Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thanksgiving Lost

When I was a child we spent a whole month working up to Thanksgiving. We got to dress up as Pilgrims and Indians and always had a feast in class. As soon as the Halloween ghosts and ghouls were put away- the festive leaves and turkeys and cornocopias came out. By the time my own children were in preschool, we were not allowed to call them Indians, they were Native Americans.  That never sat well with me, because not only were me and my children native to the Americas, all of their grandparents and great grandparents were as well. In  United Nations conference, the majority of representatives agreed that American Indian was a better descriptor as by definition all those born in the Americas are considered native americans and that lead to confusion. Since people from India are also referred to as Indians, that confusion also needed to be irradicated. After all- what kind of society are we if we cannot lump groups of people together and give them a name? Then in a stroke of genius- we commemorate a group of people's(whose name we continue to change) in an aptly named holiday- Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated as early as the 1560's, not 1621 in Plymouth as generally thought. A Thanksgiving feast would be held to celebrate a bountiful harvest and to give thanks to God. Many codes in early communities recognized the day as a holiday and then in 1941, President Roosevelt gave it official holiday status. In the efforts to keep church and state separate, the ties to God were not emphasized and the date was set for economic reasons not social welfare, although many would argue the two are intertwined. Thanksgiving and Christmas were traditionally the 2 holidays that almost no one worked. The season was respected and employees were as well. Despite everything being closed on Thanksgiving- Christmas decorations magically appeared on Black Friday. I have noticed a trend over the past few years- Christmas creeps in earlier and earlier. It is happening everywhere. At first I thought it was here on the island, an economic necessity to put out Christmas decorations due to lack of storage space. That is not the case.  Last year as the Halloween decorations came out, so did the Christmas lights. This year- there was wall of lights and other items that came out in July with the school supplies. You still see Halloween decorations, but you are hard pressed to find fall decorations. Thanksgiving has been pushed out for it's lack of commercial value. If people aren't told to buy items to help celebrate a Holiday- does the holiday no longer exist?

Apparently things are creeping this way as Walmart and Sears have announced that they will be open for Thanksgiving. Economic hardships are cited for the change in policy. I wonder if in the economic conscious decision making process, the stores are giving employees the option to work?  Are they appealing to those most financially strained, "gifting" them the opportunity to make extra funds on a holiday? I am no business major and I don't claim to know the inner workings of the system, but common sense tells me the costs of operating on a holiday might surpass the revenue- especially in light of the wonderful internet shopping opportunities. But what are the bigger costs to us as a society? When we deem shopping paramount importance to that of family and a sense of gratitude, no one wins.  There have been many a Thanksgiving item forgotten in my past. There have been mad dashes to gas stations or any open mart. Those are what great stories are made of. Or the ingenuity and creativity of using blue or green twine as available- sometimes yielding interesting colored gravy.  Scrounging around to replace something burnt or just making do. Magazines dedicate entire issues to Thanksgiving disasters- you will not find one story on the Thanksgiving that was saved by running to walmart at the last second.

I never partake in Black Friday. I don't like shopping under the best conditions, no matter how good the deal. I've learned my time is more important.  Yet for many it is a tradition, a tradition that along with Thanksgiving will die. Traditionally we decorate our tree the day after Thanksgiving. It gives me the excuse not to face the throngs of bargain hunters. Because although I love seeing the joy on my children's faces at Christmas- I mourn the loss of the true spirit of giving in the commercial marketplace. The spirit that is being zapped away with the loss of fall, the loss of harvest, the loss of Thankfullness. I have actually read articles entitled "Tired of Thanksgiving dinner?" that offer alternatives to the traditional fare. I shake my head- tired of Thanksgiving? If you are tired of Thanksgiving, perhaps you should apply at Walmart or Sears- I hear they have some holiday jobs available. To me Thanksgiving is tradition and you don't mess with tradition. Sometimes you move tradition a day or 2 because your husband is guarding the borders so you can rest securely. You don't skip it for a good sale. 

So Walmart will be open. Many other places as well. I will not go. I will honor centuries of tradition. Even though I did not personally harvest the bounty that will set on my table, I will be thankful for those who did. I will be Thankful that with God's good graces, I will have my best friend and all of my children at one table for one meal. I will be Thankful that another year has passed and those who have passed with it. I will be Thankful for the gifts I have and not Thanksgiving Lost.

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