Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving - Possibly the Only American Cultural Holiday Tradition

Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday, for a variety of reasons I won't get into since this post is actually about why Thanksgiving is a great holiday!  This year I had a revelation that gave me a new appreciation and fondness for this day.

I realized that Thanksgiving is truly the only uniquely American cultural-event routinely celebrated by masses of Americans every year. All other major holidays in this country are religious-based (like Christmas and Easter) or political/military/social policy-based (like Veteran's Day or Washington's Birthday). The latter category is interesting and includes most of our holidays -- those designated in order to support some political or social agenda item. Not that it is always a bad idea to support social agendas with holidays, just that doing so makes them a bit different than say, a group of people choosing on its own, to be thankful.

Just to prove it, I did some research. Here is a list of all federal holidays according to
  • MLK Day - political/military/policy
  • Groundhog Day - close runner up
  • Valentine’s Day – celebrated all around the world
  • Washington’s Birthday – political/military/policy
  • Easter - Religious
  • Earth Day – political/military/policy
  • National Arbor Day – political/military/policy
  • Mother’s Day – enacted in 1914 to support a particular group : )
  • Memorial Day – political/military/policy
  • Flag Day – political/military/policy
  • Father’s Day – enacted in 1909 to support a particular group : )
  • Independence Day – political/military/policy
  • Labor Day – political/military/policy
  • Columbus Day – political/military/policy
  • Halloween – an odd duck
  • Veteran’s Day – political/military/policy
  • Thanksgiving
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – political/military/policy
  • Christmas - Religious
Most of these, even Mother’s and Father’s Days, were put into place in order to support some group or idea that the government felt needed supporting. Only a couple of other holidays are spontaneous celebrations of some cultural phenomenon. Thus, only Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Halloween come close to what being what Thanksgiving is. But Groundhog’s is hardly a culturally iconic day. It’s cute. And it has a great movie. But no one celebrates it. And Valentine’s Day is actually celebrated all over the world, making it not-uniquely-American. Then there's Halloween . . . well, that's an odd one. There are roots to Halloween that border on religious, but the holiday in its current iteration is really a recent phenomenon, not a deeply embedded tradition. I don’t know what to do about it, so I’ll just disregard it : )

Next consider the religious holidays. It’s not that they too can’t have an overarching cultural significance that binds people and place together. But we have challenges in America with finding deeper cultural connectivity through religion due to our multi-cultural and -religious history. These holidays aren't what I'm talking about.  They do include cultural traditions, but are loaded with Christian significance and meaning that most people would say is (or at least pay lip service to the idea that it is) the more important focus.

So, its just Thanksgiving that has the true power to bind us in a holistic way as a nation. FN

Fn. . . Lets just get some housekeeping things out of the way. . .  First, yes I know there are many other countries and cultures that also have harvest festivals. I even know that “Thanksgiving” is celebrated in Canada and in a smattering of other countries around the world. But I am talking about “our” Thanksgiving – our pilgrims and Indians meeting in friendship and brotherhood (on that one day anyway). I also don’t want to get into how horrible the colonization of this land was. The fact of being thankful for the bounty of the land is not a by-product of evil colonization. It is just lovely and good idea. I also know that the government, at some point, put its imprimatur on Thanksgiving (just as it did with all the others) but that doesn’t convert a cultural tradition into a socio-political act. Lets not get caught up in these technical details.

I have often felt that there really is no such thing as an “American” culture and that Americans are diminished by that lack. Thanksgiving comes the closest to providing a cultural moment – with a tradition that has been celebrated in this land as long as (and longer than) there has been a “United States of America”. That is a wonderful thing to have when we have so little else culturally binding us.

Anyone in this county – anyone – can celebrate Thanksgiving with everyone else. (You don't have to be Anglo, Christian, or rich to give thanks. You don't have to like football and even vegetarians can participate.) Wow.

The beauty of the thought -- the real need that Thanksgiving fills, is in taking the time to be thankful: feeling deeply and truly our good fortune. Feeling it personally and feeling it as a nation. For no matter how bad things may seem we are most certainly among the wealthiest, most comfortable set of people to ever walk the earth.  Be aware of our great good fortune. And Happy Thanksgiving!

No comments:

Post a Comment