We are losing the holiday meaning

Thanksgiving has always held a special place as a holiday.

First it is a celebration that dates back to Jamestown and Plymouth. Abraham Lincoln gave it official status in 1863. It features prominently the turkey which Benjamin Franklin recommended as a national symbol. In the end the United States decided on the far more predictable eagle. But it is the beginning of the holiday season and far less gaudy then the commercialized Christmas.

Moreover it is representative of small communities which celebrated the bounty of harvest time in years past. The focus is on family and friends, not gifts and display. Because it is a day, there is an anticipation of the aroma of Turkey, pumpkin pie and all the culinary pleasures associated with the day. It is simple, inclusive and direct as opposed to the often exclusive “holiday season” of December.

Now there are attempts to ignore Thanksgiving with increasing vulgarities, the so-called Black Friday sales which encourage riot and belligerency in the pursuit of a cheaper price. Many are trampled, some are even killed by rampaging shoppers who are certainly not filled with the spirit of the season. Those simplicities that once represented the holiday are giving way to ever-increasing cries to spend, spend, spend.

When one considers that Thanksgiving represents family, commuters, small towns and all the virtues of an earlier, simpler America, the new version certainly gives pause. Those values mark every headstone and grace every grave. The offerings to the least fortunate symbolize the generosity of neighborhoods engaged in the common task of survival. A world, as Lyndon Johnson put it, “Where people care when you are sick, and grieve when you die.” It is simply not an exercise enjoyed between the Detroit and Dallas games.

Although it has its moments in the best of situations such as the occasional family argument concerning usually nothing. Perhaps the loose talk of drink or the ill-considered story can besmirch the best of celebrations. But usually it is one that is marked by the devotion of parents and the happy sounds of children. It is the honoring of continuity and the recognition of the good fortune of life.

For those who are sick or lonely it is a reminder of a better world that did exist. The flash of material wealth is not omnipresent and the celebration of those common pleasures of food and company take hold. It is a peoples’ holiday, liberated from the complications of social superiority and omnipresent wealth. The fare is simple and attainable. It is first and foremost cheap.

But the real essence of the Thanksgiving Day is the merging of both national and spiritual. As an official holiday it acclaims the long road of American history. From Colony to Superpower the fellowship of the day marks many generations. “Over the river and through the wood,” intoned by Lydia Maria Child, symbolizes much. The great adventure of linking to those generations past symbolizes continuity, and moreover it is a recognition of a world overlooked by a benevolent God. Happy Thanksgiving and good appetite.