The meaning of Thanksgiving in America

by bramirez

Category: Uncategorized

The Holiday season is here and with the season comes holiday cheers and the countdown to one of the  most anticipated celebrations of the year: Thanksgiving. While this particular celebration is intended to be focused on family time, today the celebrations are overshadowed by a sales-made celebration: Black Friday, a celebration of sales and profits that takes place the day after Thanksgiving.

But Thanksgiving wasn’t always defined by the sales advertised on newspapers or the internet. Thanksgiving used to be a holiday for families to come together and enjoy each other’s company over a meal.

The first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Although there are two sides to this story, the one we tend to hear most often is the Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims. According to them, the Wampanoag natives arrived as guests at the Pilgrim’s site of residence. The Wampanoag guests brought deer as an offering to the Pilgrims.

First Thanksgiving_painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1836-1930 via wikimediaThey believe the dishes included local vegetables – such as onions, beans, lettuce, and carrots – and local fruits – such as blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries.

Although we don’t know exactly know what occurred during the first Thanksgiving, we do know that the meeting between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag initiated a tradition that would be marked as national holiday years later.

In 1863, more than 200 years after the first Thanksgiving, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation making Thanksgiving an official holiday celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Although President Lincoln signed the proclamation, it was Sarah J. Hale – editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book – that urged him in a letter to establish Thanksgiving as a holiday. In her letter, she states that Thanksgiving “needs a National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution”.

Thanksgiving today, though, is different for two reasons. The first has to do with how families celebrate this holiday. A traditional Thanksgiving meal has the following dishes: turkey, stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and the delicious pumpkin pie – but traditional dishes today vary from family to family. Why? Because the United States is a multi-cultural country.

The meaning of Thanksgiving, though, remains the same – it represents family unity . It is a time to reflect over the great things that have happened over the year and to share them with family. Thanksgiving is a time to join with one another and set differences aside; it is a time for families to thank one another for being each other’s pillar of strength.

Unfortunately, while some families continue to value the meaning of Thanksgiving, corporations don’t. This is the second reason that makes Thanksgiving today different from Thanksgiving in 1863. The meaning of Thanksgiving is parallel to the anticipation of Black Friday sales. No one really knows how the term “Black Friday” came to be, but one story describes Black Friday as the day that marks the beginning of Christmas shopping.

In the early 1900s, the term “Black Friday” didn’t even exist. Today, Black Friday is a business. Retail stores, for instance,  advertise great sales for consumers. To these corporations, Thanksgiving is not a family holiday anymore. It is a competition to see who can get the most profits from these sales. The unfortunate truth about this event is that some people will bypass Thanksgiving. Instead, they will opt for creating “shopping list” and find shopping deals. Some are even willing to camp outside of these  stores just to be among the first ones to obtain this deal.

Last year, the following retail stores opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day: Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, and The Gap. These same stores are scheduled to open their doors to the public on Thanksgiving Day this year as well. According to a survey provided by Loyalty One 50% of Americans oppose stores opening on Thanksgiving, while 33% say more time for holiday gift shopping is a great idea.

 If the statistics are correct, then most of us should opt for staying at home this year and enjoy this holiday with our families. Give retail workers a break; don’t they deserve to be with their families too?

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