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Archive for November 25th, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths.  At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings. –  J. Robert Moskin

In the United States today is Thanksgiving Day, a day originally established (as the name attests) to give thanks for what we have.  It is essentially a late harvest festival, a secularized American version of Samhain or Harvest Home, and like most harvest festivals in every place and time it is celebrated with a feast.  Unfortunately, as with so many traditions, the original meaning of the institution has become lost and in the minds of many the observance exists only for its own sake rather than for the purpose for which it was established.  Many Americans have even replaced the name of the holiday with a designation referencing the food which traditionally forms the center of the feast, so that the sublime “Thanksgiving” has become the jejune “Turkey Day”.  So, are we now going to start referring to Independence Day as “Hot Dog Day” or New Year’s Eve as “Booze Night”?  The very idea is asinine.  If you really want to set my teeth on edge, try greeting me with “Happy Turkey Day”; if any of you include it in a reply today, don’t be surprised if I edit it.  As if that’s not bad enough, the busiest shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving (popularly called “Black Friday” because many retail businesses first turn a profit [“go into the black”] for the year on that day) has in many people’s minds actually supplanted the holiday in importance; I actually received several ads this past Monday with “Black Friday Week” in the heading.  That’s right, not “Thanksgiving Week”, but “Black Friday Week”.  Not a week to give thanks for what one does have, but a week to spend money one doesn’t have.  And that’s really sad.

My atheist readers may feel that the concept of thankfulness implies a higher power to be thankful to, but I would disagree; the concept is more than broad enough to include thankfulness to oneself and other members of one’s family, or thankfulness to one’s employer or customers or any other material beings who have contributed to one’s current prosperity.  Or, you may think of it as a time to “balance one’s books” and be glad for the assets.  Frankly, I can’t understand why a person who refuses to be thankful (in either a spiritual or practical sense) even bothers to celebrate the holiday at all; if you aren’t interested in the symbolic value of a feast, why have one?  You can indulge in gluttony any day of the year; why wait for November?  Sure, the turkeys are cheaper right now, but so what?  Buy one now, throw it in the deep-freeze and thaw it next June.  Having a feast today just because everyone else is doing it calls to mind something my mother (and I’m sure yours as well) used to say: “If everybody else jumped off of a bridge, would you do that too?”

The widespread American attitude that this is a day devoted to conspicuous consumption for its own sake was summed up for me last Thanksgiving by a shockingly clueless statement made by Jillian Michaels, a celebrity exercise guru who is one of the stars of a “reality” show entitled (appropriately enough) The Biggest Loser.  Though we don’t generally watch broadcast television, my husband enjoys viewing the coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (an American tradition with which our overseas friends may be familiar from the movie Miracle on 34th Street) while I slave over a hot stove all day long preparing turkey with cornbread stuffing, pumpkin and mince meat pies, candied yams, green bean casserole, homemade yeast rolls and a full appetizer tray including devilled eggs.  Actually, I’m not complaining; I really do enjoy the process of creating a feast and besides, my masochistic tendencies aren’t exactly a secret (I don’t get paid for writing this column every day, either).  But I digress.  On a trip into the living room to bring my beloved a glass of egg nog, I took advantage of a free moment to sit in his lap and cuddle for a few minutes.  And while we were doing so, my attention was diverted to the television by the voice of  a reporter interviewing Miss Michaels among the celebrity spectators looking for photo ops; I didn’t know who she was, but the reporter obligingly told me, then asked her if she had any advice for dieters on Thanksgiving.  She replied (not an exact quote but very damned close), “Have a little bit of everything today, and then just throw all those leftovers away!”  It must be nice to have so much money that one can afford to throw the lion’s share of a feast into the garbage, but I can’t imagine being so selfishly amoral as to actually do it.  How about this, Miss Biggest Loser:  If you don’t want leftovers, why not prepare less food?  Or better yet, buy the same amount of food, donate it to those who would just love to have your leftovers, and eat yourself a fucking salad.

A feast is a symbol; shared meals are among the oldest of human rituals and therefore IMHO not to be taken lightly or bastardized into mere excuses for gorging oneself.  I urge all of my American readers to really observe today’s holiday as it was meant to be observed; get together with people you love (whether family or friends) and enjoy each other’s company.  Think about all the good things you have and the progress you’ve made in the past year; if it has been a bad year for you take stock of what you still have and plan for the future.  If you have religious beliefs say an honest prayer of thanks to the Divine as you conceive Him, Her, Them or It, and if you don’t have such beliefs take a moment to meditate on your prosperity and recognize the good which has come to you from the actions of others.  And though today is a regular weekday for my readers in other countries, perhaps y’all might also take a moment today to be thankful and to appreciate what you have rather than worrying about what you lack.

Blessed Be!

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