The Fourth Thursday of November in America: Thanksgiving
The fourth Thursday of November is one of the best days of the year. It is a time when family and friends come together to appreciate the warmth of togetherness, and of course, delicious food. Thanksgiving, although it is celebrated in Canada earlier in the season, is a uniquely American holiday. It is synonymous with roasted turkey, honey baked ham, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, yams, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and football – American football. For many, watching the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving day is tradition – whether you are a fan or not, something feels like it is missing without hearing the game on while taking the turkey out of the oven.
There is a certain nostalgia that comes with Thanksgiving, as true with any great tradition. When I was a child, we always had Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house. She would spend the week before preparing a feast for all of us. It was the only time of year everyone would all be together since most people didn’t want to travel for Christmas. My uncle drove in from Florida with his family, my oldest sister came from Alabama with her family, and every now and then distant cousins would fly in from Indiana. My grandmother single-handedly prepared Thanksgiving dinner for all twenty five of us.
This was before grocery stores and restaurants started offering Thanksgiving meals to-go. In fact, this was a time when all stores, including grocery stores, were closed on Thanksgiving. Everyone made a mad dash to the store on Wednesday, or else they would be hard pressed to find one open to buy that much needed item that they forgot to get. As I got older, movie theaters and bookstores opened in the evening and going to see a movie or browse for books became a tradition for my sister and I as a way to just get out of the house and shake off the laziness of being inside all day and eating too much food.
The idea was that Thanksgiving is about family and being with family – not rushing to the store. That needs to be done beforehand so that time is spent in the home. However, progressively more and more stores started to open for Thanksgiving Day, usually asking employees who do not observe Thanksgiving holiday to work that day. But, things have seemed to change a lot since then. In recent years, retail centers have taken it to the extreme by really marketing Black Friday. Historically, the Friday after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year because most people don’t work that day and want to jump start Christmas gifts. As a way to extend this great money making day, they began offing better deals starting at midnight. Currently, a lot of online as well as brick and mortar retailers have even pushed this to 5pm on Thanksgiving Thursday, or even earlier.
Now, it seems that the Thanksgiving tradition of being together and expressing our gratitude for the food and abundance in our lives has been taken over by the amount of money we can save if we start shopping early. And for many, that means rearranging Thanksgiving and forgoing travel to visit family in order to work. It’s insane. Driving back from a movie in 2011, the first year some retailers decided to open at midnight, we decided to drive by a Target to see how many shoppers would actually be out to find a good deal. The line was out the door, down the street and around the block to get inside. There were even reports the following day of fights breaking out to get the last toy on the shelf. Thank goodness for online shopping and Cyber Monday to help avoid those lines. At any rate, there are still a ton of people who decide to go out and catch good sales. With 50% off or more, it’s hard to resist especially with Christmas around the corner.
Thanksgiving is a Cherished Holiday Steeped in a Tradition Surrounding Family & Food
Yet, in my opinion and for many Americans, Thanksgiving is a cherished holiday steeped in a tradition surrounding family and food since the 1620’s when the Pilgrims came to the United States in the Mayflower seeking freedom of religion. As the story goes, the Native American Indians taught the emaciated and disease riddled Pilgrims who had been on a boat for 66 days how to grow corn and catch fish along with other survival tools which helped them to thrive as a colony. The first president of the United States, George Washington, called on all people to observe this day as a day of gratitude for our independence from England. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday “to help heal the wounds of the nation.”
What is the future of Thanksgiving? Interestingly, since 2016 many popular value-oriented retailers have been advertising their closure on Thanksgiving Day in observance of family time as a marketing strategy. Like all things American, I believe Thanksgiving will continually adapt and transform incorporating new traditions to the existing ones, along with bringing back old ones. This resilience and adaptability is what makes us strong and vibrant as a nation. So, while I am nostalgic for all homemade food and empty streets on Thanksgiving, I am also thankful that after a lovely day spent with family there is an option to buy Christmas gifts at a really great price due to high competition among retailers and put that extra money towards a wonderful vacation for my family. I mean, if I want to. But either way, for me, Thanksgiving will always be my favorite holiday that reminds me of my roots in family and nation.
Here at Excel, we also love Thanksgiving. We celebrate with all the students by bringing in the traditional favorites of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing. The teachers will also bring in a favorite. The students add an international twist by bringing in a special plate from their country. Sharing together and giving thanks for all that we have is what Thanksgiving is all about, and what better way to do that than around a table full of delicious food.