Thanksgiving season is back in North America, but is this festival of gratitude under threat?
For many in Britain, today represents another normal weekday. But hop across the pond to our transatlantic neighbours in North America, and you’ll see something quite different.
Millions of Americans gather today for Thanksgiving, a holiday historically observed at the end of the harvest season to ‘give thanks’. Families come together to celebrate, with the essential accompaniment of good food – including the indispensable deep-fried turkey and pumpkin pie – laughter and the warm spirit of communal celebration. An occasion marked by gratitude, the holiday has a spiritual element, one that is too often found lacking in our more secular homeland of Britain and wider Europe, where even religious holidays such as Christmas find themselves reduced to commercialised festivities of expensive gifts, shopping and over-indulgence.
However, the spiritual element of gratitude is in danger of erosion by a sentiment quite at odds with the occasion’s origins. In the US, another signifier of Thanksgiving is the Black Friday sales that sweep the nation. Like the summer and Christmas sales in Britain, people swarm to shopping centres and online stores to literally shop ‘til they drop’. The sales are an almost religious experience, where shoppers queue for long hours at these glittering temples of capitalism to pay homage to the culture of greed that our societies are too often imprisoned by. The whole affair stands in stark contrast to the backdrop of gratitude and family spirit that the season is intended to symbolise. It is unfortunate that such holidays should be marred by a culture of commercialism and promotion of greed.
Traditionally, shops open doors to the sales in the early hours of Friday morning, with long queues of shoppers waiting for hours. This year has seen the opening times drawn even earlier, with some stores opening as early as 10pm on Thanksgiving Day itself, turning Black Friday into Black Thursday. Stores, desperate for a pick-up in times of austerity, are competing to attract even more customers and sales. While for the avid shopper this is an opportunity, to many this represents an encroachment upon the holiday and the family time that they have been long-awaiting after months of long hours in the office. Even in Britain, sales begin in the early hours of Boxing Day, allowing for Christmas Day to be wholly spent relaxing with those who matter the most, following the suffocating, hectic existence that the rest of the year entails. Earlier starts mean less time spent at home, sharing in the spirit of gratitude with loved ones, as people rush to benefit from the all-important sale to save a few precious dollars.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the importance of sales cannot be underestimated. In the economic climate into which we have been thrust over the past few years, any saving is a necessary one and the opportunity to obtain essentials at a reduced price is one to take advantage of. Many are forced to put off their needs until that all-important sale day arrives. However, to time it such that it is a choice between spending valuable quality time with loved ones and purchasing cut-price essentials before they run out seems to be quite an unfair situation to create.
In my new home in the States, this Thanksgiving, I will be spending time with my family, sharing laughter, stories, and most importantly, the warmth of each other’s company. And while we will make some use of the sales, I will try my level best to remember what it is that we are celebrating: the gratitude of having rather than the ingratitude of wanting.
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