So it’s a few days since Thanksgiving – a day designed to give thanks for our blessings – is over. My great kid has come and gone, a whirlwind trip which saw us try to cram too much talk into too little time but his return is on the horizon. We watched the parade on television, enjoying the spectacle of the Broadway shows and the earnest goodness of the high school marching bands, the quasi-celebrities on the corporate-sponsored floats, the balloons big and small. We spent the day with our huge extended family, laughing and reminiscing. Being grateful for all we have been given, both material and those things you can feel in your heart and believe with your soul. And now it’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I would typically possibly ever so slowly be thinking about maybe (enough equivocation there, ya think?) getting into the Christmas season.
But after what I’ve seen and heard this past weekend, I’m ready to check out of Christmas before it even begins. I’m not unrealistic. Not at all. I expect that come September, I’m going to see fully decorated Christmas trees and lit menorahs in all the big box stores. I know I’ll begin to be bombarded with all manners of television and radio ads promoting the next big toy or electronic item or thing I don’t know I need until they tell me. And I’m OK with that. I guess.
What I’m not OK with is the – in my humble opinion – the total ruination of Thanksgiving by the way the retail industry, following its motto of “enough is never enough”, has corrupted a day that is supposed to be about giving thanks. How many of us know what Thanksgiving is really about, as opposed to what it’s become? A day filled with football games and parades, too much food and wine, traffic jams and short tempers, people fighting over items they won’t remember buying a year from now.
George Washington proclaimed the first national day of Thanksgiving 225 years ago, designating it “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”. People were thankful for a good harvest, for a roof over their heads, for their freedom, for their right to worship their God without fear of retribution. And many of us still view Thanksgiving this way. But many others now view it as a free-for-all to get the best prices on crap you don’t need for people you don’t necessarily like with money you don’t have. Only in America.
To read stories over the past few years about people waiting outside stores for days, sometimes weeks to be first in line is disheartening. Because nothing says “I love you” than skipping a Thanksgiving feast with your family so you can warm your hands over a sterno that’s heating up your can of beans outside Best Buy on Thanksgiving Day to buy something that is not necessary. I repeat: not necessary at all.
People have actually gotten killed, trampled by the crowds forcing their way into stores. Fistfights and calls to police abound as bad behavior goes out the window and is replaced by the “me” mentality. Is it worth it to you? Is it worth setting that kind of example for your children? Is it really the way you should live your life?
Should companies force employees to work on a holiday to satisfy their bottom line? Companies insist that employees are asked to volunteer to work on Thanksgiving but the anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. I happened to stay at a hotel on Thanksgiving night because we had traveled a long way from home. The hotel was across the street from a major shopping plaza and – when we checked in at about 8:00 pm – the parking lot was full and every store I could see had lines out the door.
So ask yourself this? What gifts did you get last holiday season? Can you even remember one of them? Can you remember what you bought for others? I have a very hazy idea but I couldn’t swear to anything. What I do remember though is the feeling I had when my son walked off the plane the day before Thanksgiving, after I hadn’t seen him in months. I remember watching the Yule Log the night before Christmas, remembering all the times I watched it with my Mom and my Dad when I grew up. I remember how the Thanksgiving and Christmas after my darling Dad died, my Burke cousins insisted we spend both holidays with them because they loved him as much as we did. I remember how – on New Year’s Eve – my son came home early from a party he was at to be with me at midnight, knowing how New Year’s Eve always makes me sad and how it made me burst into tears with gratitude at his enormous heart and compassionate soul. And I remember hoping, wishing, praying that this year would be better than the last and the one before that.
I don’t hold out much hope that retailers, now that they’ve had a taste of how they can lure suckers into their stores on holidays with smoke and mirrors and promises of discounts galore, will ever change their policy. It’s up to all of us to push back against this, to force retailers to change. I don’t really think Thanksgiving will ever be the way it was when I grew up. But I would be ever so thankful if it was.