When I was a wee sprout, I went to school in the US. I remember spending much of the month of November making turkeys with multicoloured tails of construction paper, pilgrim boot buckles for my little girl shoes, I think there were even songs, fortunately forgotten.
My birthday (and two of my cousins’) were on Thanksgiving weekend. This initially seemed a good thing until I realized no one was free on my birthday for parties. It is this I blame for my inner introversion. As it were. I was also a bit grumbly because since my birthday was so close to Christmas, everyone kind of assumed one present would do for both. I now have a niece and nephew whose birthdays are even closer than mine, poor kids, and I’ve been guilty of the same sin – sorry, kids!
It wasn’t til High School that I started to question the Thanksgiving motif. November was too far after gathering in the sheaves for a harvest celebration, and before the end of the winter months, when you might be truly thankful you survived. Round about then I also found out about the story of who we ran over and killed on our way to being thankful, about how hopelessly grim and horrid the Puritans were (and how unlikely to have a joyous feast), and most critically for self-centred me, that the high school band was expected to play for the often snow-covered Thanksgiving football game. I was grateful not to have to blow an icy trumpet, but my clarinet wasn’t much better. I still can’t feel my fingertips.
So I started wondering about Thanksgiving Day. It struck me horribly like Valentine’s Day – a created day when we were supposed to be thankful for the good things we had (or had grabbed from someone else) as vs being thankful for life the whole year through. And we celebrate by overeating and wasting. Weird, really. Shouldn’t part of giving thanks be caring for what we’ve been given?
Toss on top of this the Black Friday madness. It blows me away that here in Canada, where we don’t even have the same Thanksgiving day (ours is in the much more appropriate October, when marching band kids can play instruments without lasting damage and harvested foods haven’t started withering)(but maybe that was the Puritan thing? who knows?), we have Black Friday sales, Black Friday Week sales, pre-Black Friday sales. It’s insane. And only a month before our Boxing Day sales, Boxing week sales. It’s only a matter of time until the entire months of November and December become one endless sales ad. With no meaning left except to retailers (and China, who will make most of the garbage we’ll buy).
I can’t get the image out of my head of people lining up right after gorging themselves on too much sweet potato and marshmallow casserole, shoving themselves away from the table and their families and into lineups at Wal-Mart to be crushed in the race to get that TV they want, on which they can watch the Black Friday ads next year so they can do it all again.
Study after study says that the things that make us happy are friends and family, shared experiences, love and connection. Owning more stuff doesn’t do that. You get a quick lift for a second and then it’s gone. It’s a bit like snorting cocaine.
I’m not casting aspersions. I have too much stuff and I’ve been known to gorge on too much food. I speak as one who fights the pull of the “bargain”. I don’t win all the time. But I hardly think those Puritans thought their holiday was meant to be an orgy of consumerism.
I long for the simplicity of the turkey created from a traced hand, the food cooked by a caring mother from scratch, days spent walking outside, being grateful for the air and the trees and the chill in the air. Heck, I even long for the simplicity of the high school football game, with young lads striving against their arch rivals, and cheering crowds all about. No one paid, no electronic effects, just muscles and air and life, tossed into the air and free for the catching.