Wednesday, November 26

So much. . .

. . . for which to be thankful. Though there have been a ton of things about which to write lately, I've not managed to be disciplined enough to write about them. Rather than do a hodge podge of topics, I thought I'd focus on the fact that we Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday.

This is an interesting holiday. Many of us have commented on the encroachment of holidays in the stores. Christmas things up before Halloween. We'll get to Christmas and, before you know it, the stores will be displaying merchandise for Valentine's Day. There's something wrong with capitalism working too hard to get the jump on everyone else, but that's a different blog post. Back to Thanksgiving.

There were some teachers who were doing some events focusing on myths of the so-called First Thanksgiving: the role of the Indians, the role of the Pilgrims, the importance of corn, etc. It is a deeply embedded story that seems to have to be retold in every school every year. There are, of course, variations on the debunking of such myths: the CNN version is geared towards what adults can tell kids and Mr. Shenkman's version at the History News Network focuses as much on the so-called Pilgrims as the event itself.

Regardless of the historical view of Thanksgiving, there are a few ceremonially-pardoned turkeys while thousands are prepared to be stuffed and put on the table for soon-to-be over-stuffed people. Families gather, joyfully and reluctantly. It is a joyous, raucous time for some. For others a time of tension and clinched teeth.

For many others the day is spent in a shelter where others spend a bit of extra time and perhaps a bit of extra money making sure that the homeless and otherwise needy have a semblance of a Thanksgiving feast.

Though there has often been controversy over the actuality of Thanksgiving (not really in the fall; not really in 1621; etc.), FDR caused a bit more controversy when he and his family celebrated Thanksgiving on November 23, 1939 rather than on November 30. The historical precedence for Thanksgiving being on the last Thursday in November was established by President Abraham Lincoln when he declared it thus in 1863. Though the holiday had no fixed date, presidents continued to follow the precedence when they issued their Thanksgiving Proclamation.

In 1939, however, FDR had a bit of an economic crisis on his hands. Statistics had shown that people did not begin their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving. (That may be because most people prefer to celebrate their holidays in order and one at a time.) In 1933, there were five Thursdays in November so Thanksgiving fell on November 30, which meant there were fewer shopping days until Christmas. FDR ignored the pleas of businesses in 1933, but in 1939, once again there were five Thursdays in November so he declared that Thanksgiving would be on November 23.

Some business leaders were happy, but thousands of letters flowed into the White House. Schools were disrupted because of plans for Thanksgiving breaks, Thanksgiving plays, and, of course, football games. Small businesses were concerned about suffering loss of business because they counted on some of that last-minute shopping before Thanksgiving. Family plans were turned topsy turvy if states chose to defy the proclamation because people in different states might not have had the same holiday weekend.

Finally, on December 26, 1941, Congress passed a law that declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. It's fairly obvious that early on we lost the gist of Thanksgiving, with or without the historical myths.

Thanksgiving became the day before Black Friday: the official launch of the Christmas shopping season. This year, because of the current economic situation, businesses have been trying to entice people to begin that Christmas shopping a bit earlier. So this Thursday in November has become about school plays, eating too much, family gatherings (with or without tension), preemptory church service reminding us to be thankful, football, and girding ourselves for Christmas shopping. Bah! Humbug!

I intend to spend the day with a good friend. I may get up to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, or not. I'll read the paper, have some tea. I'll think about my friends, my colleagues, my students, my family. I may even make a few phone calls because that also seems to be compulsory on holidays. A friend of mine will have a meal together--she's asked me to reprise a salmon dish I made up a few weeks ago. And then maybe we'll go to a movie or watch football or take a walk.

I don't know if I'll be especially more thankful on this day than any other, though, because every day I am thankful for my friends, my colleagues, my family, my work. Every day I am thankful for the opportunities to learn, to be challenged. Every day I am thankful for the freedom I have in this country to speak my mind without fear, though perhaps with occasional harassment from those who disagree with me. Every day I am thankful for what God has given me. Every day I am thankful He shows me grace and mercy. Every day I am thankful that I have this day for which to be thankful.

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