Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou, Thanksgiving?

What happened to Thanksgiving? When did it go away as a major American holiday only to be encompassed by all that is commercial about Christmas? I thought there was a nice blustery Autumn period in the calendar year, between Halloween and Christmas where the leaves fall off the trees and everything is awash in orange and yellows and families get together to appreciate the bounty of nature and the good graces of our Pilgrim forefathers who sat down with the Indians and shared customs, etc., (though I’m sure the events that I was taught in grade school about such a white man/red man union are completely and utterly fictitious folklore. Yes, I know all about the first harvest of the Plymouth Plantation in 1621 with Massassoit, Squanto and all the rest… I just don’t buy into it is all). I thought we had a holiday for this, not just one day, but one of the good ones, a two-day event that made for a wonderful four days away from the grind.

Now, all I see are Christmas decorations in stores, I hear Christmas music softly in the background and that twinkling of bells that precedes most commercials on TV.

Still, I remember there was a day called Thanksgiving once way back, where Christmas music wasn’t piped into the Hallmark stores the second the decision was made to start breaking down the Halloween displays, and I remember a Thanksgiving when advertisers didn’t start the seasonal push until the “big crazy shopping day” after Thanksgiving, after the tryptophan wears off, after two loads of dishes have gone through the dishwasher, after the relatives leave, after the leaf from the dining room is returned to the hall closet for next year and after all of the leftovers have been relegated into Ziploc baggies in the back of the refrigerator to await their fate in school lunches and Sunday’s dinner. After that. Christmas came after all of that. Well, not anymore.

Where did that Thanksgiving go? Where did November go?

Now we have skipped an entire month, 30 whole days of cool weather, windy nights, sitting by the fire and watching the leaves fall, and we are left with the Christmas season, 60 long days of it. Christmas lights are hung. I’ve seen them already. Wreaths have been placed over doors, and those typically God-awful sweaters with snowmen and reindeer on them have appeared in the windows of the Gap and Old Navy.

But is the Christmas carols that cut through me and abash all that is wonderful and family-oriented about the Thanksgiving holiday. For a while after Halloween, Natalie at first didn’t believe there was such a day of eating and spending time with our families, but after the concept of Thanksgiving was firmly implanted in her head, she was dead set against it coming before Christmas. Certainly, she pondered, a holiday so wonderful as Christmas, so magical and so full of free presents from splendid companies like Mattel, certainly, it is not possible that there would be any other holiday that would stand in the way. We have the candy from Halloween, now make with the presents for Christmas.

Who needs it anyway? Thanksgiving, I mean. What good is it anymore to the lot of us? Life isn’t a Norman Rockwell painting. You know the one I’m talking about, "Freedom From Want," where the Midwestern-looking matriarch is setting down the fatted turkey for the head of the household to carve up for his unnaturally jubilant family (except for the one guy seated to his right who looks somewhat shocked, as if senile old Aunt Millie is rubbing her foot slowly up his thigh…again).

It started in 1924, when the first Macy’s Christmas Parade marched down 34th Street with Santa bringing up the rear… on Thanksgiving. Now they call it Macy’s Day Parade but the meaning is still there. On TV, in the stores, on the radio, tomorrow is Christmas, tomorrow I must provide the perfect example of a Christmas holiday tradition, and by gum, if I don’t have a holiday tradition, I can run down to Target and pick one up. They just went on sale today in the form of a pre-lit faux Christmas tree; you know where they are, right next to the Halloween stuff on the clearance rack.

Thanksgiving, sadly, is being killed, shoved off of the calendar because it lacks marketing appeal, it lacks consumerism. You don’t give gifts for Thanksgiving (but it makes perfect sense to do so; when I’m thankful of someone, I usually say it with a gift), and you don’t run to the store at the last minute and pick up a box of chocolates to put under the turkey because there’s a white elephant round-robin present opening after dinner. You just don’t, but I’d be willing to bet if someone could think of a way to make it work, to make a dollar at it to boot, they’d do it. But as it is Thanksgiving can’t be commercialized, so far, sold to the masses in the form of Sony Play Stations, TVs, alligator skin wallets and festive holiday ties that you’ll never ever wear. The first toe-hold the mass marketers had was the day after Thanksgiving, a day people have had off from work for years; get them out into the stores and get them spending, after all, Christmas is a mere 31 days away and you mustn’t disappoint your family. You won’t want them sad on Christmas would you?

Forget about leftovers for a second, Wal-Mart has a McDonald’s (but no turkey). Who cares if you have relatives staying with you. Bring your family from Albuquerque so they can spend too; they could use some West-Coast style, I’m sure. Most of all, spend your money now before Christmas is upon you, and now that Halloween is over (which is usually on the first trash day the rotting pumpkins can be discarded signifies its end) Christmas is only a short one-sixth of a year away!

Jesus, Santa’s already been making toys for 305 days! You’ve got some catching up to do?

Of course, it is just a matter of time before the atheist, socialists find out the true source and meaning of Thanksgiving and decide for the best interests of public equality among religions and those without religion, that Thanksgiving is a day founded for the blessings of God and that we are not celebrating our Pilgrim forefathers who found bounty in the new land, but we are celebrating the many “single favors of Almighty God.” And they should decide that it is in the best interests of us all to remove it from the official calendar and instead call it Migrant Worker Day, because, after all, they are the new Native Americans who are helping us poor Pilgrims survive by providing us all of our food for the long winters to come. Too far, you say? Who cares, I say, as the whole thing pisses me off.

So, those who want to remove “in God we trust” from our money and “under God” from our Allegiance and all of the symbols that have provided comfort, guidance, salvation and direction to millions upon millions of Americans for hundreds of years, and are wondering where I found the quote above (“single favors of Almighty God”) and why would I attribute that to the real meaning and reason behind Thanksgiving and not the one we were taught in school?

Well, where would I find a quote such as this?

George Washington, October 3, 1798, in a paper he called “The Thanksgiving Proclamation”

Don't bother reading it. He's long winded, and it's full of that ancient talk we call proper English. Basically, to sum up, he says, "Hey guys, I know we're a new country and all but wouldn't it be cool to have a day that binds us all together as a people. I know, let's have a day where we can eat dinner with our families, break out the good china and silver and pray to God in thanks for being such a wonderful guy and allowing this little spit of land we call America to be fruitful and so far prosperous. Sure, some folks came before us, had a few laughs and many folks will be here after we're gone, but God, you're okay in our book and hat's off to You. This is your day. "

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to "recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many single favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for His kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His Providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Though Thanksgiving had been celebrated long before Washington proclaimed it should be officially, this was the first time the new government designated a specific day for such an event, and a very religious one at that. Perhaps that's why it's being strangled to death by ornaments and garland; everyone knows, especially churches, God doesn't sell.

Today, in a very festively Christmas Hallmark store, admiring the hundred little animatronic penguin families decorating a hundred little Christmas trees in the window display, Kara, the inspiration for this seemingly over-the-edge rant tonight, asked me, “What happened to Thanksgiving?”

And it is too bad to see it go too. I rather enjoyed the pie.

**For those in the know, I understand I misquoted the true meaning of “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” in the title above. I was an English major in school; I took three separate Shakespeare classes, suffering through his work three separate times. “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” doesn’t mean “Where are you, Romeo?” like I suggest it means in my title. Think about the scene: Romeo was right there under the balcony listening to Juliet while she asks this. If the love of my life was high up on a balcony asking where I was, I would have certainly spoken up and started climbing the trellis. “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” mean “Why are you named Romeo, part of my family’s sworn enemies, and not some body else?” Later, what was Romeo’s answer to her question? “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

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