As time goes by, I have become less and less enthusiastic about holidays.  Most of them were conceived with the best of intentions.  In the end, I feel almost like most of them are lies to ourselves.  Alternatively, most of the holidays have been co-opted by large corporations looking to take advantage of the citizenry.

While Thanksgiving is likely the among least of these offenders, it is still a holiday that has become something of a caricature of itself over the years.

Thanksgiving Day, as it is celebrated in the US, stands for a number if things, depending upon the motives of the individual.  Among these answers:

  • Thanksgiving is a time where we give thanks for the good fortune we have had during the course of the year.
  • Thanksgiving is a time for a religious observance where we give thanks to our creator and provider.
  • Thanksgiving celebrates an event in the year 1621 when recent immigrants to North America celebrated a harvest Festival with the local residents who already lived in the area.
  • Thanksgiving is the traditional day for a family reunion, when far flung family members have the opportunity to gather together for a meal.
  • Thanksgiving is an excuse for a couple of sanctioned days off from work so folks have the opportunity to begin patronizing retailers with the excuse of the most commercialized of holidays, Christmas.

Yes, Thanksgiving is all of these things, and more.  As a holiday where people can get together and celebrate the opportunity to get together, it does a fine job.  Traditionally, men have the opportunity to sit around the house and chat, eat until they are full, perhaps mingle a bit, then sit around the house all afternoon falling asleep in front of a television displaying broadcasts of American Football games.  Traditionally, women have the opportunity to create the largest meal of the year, spending hours in the kitchen collaborating on the food preparation effort, eating until they are full, clearing tables and storing leftovers afterward, and chatting for a few minutes until the men wake up and want a turkey sandwich.  Oh, yes.  That’s a lot of fun.

For some, Thanksgiving is an opportunity for a religious service.  These folks might attend a service and give thanks for what they have received during the year.  Then they will go home and celebrate as described above.

For many of the religious, and a few others, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give something back to the people who are hungry and cannot afford to eat or house themselves.  This week, there will be a flood of folks flocking to local shelters and soup kitchens to show just how much they help by service the poor.  this is an honorable activity.  More people should volunteer for this, as it allows them to see and help those who do not have it so lucky.  I might make one suggestion.  The problems of hunger and homelessness are with us 52 weeks per year.  If you are so inclined, please consider giving of your time during one or more of these other weeks, too.  I am certain that most of these organizations need your help all through the year.

In elementary school, I was told a story that was labeled as “history” by my teachers.  Something about pilgrims going to a “new world” to practice their religion, accepting assistance from the local native peoples in planting and cultivating crops so they didn’t starve to death, and sponsoring a feast to celebrate their living and working together.  Oh, yes, and a promotional tie-in with the turkey growers.  We hear about Squanto, a member of the local tribe who is able to interpret English and the local language.  He learned English while he was a slave that had been dragged off to Europe to serve his captors until he was allowed to return to his home continent.

Somehow, in the elementary school telling of this story, the one we cling to, we gloss over the fact that, over the next couple of years, these honorable Christian pilgrims show their thanks again to their hosts by stealing their crops, burning down their villages, and killing thousands of their new hosts.  From this, we form the basis of a holiday that emphasizes gathering together with friends and family, taking in those who have nowhere else to be that day, and generally giving thanks for what we have.  Splendid.

Oh, yes.  The other part about Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving marks the official start of the US Christmas season.  This season is not marked by “peace on Earth” or  reflection of how we did this year or even the birth of the Son of the Christian God.  No, it is much too early for that.  Thanksgiving marks the time where many people will line up at he doors of retail stores early in the morning in a macho attempt to display just how much holier they are than the next person.  They will spend every hour of the next four weeks shopping for dozens of “just the perfect gift” for every friend and aquaintance that they have.  That, and in an extreme example of consumerism, stampede the doors to get a few dollars off the latest consumer electronics gadget.  THAT is what Thanksgiving is all about!

As for me?  I am perfectly content to wake up in the morning, celebrate another fine day, enjoy a day that is not quite so hectic as the rest, then head off to work.  I think I’ll find my own way to give thanks for the things I need to be thankful for, thank you.