It seems to me that our native-grown holiday known as Thanksgiving is slowly disappearing.
Through the early years of our country various spontaneous celebrations of “thanksgiving” were held in different parts of the nation, but the declarations of these special days all had one theme in common – giving thanks to God. For example, the first president of the United States, George Washington, proclaimed Nov. 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours (sic) of Almighty God.”
Thanksgiving was also officially called for in all states in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed a day of national thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, explicitly in celebration of the “bounties” that had continued to bless the country. The holiday was annually proclaimed by every president thereafter, and the date chosen, with few exceptions, was the last Thursday in November. Thanksgiving thus became a national day of exaltation of the unparalleled God-bestowed abundance enjoyed by this country.
The celebration of Thanksgiving as a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” in celebration of the “bounties” that bless this country, however, is slowly disappearing. What comes to mind is the famous Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland” where the cat disappears gradually until nothing is left but its grin. Yep, Thanksgiving has been gradually disappearing until little is left but the name.
You see, it is being subsumed by Christmas. (“Subsumed” is a neat three dollar word that means, “”to include within a larger class, group, order, etc.) In other words, the celebration known as Christmas is enveloping Thanksgiving and effectively replacing this long-standing national holiday and its dedication to “public thanksgiving and prayer” with a multimonth long pitch for Christmas sales.
For a number of years Thanksgiving weekend had been the beginning of the Christmas season with the entry of Santa Clause in parades and other festivities – usually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day. As part of this transformation from Thanksgiving festivities to those of Christmas, “Black Friday,” the day following Thanksgiving Day, became widely recognized in the early 2000s and since 2005 has been acknowledged as the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. It effectively provided a jump start for Christmas shopping.
This year, however, we have seen Christmas merchandise being promoted well before Halloween with“Black Friday” sales being extended from October through the entire month of November and up until Christmas Eve. This has resulted in surrounding and diminishing the celebration of what was formerly a day of giving thanks.
Oh, sure, we still have a dwindling set of activities reminiscent of the original intent of this historic holiday. Some families still gather to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings they have received. Some communities, religious organizations, and other agencies offer free Thanksgiving meals to the public — regardless of their economic circumstances — as a way to share the “bountiful goodness” of this country. These activities, however, are overwhelmed by the immense commercialization and secularization of what once was primarily a religious recognition of what George Washington termed, “… the many and signal favours (sic) of Almighty God.”
Well, there’s no going back. Thanksgiving will continue to be an increasingly secular four-day holiday/weekend celebrated with football games, pumpkin tosses, parades featuring huge fantastic balloon characters, marching bands, and celebrities, and, above all else, “monster” sales of all sorts of merchandise and services — just in time for the holidays.
Kinda makes a body wonder what those who came before us would think about what Thanksgiving Day — the spontaneous and heartfelt celebration of thankfulness for what this country provides — has become. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were something like, “Why bother designating a day of thanksgiving? After all, hardly anyone appears to be doing anything remotely associated with giving thanks.”
Yep, Thanksgiving Day is slowly disappearing — just like the Cheshire Cat — until there’s nothing left but the name. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor is a regular contributing columnist to AIM Media Midwest.