what we can't say, but what we fail to mention. "We give thanks to God but not to the people we're grateful to.
"I mean, no one ever says to his spouse, 'Thanks for putting up with my bull . . .' "
There's always next year.