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The Socialist’s Journal: Thanksgiving vs. Black Friday

*Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. So I was genuinely saddened when I realized it is the least American of all of our national holidays.

I came to this conclusion when I saw a meme over the weekend that pointed out the hypocrisy of giving thanks on the fourth Thursday of November only to competitively shop the following day.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that commemorates the cooperation between European settlers and Native Americans, it is a holiday that acknowledges the assistance European settlers were given that helped them to survive in (what to them was a) foreign place where they had very little ability to provide for themselves. In the present day Thanksgiving is a holiday that encourages people to recognize, and be grateful for, the things that they have – however little that may be.

But everything about what I just described is the opposite of what the culture of our country.

In our country we value the people who accumulate the most property and the method of accumulation is largely insignificant. People like Warren Buffet  are celebrated because they’ve amassed great fortunes through their knowledge and work ethic; at the same time someone like John Gotti was celebrated even though most of what he acquired was through illegal activities. In fact voters across the country elected President Trump in part because of his history of conspicuous accumulation of wealth. This is in direct contrast to the idea and history of Thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on what we already have, most people in our country focus on the pursuit of something new.

This is probably due to the fact that in our country we foster a culture of consumerism. Up until the early 20th century many things were built to last longer. But when the Great Depression wrecked local economies and personal savings, heads of companies and policy makers realized that it is beneficial to have people buy stuff periodically. It keeps the economy operating. For generations people in our country have been raised to believe it is natural to always need/want/acquire something new. The electronics industry has taken this to the extreme because while I can operate a motor vehicle from 20 years ago, I’d be hard pressed to find a 20 year old computer that is compatible with other electronics of today.

Furthermore the story of Thanksgiving is about cooperation. But the story that you learned in grade school conveniently omits the epilogue which involves a rejection of cooperation in favor of genocide and selfishness. The fact that Native Americans assisted European settlers early on did not eliminate the competitive spirit of those European settlers which ultimately led to devious nature of every significant European-Native American interaction and/or agreement. The competitive drive that was absent during the first Thanksgiving reappeared soon after and  motivated Europeans and then Americans to dominate most of the continent. It is that same competitive drive that is motivating people on Black Friday (or later during Thanksgiving Thursday depending on where you live and how much you want the latest toy for your kid).

Overall one cannot say that the idea behind Thanksgiving is more prevalent than the competitive drive of Black Friday. Throughout the year there are numerous opportunities to acquire unnecessary stuff and enter into a competition regarding how quickly and how much of that stuff to get. On the other hand there are very few opportunities to reflect on how much you have been helped by others and/or how much incredible stuff you already have. Just about every month has some event that becomes a sales opportunity for the retail sector. Some of these opportunities are “natural” like July 4th (a holiday that commemorates the founding of the country), some are contrived like President’s Day (a holiday that combined Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays and got generalized to technically include people like James Buchanan and Warren Harding), some are completely made up like Mother’s day. Even many devout Christians, who it could be said are the group most likely to have the perspective of European settlers during the first Thanksgiving, have been socialized to associate the big two holidays of their faith (Easter and Christmas) with consumption and acquisition.

It might sound like I’m offering a value judgment on this state of affairs. And I am doing that a little but my overall point is simply to highlight how contradictory the sentiments behind most universal holiday are in comparison to our everyday existence.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

 

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