In my 2011 "Reflections on Thanksgiving," I ranted about Black Friday. Alas, things have only gotten worse, with the media now proclaiming, "Gray Thursday"! Gray Thursday? Can they possibly mean Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving, the most American of all our holidays? The holiday that extends across ethnic backgrounds, religion, education, age, etc. The holiday which inspires more travel than any other time of the year - 43,000,000 according to this week's television news.
Why is Thanksgiving such a universal American holiday? Because if you are an American—if you appreciate what being an American means—you celebrate Thanksgiving. And, if it's at all possible, you find a way to celebrate this very special holiday with family. And possibly extend the holiday feast to friends with no family of their own.
|Mayflower replica, Plymouth, Massachusetts|
What makes Thanksgiving so special? After all, we have a lot of holidays, from the birthday of our country to the birthdays of great men, to honoring our veterans, so what makes this one stand out? Because 156 years before we became the United States of America, we were a tiny colony on the shore of Massachusetts. A colony of Pilgrims, religious dissenters who suffered two months on board the sailing ship Mayflower, hoping to settle in Virginia—where Jamestown had become the first English colony in the New World— only to end up at the end of a promontory considerably farther north. The place now known as Provincetown on Cape Cod. There, they found a spring. What joy to have fresh water after two months at sea. But the land was narrow, scarcely a mile wide, and sandy. No good for farming, for keeping themselves alive. So they got back on board the Mayflower and continued on. Farther along the cape's "arm," they stopped again. This time they were greeted by natives, the people Christopher Columbus had erroneously named "Indians." [The place, now commemorated as "First Encounter Beach," is on the Bay shore in Eastham, Massachusetts. We stopped there on our trip to Cape Cod last summer.]
But the soil was still sand, so once again they set sail. The next landing was more productive and the Pilgrims joined the New World's first wave of "immigrants." Conditions were harsh, many died, but when spring came they cleared land and planted seeds. And that Fall, they stopped to give thanks - for their survival, for food, for help from the Indians, for the new land they were settling. [Today's Plymouth offers a replica of the Mayflower, which you can explore, and an excellent reproduction of the buildings and crafts of the early colony at what is called "Plymouth Plantation."]
Over the years this First Thanksgiving has become an inspiration for a holiday which emphasizes giving thanks for all we have, particularly for the love of family and friends, for a roof over our heads and food on the table. It is also a time when, thanks mostly to volunteers, we do our best to provide "Thanksgiving" for those who have little or nothing. Nor does our government forget our men and women in uniform. Thanksgiving is truly the "universal" holiday.
And yet . . . retail America, particularly the "big box" stores, are turning Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, into "Gray Thursday," encroaching more and more on America's most precious holiday. If the owners of these corporations were going to be out there, staffing the stores on the Thanksgiving, maybe this crass play for money and more money wouldn't be so bad, as I'd like to think only those hard-shelled enough not to give a @#$% about Thanksgiving would be shopping on the holiday. BUT these corporate giants are infringing on the most sacred American family holiday by requiring their workers to be front and center for this madhouse of consumerism. Employees must cut short their holiday to run back to work at eight, nine, midnight, four a.m., five a.m. You name the time, and some store has compromised the holiday tradition in order to offer people an opportunity to trample all over each other so they can buy a 40" TV.
NOT AT OUR HOUSE! This Thanksgiving at 6:30 p.m. we sat down thirteen to dinner - twelve family plus one "friend." [The rest of the nineteen (the brand new American citizens) who joined us last year were creating their own holiday tradition for friends visiting from Miami.] This year my son-in-law (born in Argentina) started a new tradition. He asked each person at the table, in turn, to tell what he or she was thankful for. After the adults spoke, he asked his daughters (ages 6-9) to read a list of ten things they had written down for which they were thankful. (They had to compose these lists on their own.) It was a moving experience and, as sometimes happens, it all came together in a perfect moment.
After we stuffed ourselves with an incredible array of food, we sat around the table and talked. Just talked - in English and Spanish. None of the thirteen of us was rushing off to the mall. We enjoyed Thanksgiving for the family day it was meant to be. For the giving of thanks, not the gimme-gimme of "What can I buy & how cheap can I get it?"
Has our family had some of those Thanksgiving disasters or blow-ups that people sometimes moan about? Yes, we have, so, believe me, I particularly treasure this year's ideal Thanksgiving. And I want other people to have their very special Thanksgiving moments and not be forced to give it all up in order to go to work so crass consumerism can push our most American holiday all the way back to August.
If you agree with me, I hope you will pass this blog post on to others.
~ * ~
Next week: "Best Foot Forward" will likely come before "How Not to Write a Book"
Thanks for stopping by,
Grace's books as Blair Bancroft