Why is it in America so many elements of our culture become tainted by exploitation, excessiveness and the insatiable need to make lots of money? I am as patriotic as the next guy, but I have personally witnessed the relentless control that corporate America holds over almost everything we do. And we, the money-making morons that we are, march right in step allowing these commercial juggernauts to say “Well, that’s what the consumers want!”
Holidays are a perfect example. Just about every major holiday this country celebrates has become a commercial extravaganza. Correct that: every holiday. I can’t think of a single American holiday that doesn’t come with a retail sale attached. The problem, though it is not a problem for most, is that the commercial aspects often become the main concentration of our holidays…not the true meaning or significance originally signaled out for celebration or commemoration. This week’s holiday, Thanksgiving, is especially a victim.
President Lincoln initiated the formality of Thanksgiving when he proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November to be officially set aside as a day of thanks-giving and praise for God or whoever/whatever entity you choose to extend your gratefulness to.
The more traditional origin of Thanksgiving, however, is derived from the story of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts. These early settlers and their Native American friends (who would later be unfriended and ravaged of their land and culture) got together in the fall one year to celebrate the good harvest and wellbeing of the community. It’s a nice story even if it’s been a bit enhanced by our need to fantasize our heritage and show the world ours is a country of harmony and peace. Don’t ask the turkey to go along with that concept.
Call me a traditionalist or an old romantic, but I have always enjoyed thanksgiving as a really feel-good day of reflection. I especially like the original elements of the day: the fall season with all its beauty and anticipation of settling in for the cold winter; the parades (yes, even Macy’s) that ultimately bring Santa to town and officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season (though our corporate entities have now managed to move that up to a week or two before Halloween); the social gathering which often sets aside family differences and dysfunctions; the football game (make that three games, as the NFL and TV monguls look at all the money they’ll make and yell “Touchdown!”) and, finally, the big dinner itself.
But that was Thanksgiving then, and this is now. All these nostalgic sentiments have been trashed by commercial enterprise. Black Friday has become an annual feeding frenzy for retailers large and small. It has grown to the point that Thankgiving has taken a back seat to the big holiday sale weekend. In fact, Black Friday now revs up Thursday (Thanksgiving) evening. The dinner dishes won’t even be cleared from the table before family delegates will be sent out to brave the madness of what has become one of, if not the, biggest sales day for retail America. In fact, the only true meaning left from the original concept of Thanksgiving is the thought of how grateful the retailers will be as they count their profits and scheme more ideas to extend Black Friday next year further into the days before and after.
I realize all this makes me sound like an old curmudgeon. I agree, some holidays do offer a good “excuse” for commercialism, but to what extent? I feel bad for our waning culture as future generations may lose the true understanding of why we set aside certain days each year to help benchmark the past and reflect upon the future. These children will not comprehend nor grasp the extreme sacrifice their forefathers have made as they stuff their shopping bags with sales items each Memorial Day. They will not have my generation’s sense and respect for history and the tremendous risk it took to bring about The Fourth of July. They will not experience the pride and patriotism some of us feel as we pay tribute to our country’s greatest leaders on President’s Day.
And on the fourth Thursday of November each year, I doubt our future offspring will be motivated, as I am this day, to take a moment and think about all the things for which one should be thankful. This, of course, is the whole meaning of Thanksgiving. It is the one pure American holiday that we celebrate and, as such, makes it all the more difficult to witness its decay.