Well, here we are on the other side of Thanksgiving. A rather counter-cultural holiday, isn’t it? Or at least counter to what American culture has been becoming.
To begin with, Thanksgiving seems to have resisted much of the commercialization that’s hijacked other major American holidays. Traditions may differ for some, but in my family no gifts or greeting cards are exchanged on Thanksgiving. Unless you traffic in turkeys, cranberries, or decorative gourds, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is focused on a meal. Again, traditions differ, but most Thanksgiving celebrations involve gathering family members and friends together around a table to share food – and not food out of a box or a microwave, but food that’s been prepared by hand. For a time, many of those who sit down to a Thanksgiving meal talk to each other, presumably without electronic devices or screens. All of this – the gathering together, the conversation, spending an entire day preparing and enjoying a meal – is radical, because it happens so rarely in our fragmented, isolated, screen-focused, fast-paced society.
And the reason we gather for this meal? It’s there in the name: giving thanks. To sit around a table and feel gratitude for what we have, right then.
How weird is that? At no other time are we as Americans encouraged to say, “Thank you; this is enough.”
In fact, it’s such an uncomfortable feeling that we have to counteract it by making the very next day Black Friday, when all Americans are encouraged to binge shop for everything retailers say we need to feel like we’re enough.
There is a tension to all of this; a very American tension. A good way of uncovering this tension is simply to ask the question: What exactly are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving?