The Tradition of Thanksgiving and the Ritual of Black Friday

Thanksgiving 2012 has come and gone. For many of us the day could not have arrived soon enough. Making traveling plans, actually getting there or preparing to receive guests over-taxed our minds and bodies. As we were passing time with family and friends our thoughts drifted to how to mercifully end the day. Many people traveled by air to spend the day with someone who made the trip worth while. For the American airline industry Thanksgiving Day represents one of the busiest air travel days of the year. A lot of people who I know opted to drive to or from some place to celebrate Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly; gasoline prices seem to creep higher once Thanksgiving rolls around. Thanksgiving can be a joyous and stressful time of the year.

Many Americans, like me, spent Thanksgiving Day at home. I spent day with a fellow alumnus of my college. We graduated from college in 1975 and had not communicated with each other since then. In college we were good friends and members of the track squad. She and her husband had already planned a trip to NYC during Thanksgiving. Facebook led her to me and we made all the arrangements to meet. Neither she nor her husband had ever visited NYC. They had decided to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and visit Midtown at mid-night. I was looking forward to their visit and invited them to stay at my home.

Most people would agree that the significance of Thanksgiving has changed radically over the last few years. The day has morphed from a solemn occasion of giving thanks to a stepping stone to a commercialized shopping day know as a Black Friday (BF) that kicks off the Christmas Holiday shopping season. During this time retailers hope to change their bottom lines from red to black.

The true significance of Thanksgiving seems to have gotten lost in the media advertising blitz that heralds in BF. We need to take a moment to recall the true reason why we give thanks on Thanksgiving Day.

To understand America’s giving thanks on the third Thursday in November one must travel historically backwards in time to the early 1600s. Only a small number of the original pilgrims survived the after landing at Plymouth Rock. The survivors harvested their crops and gathered to celebrate and give thanks to God for allowing them to survive and conquer all challenges. Governor Bradford of the 1620 Pilgrim Colony of Plymouth called the pilgrims to the town meeting-house to “render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.” The local Native Americans were invited to the feast. Some people have suggested that the day should not be celebrated out of respect for the eventual displacement of the American Indian and destruction of their way of life. Those who suggest that we should not celebrate Thanksgiving are small in number.

Since 1620 America has officially celebrated the day in some form or another. However, Abraham Lincoln is generally credited with having made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. During the height of the American Civil War when Americans were killing each other in horrific bloody battles he issued his Thanksgiving Day proclamation by declaring in part:

“…announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord… But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own… It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people…”

Since President Lincoln’s proclamation of October 3, 1863 America has celebrated Thanksgiving as a national holiday on the third Thursday in November. I think it is poignant that Thanksgiving became a fixture of American society and culture during this country’s rebirth (the Civil War) as a nation.

I remember celebrating Thanksgiving during the 60’s and 70’s. During those years most American’s viewed the holiday as a solemn moment when friends and family came to gather to share a meal and to give thanks just for the opportunity to gather and share. The following day was always considered the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The day had not yet become the year’s premier shopping day. I distinctly remember that most retail stores were closed on Thanksgiving Day. They reopened the following day at their regular opening hour. Families and friends were able to enjoy each others’ company and food without being distracted by the constant barrage of sales and promotions. Also, the consumer was not offered extended or early shopping hours. During Thanksgiving Day we were able to concentrate on socializing with each other. To me; Thanksgiving offered a time to reconnect with each other on an intimate and personal level. Companionship and  friendship cannot be overvalued or taken for granted.

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