Tuesday, November 26, 2013


OK, we're within 48 hours of the big day. 

Thanksgiving is a fabulous holiday.  The point is to give thanks to one's deity for the blessings in our lives.  And it is a secular holiday, so even if you believe in no deity, you can still take time out to be mindful of your good fortune.  Modern medicine has proven that such mindfulness contributes to a range of physical and mental health benefits.

Beyond giving thanks for blessings, a secondary point to Thanksgiving is to gather together with others.  We spend time with family and/or friends.  It is considered less than ideal to spend the holiday alone.  In my adult life, when I've known folks who would be alone on the holiday, I always invite them to join my family.  They are always glad to get the invite.  It would be depressing to spend Thanksgiving by oneself.

Note that both giving thanks (or mindfulness) and spending times with loved ones are quintessentially part of the ethos of voluntary simplicity.  So in some ways, for those who embrace a simpler life, Thanksgiving is our most important holiday.  What could be better than gathering together with people you love (or hopefully at least like) to eat some yummy food and spend some quality time.

But in my lifetime, I've seen Thanksgiving become less and less recognizable. 

First, it degenerated to a day when people sit in front of the TV watching football all day, maybe while munching on a turkey drumstick.  Despite being native Texans, our family watches only one football game a year--typically the Super Bowl.  And frankly even then, we're only in it for the nachos. To me, if you are staring at a TV screen all day and screaming for some gladiator to mercilessly tackle another, you have overlooked the point of Thanksgiving.

And there have always been issues about going overboard with the feast. Some women (and occasionally men) who are responsible for preparing the feast for their families feel tremendous stress to provide a dining experience that Martha Stewart with her team of staff could produce. I know women who get up in the middle of the night and are virtually slaves of their own kitchen on Thanksgiving while everyone else is elsewhere having fun.  They fret for weeks over concocting the right menu.  Then they don't get to enjoy the day because they are trying to produce a dizzying array of dishes in a finite timeframe.  They are worried about being judged or not adequately impressing their guests.  Again, that misses the point of Thanksgiving.

But by far, the worst perversion of Thanksgiving has come in recent years with the encroachment of the commercial exploitation of Christmas.  I am a Christian of over a quarter century, so I can tell you with some authority that no where in either the Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament is there even a suggestion that one must stand in line to buy a Play Station or plasma screen TV in order to properly celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

It always made me sad that after the simple calm and gratitude of Thanksgiving, people would head out the very next day to spend hours in stores.  It seemed like a cruel irony.  We spend time giving thanks, then we run around like maniacs trying to accumulate more and more because apparently what we just gave thanks for was insufficient.

However, things got worse over time.  At least initially Black Friday started at a normal time.  We could enjoy our Thanksgiving and recover a bit Thursday night and Friday morning.  But then retailers began to open their doors earlier and earlier Friday morning.  I began to know people who would plan their Thanksgiving around that.  They had to finish Thanksgiving at an earlier hour, so they could go to bed early to wake up early to get to the stores.  How perverse!

But then a few years ago, the unthinkable began to happen.  Some retailers began to open for a few hours on Thursday evening to get a jump start on Friday shopping.  I wasn't even aware of this until a friend of mine explained that she and a friend were combining their families' Thanksgiving celebration so they could finish early and hit the special Thursday sale while the husbands watched football.  This is a dear friend of mine.  Her plans just depressed me more than I can say.

Meanwhile, the deals have gotten more and more attractive--luring more and more customers in either on Thursday or at crazy early hours on Friday morning.  The term "door buster" was coined with sad irony because people desperate to get limited deals on waffle irons and computers trampled other human beings in the process. 

And that is after many camp for days, sometimes as much as a week, outside a store to get such deals.  Think about that.  Where does one go to the bathroom?  It is cold at night outside, even in the Sunbelt.  Forcibly, one has totally foregone any feigned attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving if one spent it in a tent outside a Best Buy.  Even if it is the biggest TV or snazziest iPad or gaming device, is it really worth days of your life when you might be doing other things?  What a deeply sad state of affairs.

On social media, I've seen people decry the deterioration of Thanksgiving in this way.  So I know I'm not the last person in America to feel this way, though it sometimes feels like it.  Many such persons vilify the retailers for offering such deals at such times.  There is some validity to that finger wagging.  But others rightfully point out that the retailers are simply meeting a demand.  It is the consuming public that is to blame for this state of affairs. 

Personally, I think there is some truth to both sides.  We see a similar situation in the disastrous war on drugs in this country.  We vilify the parasitic, often violent drug dealers.  They are to blame and if we just round them all up, the problem would go away.  Only it doesn't work that way because our nation has such a huge demand for narcotics that others rise up to fill that demand.  I would never defend drug dealers.  I think they are exploitive and greedy, doing unconscionable harm.  But it is too easy to just blame the dealers when the demand is apparently so great.  We need to look at our own contribution to the situation in creating the demand the dealers meet. 

Very similar dynamic with regard to retail sales at Thanksgiving.  I do hold responsible the stores that offer these crazy door busters at insane times.  But even if Walmart and Target refrained, other stores would spring up to fill the void because a lot of otherwise sane folks are willing to sacrifice Thanksgiving for cheap consumer goods.  Shame on us all.

But I invite you to be different, to take the path less traveled so to speak.  I encourage you to focus on the true meaning of Thanksgiving--to create a simple and enjoyable meal so you can spend the day just relaxing and enjoying the company of your friends and/or family. 

Moreover, I encourage you to not be a part of this modern cultural madness.  My husband and I are frugal and try to be good stewards of our finances.  We buy things when they are on sale whenever possible.  But I'm not even looking at any of the ads for this week and no one in our family is going shopping Thursday or Friday.

I know others take similar pledges.  On social media, I saw one young man dismiss all the handwringing about the perversion of Thanksgiving by pointing out that if we abstain from all the consumption, we are not impacted in the least by the madness of Black Friday spilling over onto Thanksgiving.  I was struck by what an insensitive, privileged statement this was.  Based on the context of this statement, I glean that this man was well-educated and had a good job that did not require him to work on Thanksgiving.  Not everyone has those advantages. 

I know several people who work at grocery stores who have to work all day on Thursday.  And it has nothing to do with door busters.  Their corporate bosses decided it was important to stay open for all the folks on Thursday who begin to make the mashed potatoes but run out of butter or who realize they didn't buy enough sparkling apple juice for everyone who will be at their table.  Don't forget the folks working this other end of retail sales at grocery stores.  If you pledge to abstain from shopping during Thanksgiving, make sure you don't breach that pledge by running to the Ralph's or Piggly Wiggly for last minute groceries.  Plan ahead, make sure you have what you need for all your recipes, and find work-arounds on Thursday if you don't.

In closing, I just encourage you to do your part to take back Thanksgiving from the retail madness and restore it to its original, beautiful purpose.  Take time to appreciate your life and the people in it.  Enjoy!

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