Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, but it is America’s forgotten holiday. Thanksgiving is usually treated like a speed bump on the highway to Christmas.
Retail stores jump straight from Halloween to Christmas. The costumes, pumpkins, ghostly décor, and pallets of Halloween candy come down almost instantly, in favor of Christmas trees, garland, ornaments, lights and every potential Christmas gift imaginable. Christmas music is played, not so subtly, over the store speakers. Santa Claus appears at the mall, at least in non-COVID years. The actual next holiday on the calendar – Thanksgiving – is barely acknowledged.
I understand the need for businesses to make a profit is real and the early marketing of Christmas is nothing new. I also under people’s frustration over the hyper-commercialization of Christmas. I believe the 1965 cartoon “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” remains popular nearly 55 years after it first aired because it dealt with the over-materialism and over-commercialization of Christmas.
If you are the type of person that enjoys celebrating Christmas early, go ahead. This is America and you are absolutely free put up your Christmas tree and blast “All I want to Christmas is You” on repeat. If that makes you happy – then by all means do it.
My personal preference is to celebrate Thanksgiving before moving on to Christmas. I like that Thanksgiving is based around thankfulness and autumnal comfort food. I enjoy spreading the autumn traditions out through Thanksgiving. I find comfort in the traditional Thanksgiving favorites like turkey, dressing, casseroles, and pies. In south Mississippi, the November weather is typically very autumn like, and keeping Christmas after Thanksgiving helps me avoid “Christmas burnout.” Many Christian denominations celebrate the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I am reminded that none of the 12 days are in November.
In Mississippi, Thanksgiving also means Egg Bowl weekend. Like many Mississippi families, my family has divided loyalties during the game. Some seasons the football game is played on Thanksgiving Night and other seasons it is on the Friday or Saturday after. The Egg Bowl has been played 116 times and is among the most historic in the nation. Watching the Egg Bowl would not feel right unless I am also eating pumpkin or pecan pie. I’m especially thankful for the Egg Bowl game this year. Only a few months ago it looked like the 2020 college football season might not even happen.
The year of 2020 has been the most difficult year in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has effected so many people. Unemployment, economic strife, and a divisive presidential election have caused stress, anxiety, and despair. Thanksgiving is exactly the kind of holiday that our nation needs. It would do us good to remember that the first Thanksgiving was held after an incredibly difficult year for the Pilgrims.
The Pilgrims set sail from Southampton, England, in August 1620 and crossed the Atlantic Ocean while battling tumultuous water, wind, waves and major structural issues with the ship. During the first winter, nearly half of the original colonists died, most of disease that spread throughout the colony. Despite these unfathomable hardships in the New World, the Pilgrims still gathered with the Native American Wampanoag tribe for a great harvest feast of Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621. The Thanksgiving story is a testament to how people of different cultures could still agree to come together and peaceable share a meal.
The story of Thanksgiving does not end there. Nobody at the first Thanksgiving thought it was the beginning of a new annual tradition. In fact, the first Thanksgiving was completely forgotten about until a first-person account of the event was rediscovered and published in 1841 book by Alexander Young called “Chronicles of the Pilgrims Fathers.” During the 1850s, author and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale started a letter writing campaign to create a national Thanksgiving holiday. Her hard work paid off in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving holiday. Lincoln believed that a national day of Thanksgiving was fitting and could be used to unite the deeply divided nation.
We could use some unity in our nation today. We live in a consumer culture that promotes the acquisition of stuff. Thanksgiving is a great time to find contentment with what we have. An attitude of gratefulness is beneficial to all of us.
Keith Ball is an attorney and lifelong resident of the Friendly City.