Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving’s Sake

This Thanksgiving we should collectively be thankful for at least one thing: Thanksgiving.

When Thanksgiving was first experimented with going back to President George Washington, the intent was that Americans should pause and give thanks for a day when harvest season is over. That actual date was Thursday, November 26, 1789. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday.

Then, along the path of history, Thanksgiving became ensnared in the net of commercial Christmas. In 1939, the last Thursday of November was also the last day of the month, leaving a shortened Christmas shopping season which could hurt the recovering economy. So President Franklin Roosevelt changed the observed date to a week earlier. Some states refused to change the date. Thanksgiving was becoming an impediment. 

In 1941, Congress found its wits and settled on the fourth Thursday in November to observe Thanksgiving. They did not prohibit Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving nor designate the day after Thanksgiving as National Shopping Day, although it seems like it was designed that way. The fact that it’s always on Thursday has some political history. You could look it up.

I’m sure the retailers view the holiday as an impediment to Christmas, their mother lode of the year. If we didn’t celebrate that day of thanks, Christmas season would start the day after Halloween or maybe just after Labor Day. For that, I am grateful, although we already have year-round Christmas stores and you can cry over a Christmas movie any day of the year on The Hallmark Channel.

For a lot of us Thanksgiving is just a water stop on the Polar Shopping Express headed for Christmas. But a lot of things happen during Thanksgiving. For most workers, the day after Thanksgiving is a paid holiday, making it into a four-day weekend. And, of course, that’s how Black Friday got started. You know, the day Christmas season used to start, with the hope of retailers everywhere that they will make a lot of money to put them into the black for the year.

Well, we know what happened to that. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday, even at midnight on Thanksgiving. Then some stores opened on Thanksgiving Day about the time the second football game started. Then some stores just opened all day on Thanksgiving. Now we have Black Any-Day-of-the-Week and almost any day of the year.

The original Black Friday has lost its luster and many stores have gone back to just remaining closed on Thanksgiving and opening Friday at their usual time. And, hey, is there really a need to camp overnight in front of a store to be first in line to save a few bucks on a TV model that’s getting replaced soon?

Notice that all this craziness is not caused by Thanksgiving. It’s because of Christmas. Thanksgiving has morphed into what it is because of us and our lifestyles. The Thursday-Friday combo works well. It’s even better than the Monday holidays. It also provides people a chance to travel to visit the friends and relatives they won’t be able to see at Christmas. Look at how crowded airports are over Thanksgiving as proof.

This year there was an avalanche of Christmas ads on TV starting right after the midterm elections. We didn’t see them before the elections because of all the political ads. So pick your poison – nasty political ads or syrupy Christmas ads. And now Christmas movies are repeatedly shown on what seems like half the channels. On Thanksgiving Day there are now three pro football games instead of just two, improving the odds that your favorite team will be in one of them.

I don’t know how many Norman Rockwell-like Thanksgivings really happen anymore. You remember his painting of a whole family excitedly gathered around the table as grandma sets the big turkey down. I’m sure there are still lots of family gatherings like this, just more casual. It’s a large gathering if it makes the floorboards creak.

Churches still have Thanksgiving services, often now conveniently on the evening before. But attendance is low. People are traveling, preparing the many dishes for the big meal, or planning Christmas shopping. But some people actually relax and think about the many things to be thankful for. For just a day, we can stop worrying and be thankful for the past and what we have.

Thanksgiving is about the past, what got us here. Christmas is about the future, what to hope for. There’s room for both.

Let’s just try to keep them separate.

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