Nothing summarizes the current condition of the quintessential American holiday more succinctly than a recent political cartoon from John Darkow of Cagle Cartoons.
Seated around a wooden table in a forest clearing are three Indians. Stuffed turkey and corn cobs are waiting to be served. But the Indians wear quizzical, forlorn expressions on their faces as their chief rises to address them.
“The Pilgrims will not be attending the meal,” the chief says. “They started their Christmas shopping early!”
So it goes with Thanksgiving. A holiday dedicated to honoring the nation’s roots and acknowledging blessings gratefully has become nothing more than an inconvenient speed bump in the clogged race toward self-gratification.
That assessment goes beyond the modern markers of the holiday: hustling to airports, overdosing on turkey and watching hours of football — and, if true, threatens the soul of a nation.
At one time, Norman Rockwell’s painting of an elderly woman serving a huge turkey to her multi-generational family symbolized Thanksgiving. Now, two obese women fighting over the latest Singing Elmo at 7 a.m. the next day represent what can only be called Black Friday Eve.
Electronic signs over an outlet mall southeast of Los Angeles make the fictitious chief’s address virtually prophetic:
“Eat Thanksgiving dinner. SHOP at 9 p.m.”
Target stores nationwide will join that mall, called The Citadel, and open at 9 p.m. Wal-Mart and Sears outlets throughout the United States plan to open one hour earlier. K-Mart hopes to overwhelm its competition by opening at 6 a.m.
Statistics support the retailers’strategy. Consumer spending on Black Friday rose from $400 million in 2006 to $816 million in 2011. Purchases on Cyber Monday, four days after Thanksgiving, surged from $600 million to $1.25 billion during the same period.
Yet only two years ago, Wal-Mart opened at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving. Sears and Target unlocked their doors at 4 a.m.
“It’s no longer Christmas creep. It’s the Christmas crush,” Marshal Cohen, who analyzes shopping for The NFD Group, told the Orange County Register on Nov. 20.
Moreover, it’s going to get worse.
As the Register’s Lisa Liddane wrote: “Get used to Black Friday beginning on Thursday, Cohen said. Thanksgiving Day is a traditional holiday, not a religious holiday, and for stores, being open on that day is not different from being open on other non-religious holidays such as Independence Day.”
The same article quotes ChainLinks Retail Advisors as stating it is “only a matter of time before Thanksgiving Day becomes the new Black Friday.”
The materialistic sense of entitlement such trends reflect not only contradicts Thanksgiving’s purpose. It corrodes the meaning of the holiday and threatens to make it irrelevant.
Entitlement is the polar opposite of gratitude. Why give thanks for something if one feels entitled to it? Besides, how much does one feel entitled to, and why?
Materialism forces a person to define oneself by what one has, not who one is. In such a case, how much is enough?
The last of the Ten Commandments forbids coveting another person’s spouse or goods. Covetousness is the ultimate expression of an entitled, materialistic self-perception. Government and business can exploit such an attitude but cannot create it out of nothing.
Designating Thanksgiving as a non-religious holiday misses the point. At its best, Thanksgiving is a national sabbatical designed for people to consider the nature and benefits of Providence. Religiosity can only complement — not replace — a personal commitment to contemplate and appreciate life’s blessings in the midst of life’s cruel rudeness.
Yet as the economy deteriorates — with the help of inflation caused by reckless government spending — so will the perceived value of such a sabbatical. More Americans will need to work during the Thanksgiving weekend just to survive financially.
“We had so many team members who wanted to work on Thursday that hundreds of our stores are now keeping lists of volunteers who want to work if shifts open up,” said Tina Schiel, Target’s executive vice president for stores.
If Thanksgiving’s original intent dies — and it is dying at Mach speed — the United States will complete its transformation from a society of free individuals into a mass of automatons subservient to public and private entities that prey upon desire and fear.
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