Giving Thanks for Thursday

22 11 2012

Having been an overseas observer of the US festival of thanks for the majority of my 44 years, I admit that I have always found it be slightly odd.

Without wishing to take anything away from the day itself, there are just a number of anomalies that stand out and make me smile.

For millions of Americans and transplanted ex-pats, it is a day to spend with family or friends and stuff yourself full of turkey/vegetarian alternative while watching TV. Or Christmas as it is known in the UK.

America basically shuts down for Thanksgiving. Even the most corporate of evil commercial chains seem to have shuttered their doors for a few hours, while across the country, people are getting together and giving thanks for something (spoiler alert: that’s where the name came from). It’s a good day to hang out, drink beer and eat food. Perfect preparation for the shopping bonanza on Black Friday that follows the Thursday of Thanks.

That’s the first thing.

Unlike most other holidays, TG doesn’t have a set date. It exists in a nebulous “fourth-thursday-of-november” sort of way, the date changing every year – which must be really confusing if you want to claim being born on Thanksgiving…

At least the other two big-eating days of the year holidays have a set date. Christmas has always been on December 25, Independence Day is on July 4…have been for many years and are unlikely to change.

But Thanksgiving is also a bit odd in that for the US, it is a bigger deal than celebrating the birth of JC and for many Americans it is the most important day of the year.

Mainly because it relates to US history, focussing on a dinner that was allegedly held in 1621 between the Pilgrims (expat religious people) and Native Americans (Indians mainly, treated quite badly after that). The legend is that these disparate groups sat down at a table set up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, gave thanks for the harvest and enjoyed each other’s company for one day. With no television to distract them, they probably had a frank exchange of views and then promised that they would do this again, certainly before next year, because a year is too long to spend without seeing friends (as they now believed they were).

These annual meals carried on in one way or another until 1789 when, according to Wikipedia, George Washington proclaimed November 26 to be a day of thanks. Since then, Thanksgiving has been the big November event, and it officially marks the countdown to Christmas.

And there is the second anomaly.

Christmas decorations start appearing, almost as soon (and in some cases before) as the turkey has been turned into a variety of poultry-based dishes that the average American will be consuming for the next two weeks. The aforementioned Black Friday, the day when America queues outside shops to get bargains and start selecting the gifts for December 25, is the next stage in the entire holiday weekend and ensures that retailers (who had to mainly stay closed for Thanksgiving Thursday) can start giving thanks for the desire of people to buy stuff.

Leading to the third thing about this day that makes me smile. It sums up everything I enjoy about America, shoehorned into two days.

Big meals, slavish devotion to tradition, celebration of a day that the rest of the world sees as a Thursday,  feeling the need to thank an unproven deity, a full television schedule and the desire to go shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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