Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Sorry … Grateful

Had an interesting conversation with a colleague late last week which, predictably, got around to the subject of Thanksgiving. We are, after all, in the “final approach” to that holiday.

Being in the middle of the downward glide path into this national holiday means (and has meant, for the last few decades) that we are also staring straight down the barrel of another Holiday Shopping Season. We have now even attached a nickname to the day after Thanksgiving, which is “traditionally” the first day of the month or so in which many people (myself included) realize they should have been doing their holiday shopping some time during the previous eleven months.

I’m sorry, but to me, “Black Friday” sounds to me too much like “Black Monday”, the day in 1987 when the stock market made a kind of a collapse-y noise.

It also seems an annual tradition for one or another of the large American purveyors of foreign-made merchandise – the “box stores”, a nickname seemingly derived from the fact that after you visit them, you may experience the wish to be placed in a box – to announce their intention to start their Black Friday sales even earlier than last year, even earlier than their esteemed competitors. And this year some of those outfits will start their Black Friday sales earlier than the end of the last Thanksgiving Day pro football game. I’m no stick-in-the-mud, but I do long for those times-gone-by when a holiday was in fact a whole day. Ah well.

Be that as it may; I shall wake up at 2:30 Friday morning and roll the hell over.

I have no interest in standing in line forever, risking (lately) life and limb, to acquire goods which will be offered for even deeper discounts a week or two later.


Anyway: the aforementioned conversation.

My colleague made note of another Thanksgiving truth which appears to have held true for all these years: somehow, Thanksgiving Day in the United States has remained impervious to commercialism.

I know, I know … right off the top of my head I can think of several ways in which that seems not to be actually true:

[] At 9 AM Eastern time, there is this little event in New York City with giant balloons shaped like Bullwinkle Moose, Snoopy, and the fad cartoon character of the moment. True enough, but this event, sponsored by and named for a New York City department store, culminates in the appearance of … not a giant Turkey, or a Pilgrim and a Native American standing on a float shaking hands, but the justly-famous S. Claus. Who is many things, but “associated with Thanksgiving” is not really one of them.

[] Large men with shoulder pads who get paid to slam into each other in pursuit of an oblong leather ball that bounces in a farcical way … slam into each other in pursuit of an oblong leather ball that bounces in a farcical way. Networks pay money to broadcast these three (used to be only two) games; people pay money to see them live; ad agencies pay money to have their messages plastered all over the airwaves during the games so that people will think hard about Black Friday, and not nearly so much about Belch Thursday.

[] In order to properly celebrate this holiday, people rush the supermarkets in order to procure all the crucially important elements of a proper Feast — usually making each other crazy in the process. The holiday is Not Complete without a number of Required Elements – the food equivalent of preparing a figure-skating routine. Triple-axel? Check. Turkey-with-stuffing-and-gravy-and-cranberry-sauce? Check– no, you will NOT take that last can of green beans, that’s MINE!!

[] In order to properly celebrate this holiday, people climb into their cars and turn all the major highways into pretty quilt-like patterns of unmoving vehicles for hours at a time on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. And nowadays, that applies to the Tuesday-before, as well. Beat the rush, create a rush. At least the oil companies are happy.

So, no, this holiday isn’t impervious to commercial interests; but those commercial interests are just poachers, anyway. My colleague’s point was fairly straightforward: Christmas has Santa Claus. Easter has the Easter Bunny. Valentine’s Day? Don’t get me started. But Thanksgiving has … no particular marketable mascot, I don’t think.

On Thanksgiving, we complete the requisite craziness of preparation, and we observe both the Detroit Lions’ desperate attempts to win a Turkey Day game (sorry, fans, but they’ve lost their last eight in a row) and Willard Scott’s desperate (and failed) attempts to pronounce the name of the high school band enjoying its only national-TV appearance ever. But then we sit down – in some form and in some location that may or may not be Norman Rockwell-ian – and take at least one moment out of the year to pointedly express our gratitude for what we have.

Even if it isn’t much.

Even if our future is uncertain, unknown, or bleak.

Even if it’s the local TV news crew making video recordings of homeless people sitting at long folding tables, eating Thanksgiving dinners provided by food pantries – and I remember rather vividly one particular Thanksgiving broadcast of this sort, in which a homeless man looked straight at the camera and said, “I’m alive, and that’s something.” You think you’ve got troubles?…

Even if it’s a national TV network broadcasting greetings from US soldiers in Afghanistan or someplace where they’re equally in harm’s way, eating turkey in their mess hall and waving, via the camera, to the people they really would rather be with. You think you’ve got stress?…

It’s perhaps the one moment in American life in which people actually pause and think of something, anything, that they have, for which they are grateful.

Even in a world which can look, and feel, and be … a pretty sorry place sometimes.


Ed. Note: The next few posts will be of the grateful variety.


November 21, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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