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Contemplating Thanksgiving

I wanted to write this weekend about the juxtaposition of the world of consumerism and entitlement over a world in which we, as a country, have intentionally set aside a day for the giving of thanks in a relatively public forum, known as the extended family. I would have gone on to explain the ridiculousness of consumerism given the fact we are prone to give thanks one day while the next pay homage to the fact that we as a civilization and world believe that we are never in possession of what constitutes enough. However, in my meanderings, I realized a simple, albeit debatable and controversial, fact: Thanksgiving is an odd holiday! This is of course separate from but linked to the fact that Thanksgiving spawned Black Friday.

The history of Thanksgiving aside, the tradition of setting aside a day for the giving of thanks is altruistic and not without its benefits. However, I have three problems with the idea of Thanksgiving Day that I'd like to discuss and about which I'd like to make suggestions for the future: 1) the day during which we are urged as a country to give thanks for what we have is simultaneously the day that Americans choose to ritualistically engorge themselves on food, and 2) as a subset of point one, a day that celebrates the sharing of said food with others is also a day when many continue to go hungry. For a current aside and a future standalone post, I am also questioning the fact that this American holiday is forced onto citizens who are not originally from this country and who neither understand the tradition nor care about it.

Foremost in my opinion is the idea of enough. In a consumerist society, separating needs from desires can be a difficult task, as we are culturally bombarded with the ideas surrounding the biggest and best. When we are not in possession of those things that others have, then we are without and therefore do not have "enough". However, the other side of enough, and the tenuous line that every consumer must walk is engorgement. Engorgement, unfortunately, is part of the culture of both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, let alone all the other days of the year. On Thanksgiving Day, full tables amidst full plates and full stomaches go to show the sharp contrast between what is right and what is good. In this instance, what seems to be good is the giving of thanks itself, while what is right would be the deprivation of one’s desires for engorgement for the benefit of others, especially given the ideas surrounding the giving of thanks for what we already have, not what we can get. In addition, given the amount of food that is thrown away on such a day, bound for landfills and nearby water sources, I am reminded that I should merely be thankful to eat at all, let alone have a full stomach (more on that later).

Regarding the aforementioned aside for a future post, I'll pose a question: what is Thanksgiving to someone from any other country in the world? In a word, so far as I can tell, nothing. In an immigrant culture like that of the United States, how can we set aside a day as holy (or not to be tampered with) when a fair amount of the country does not associate with such a tradition. Don't get me wrong, the addition of people to the groups of thanks givers is a great thing and should be welcomed but the fuss over stores or services being open on Thanksgiving must stop if we are to move forward in a land built on the equality of different ways of thinking. Similarly, the culture in which stores were to remain closed or not sell certain commodities on Sundays, still a problem in many states, assumes that the majority of the affected constituents care about what Sunday means to Christians. Why don't we demand on behalf of our Jewish brethren that all store be closed on Saturdays for their sabbath? Such a suggestion to the general public would most likely be met with incredulity and confusion. Once I think through this further, I will post more thoughts, along with more research.

Onto the suggestion, which will not be popular: if you celebrate Thanksgiving, why not fast for the day of Thanksgiving and Black Friday. In other words, abstain from the intake of copious amounts of food on Thanksgiving and abstain from the practice of consumerism on Black Friday. In these two instances, let us be reminded of the fact that in fasting we can provide for those that have nothing the rest of the year and those that have difficulty providing for their families, let alone feed themselves or their children. Beginning a new tradition of fasting would be a simple practice in abstention and perhaps a clear indictment of the culture of consumerism by which we are surrounded, the same culture that I would say has led to some with too much and others with nothing. Let us redefine our idea of enough and focus instead on the hope of harmony among family, friends, and strangers on a day when no matter where you are from, no matter what you believe, you can be provided for and be thankful for it.