Thanksgiving is the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays. It gets no respect, no respect. That the celebration is consigned to a turkey dinner says a lot about our culture. We’ve become more interested in tricks and treats and crass commercialism than in giving thanks for all we have. Which is a hellava lot, cynicism aside, particularly when you compare us to other cultures and countries.
Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful, to be giving, to be humbled. Unfortunately, humility by nature is an unassuming virtue whose recognition does not lend itself to gimmickry or self-promotion.
THE INBETWEENER, HUMBLE HOLIDAY
Thanksgiving is inherently disadvantaged and marginalized between the triviality of Halloween festivities and the blasphemously commercialized, increasingly elongated Christmas season.
Happy Halloween? If ever a day of celebration was suspect, consider Halloween’s origin and evolution. Begun more than 2,000 years ago by the ancient Celtics, the Samhain festival featured bonfires and costumes intended to ward off ghosts. Centuries later the Pope incorporated some of the celebratory traditions into a newly designated of All-Saints-Day to honor religious icons. Over the centuries the date of October 31 morphed into Halloween, with trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving and the carry-over of wearing costumes.
Merry Christmas? The Christmas holiday also dates back more than 2,000 years ago with the birth of Jesus, the anniversary of which is celebrated December 25th by Christians. It, too, has morphed over the years. The sacred religious holiday is now a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon, noted for gift exchanging, tree decorating, Santa Claus, and classic movies and music. It was proclaimed a national holiday in 1870.
Humble Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving celebrates the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians sharing an autumn harvest feast back in 1621. In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving an annual national holiday. It is celebrated on the third Thursday of November. About three weeks after Halloween and four weeks before Christmas, Thanksgiving is the proverbial neglected middle child of the holiday season — a victim of bad timing.
GOODWILL IS MORE THAN A DROP-OFF
Fortunately, those of us who care can show, and help increase and sustain respect for Thanksgiving in a number of ways — big and small. Most obviously, we can 1) stop participating in the negativity and despair, incivility and intolerance, cynicism and sarcasm, selfishness and narrow-minded echo chambers surrounding us; and 2) start appreciating the good fortune we too often take for granted. Less privileged people across the globe would certainly be thankful for fresh food and clean water, indoor plumbing, extended life-expectancy, the right to vote.
To breathe fresh life to the Thanksgiving holiday, here are some more specific “branding” assignments:
Historians: Interpret the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday more honestly — as a celebration of human nature at its best as well as a lesson to inspire gratitude, selflessness, racial and cultural harmony, diversity, humility and other virtues.
Filmmakers: Produce TV programs and films to showcase the spirit of Thanksgiving. (i.e. Halloween has its own genre of horror films; and Christmas has classics like “A Wonderful Life” or “Christmas Story”; a comedy like “Elf” or “The Santa Clause”).
Musicians and music services: Write, sing and play songs to celebrate Thanksgiving, such as John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Ray Charles’s rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Christmas has an over-abundance of holiday music; Thanksgiving deserves a theme song.
The Ad Council: Use your clout with popular media to sponsor a creative, memorable and compelling Thanksgiving public-service advertising campaign.
All Americans: Resolve this Thanksgiving holiday and each year hereafter to do better and be better; to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Need an incentive? There’s this: “Helping others” consistently ranks high on surveys listing reasons for personal satisfaction. Doing good for others makes you feel better!
Remember, you get what you give. Happy Thanksgiving.