That is the Merriam Webster definition of Thanksgiving. However, in the USA we treat it less of a day of gratitude and more of an expression of all the things that are detestful about American culture. I know that seems harsh, but let’s break it down.
First there is the food. Not only is it a prim example of how much abundance we have but also the level of gluttony we are capable of performing. And it’s a point of pride. We gather around a table and try to one up each other about how many calories we can consume. In what other situation is it socially acceptable to brag about the number of servings we stuffed into our gullet? Or how many piece of pie we can eat?
Then there is the sin of sloth. After consuming enough food to feed most families for a week we then waddle over to the sofa to participate in our favorite thing. Watching other people be athletic. Traditionally it’s football. However, if they keep expanding the season I predict we will soon have the option to watch baseball as well. No matter. So long as we can sit there and marinate in the tryptophan and shout at the television.
While we are watching that television, we can also prepare for the worst part of this holiday. Black Friday. Just a few short years ago there was an outcry because the stores were opening earlier and earlier. Some of them are now open on Thanksgiving. I find this heartbreaking. It was one of the last secular holidays where everything was closed with the small exception of gas stations. Thanksgiving was for everyone. Now it’s for everyone who doesn’t work in retail to shop.
And shop we do. To the point of violence. Every year someone gets seriously injured at a big box store on Black Friday. Not even 24 hours after we were pretending to be thankful our citizens head out en mass and do battle with each other over material goods. This under the guise that we will graciously give said items as gifts to commemorate the Christian savior. Someone who was purported to preach that we love our neighbor. Just not the one who also wanted to buy the Dr. Dre Beats headphones.
Of course, we tell each other a fairy tale about Pilgrims and Native Americans, but I think we all know that the truth is far from the social studies lesson taught to us. So let’s not even go there unless we are gonna’ be honest about the horrible things our ancestors did. OK?
Abraham Lincoln was the first to set a date (the last Thursday in November) in 1863 to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation” after the civil war. Prior to this each state had a different celebration. FDR changed it to the third Thursday in November in 1939 as an attempt to bolster holiday spending during the Great Depression. That wasn’t popular so it was changed back in 1941.
So how did it go from a day of gratitude to a day of gluttony, sloth, and violent consumerism? How did we become so vapid and narcissistic that we can’t take a day to look around and say, “I’m doing pretty good. I’m glad I have the things I have?”
Some of us are so removed that we don’t even know where to begin. So let me tell you my list. I am thankful for:
- My house- for keeping me warm and safe
- Air conditioning- during the summer there is nothing so decadent as not being sweaty
- My Job- It was a long, hard road but I finally found where I fit
- My debts- yes, really! Because it means I have (or had) credit and a resource of funds not available to so many, even if I misused that privilege.
- Being fat- In our culture it’s frowned upon, but I have access to an abundance of food while others go hungry
- My car- it gives me freedom and mobility that is denied many even in our own country.
- My savings account- I have money in the bank and it makes me wealthier than many people in the world
- The First Amendment- I’d be in jail or dead with out it because, wow, can I run my mouth
- My friends- I always know that there is someplace I’m not weird or that I am, and it’s embraced
- My pets- they keep me company and I am affluent enough to afford to care for them
- My health- fat I may be, but I am healthy. I’ve been seriously sick, I’ve seen disease. I’m so grateful I am healthy
- Clothes-I have too many and there are too many people who don’t have enough
It’s not an extensive list, but it’s a start. I have a house, electricity, plumbing, a job, a car, and some money in the bank. While I still struggle, as many do, in our economy and there are many things that need to be fixed, I try to remember that on a global scale, I am wealthy. Then there are the intangible things that make me rich. The people in my life, the experiences we share. There is no way to wrap that up in ribbons and bows. It can’t be bought at any price. maybe we can put the fork down, step away from the TV, and look at each other and just be happy we aren’t alone, cold, hungry, and sick.