A “THANKS BUT NO THANKS” THANKSGIVING

by E.C. Fish on November 25, 2010

It stands to reason that the land of Bigger, Better, Faster, More might have some difficulties with the concept of thanksgiving in the small-t sense, and that these difficulties might carry over into the capital-T holiday we’re celebrating. For the last couple of decades or so, something in our nature as a people has led us to declare a sort of doppelganger holiday on the day after Thanksgiving devoted to Mammon-worship– the aptly if ironically named Black Friday. On the day after our annual declarations of thankfulness, we are expected to express our more basic dissatisfaction by going out and buying more stuff.

Originally this just seemed to be the result of an ever earlier beginning to the commercialization of Christmas– Christmas sells– an expansion of the original Twelve Days that goes pretty much nonstop from Halowe’en to New Year’s. Lately, though, it seems to have developed a certain mojo of its own, with its own rituals (the ever more insane “doorbuster” sales, this year starting at three a.m. at some places) and the kind of holiday tips on the morning news (which I still watch even when it’s delivered by the kind of B- and C-listers who can’t get Thanksgiving off) that used to be reserved for turkey preparation. This year’s highlight– how to shop off those Thanksgiving calories.

The complaint that American holidays have become “too commercial” is an old one, predating even “A Charlie Brown Christmas” back in ’65, but this Thanksgiving seems to present a special case. Americans are even worse with irony than they are with gratitude, but the irony of our culture trying to maintain it’s shopping-based celebration day when so many of us are living out the aftermath of Bigger, Better, Faster, More is pretty damn hard to miss. For years Americans bent over backward to keep up the consumption that drove our economic growth, even as that growth failed to produce any more real buying power for the majority of them, working longer hours, sending more family members into the workplace, taking advantage of credit even as it took advantage of them, and eventually tapping into the house equity to keep the stuff train rolling. That’s gone now, most of it, and there isn’t a doorbuster bargain early or insane enough to coax blood out of stones on a scale grand enough to get it back. Thus the somewhat desperate quality to this year’s Black Friday exhortations, including the number of national merchants (including those redoubtable champions of American values and Chinese products, Wal-Mart) who this year said to hell with the gratitude entirely and stayed open on Thanksgiving Day.

This year also, it seems, our gratitude itself has been more than just crowded– it seems to have been co-opted a bit as well. The “attitude of gratitude,” according to the new positivist pop philosophy of the moment, is more than just a sincere human reaction to the good things in life– it can be a powerful tool. Practice it enough, and the universe itself will give you more stuff. The real secret– being happy with what you have, and showing appreciation to the people around you– gets somewhat shorter shrift, though it will probably be a much more powerful thing in the days ahead.

I hope that you spent your day, as I did, having fun with the people you love and wondering how you could possibly ask for anything more. Not much more may be forthcoming– not much bigger, better, or faster, either. I hope, if only for this evening, that that’s just fine with you.

(This piece originally appeared on the web site The Pubhouse Dialogues)

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