The irony of giving thanks today

Something bothers me about Thanksgiving. Not to tear apart a culturally significant and sacrosanct holiday, but I don’t think the holiday is any more about giving thanks than it is about materialism.

The question of whether Thanksgiving even originated with the Pilgrims is questionable. If it didn’t then how did food and shopping become so tangled up in the essence of the day? If it did, and they sat down to eat a feast immediately after slaughtering their fellow Native Americans, then here we have another holiday that rests on the premise of occupying and killing. (Columbus Day comes in second.)

If you listen to NPR today, you’ll hear lots of Thanksgiving programs. Some may even be about the kindness done in New York for victims of Sandy, who were given turkey and other items to help them celebrate. But most of the shows feature endless interviews about turkey recipes and deep frying and best techniques for getting that cornbread savory and soft.

G-d forbid it be crunchy around the edges.

At the gym the other day, people asked me where I was “doing” Thanksgiving. Not what I’m thankful for, and not what the holiday means to me, but essentially, where I’m eating tonight. It’s great that as a nation we have one or two days a year where uninhibited binging is encouraged, and truthfully the break is a relief, but should we label it a holiday? The holiday’s name itself seems a lame rationalization or excuse for eating. If we truly do want it to be about something more than food, then let’s show that.

Next question: why follow immediately with Black Friday? Stores are opening at eight p.m. tonight. This is hardly enough time for families to finish their valuable meals before they head out to hit the stores, evidence of rampant consumerism run amok in this country. I’m going Black Friday shopping myself, but I’m not pretending Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what I have. I should be thankful, and sometimes I am, and kudos to the people who truly celebrate the namesake of the holiday. I’m engaging in the materialism that Horkheimer and Adorno labeled the “mass culture industry,” which feeds us endless goods and makes us conform to a culture that fosters a loss of consciousness among its consumers. We shop and shop to fill a void that’s only exacerbated by our swapping material goods with hard work and values we cherish, because we want to take the easy way out. We’re only digging ourselves in deeper and making it more difficult in the long run.

It’s pretty ironic that we’re running out to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, right after we finish being thankful for what we do have.

Just some food (turkey and cornbread?) for thought.

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