O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
– Psalms 136:1
Recently while teaching my advanced online vocabulary class to students in Taiwan and Beijing, I explained that “Thanksgiving is probably the most ‘American’ holiday there is.” Since Christianity is a world religion, Christmas and Easter are celebrated in many parts of the globe. The US and Canada, however, are unique in that we are the only ones who celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday the way we do. (Canada, being further north, colder, and thus with an earlier harvest, marks their Thanksgiving in October.)
In addition to Thanksgiving being very “American,” it also has profoundly religious origins. The other day while looking for teaching material to find, I saw a children’s e-book about Thanksgiving by Scholastic Corporation. The story closed by claiming the Plymouth colonists “thanked the Native Americans. They were thankful for the harvest too.” No doubt the few colonists who had survived the previous, horrific year were grateful for all help they had gotten, but historical documentation makes it rather clear that they ALSO gave thanks to God, a fact Scholastic left out.
If anyone doubts the religious origins of the holiday, I encourage them to read Lincoln’s 1863 official proclamation making it a national holiday for all Americans, including “those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands.” In fact, if you are looking for a fresh way to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, you can consider reading Lincoln’s Proclamation aloud.
Last week a co-teacher and I were chatting in class, and he explained to our online student in China that “Thanksgiving used to be just one day, but now we have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, then Cyber Monday. They have all become kind of bundled together.”
We discussed when that cultural shift happened, but we could not pinpoint it. (Since I lived in Taiwan for most of the 1990s, many changes happened while I was 8,000 miles away.) In my personal opinion, the other days focused on shopping and the headlong plunge into the Christmas rush dilutes part of the magic and uniqueness of Thanksgiving Day.
Many have pointed out the irony: only in America would we have one day set aside “to be grateful and thankful,” only to be followed hours later by a frenzy of shopping, spending, and consumerism. Thankfully, at least most stores have recently backed off the yearslong practice of “Black Friday Creep,” where the malls opened at 4 am, then 2 am, then midnight, then 10 pm, then finally during dinnertime on Thanksgiving Day, keeping people from their families and loved ones.
Black Friday has gotten so out of hand that some people, trapped near the store entrances when the doors opened, were pushed to the ground by the crowds behind them and trampled to death.
Perhaps there is a better way to mark the road to Christmas . . .
I try to be counter-cultural and spend no money on Black Friday. Some years I’ve gone hiking on that day. It’s a great way to save money, avoid the crowds, and work off some of the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie from the day before. You might want to try it!
Lincoln wrote of Americans “sojourning in foreign lands.” Those words, though written in 1863, still hit home with me, having spent eleven Thanksgivings away from family, one while in Germany studying, and ten in Taiwan teaching. My first Thanksgiving away from home came during my junior year of college studying abroad. The homesickness was painful, and the cold, dark German winter didn’t make it any easier. However, in that difficult moment, for the first time I personally experienced what “Thanksgiving was all about.” Please take a look here.
The year 2020 has been challenging for us all, to say the least. Thanksgiving is a time to “count our blessings.” The fact that you are able to read this shows that, not only are you blessed with curiosity and literacy, but you are alive to read it! We have made it this far! That alone is cause to rejoice.
At this season, I am thankful for so much, including editor Stuart Revercomb allowing me to contribute to The Roanoke Star, and I am thankful for you, loyal reader!
Thanksgiving Blessings to All!
– Scott Dreyer