Yet another broken American covenant
Of all the holidays on the American calendar, the most long-standing and uniquely American one with profound Christian origins, no less, is Thanksgiving. During the Civil War in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln brought Thanksgiving to the forefront as a day to express gratitude to God for our nation's plentiful blessings.
For generations, we traditionally have turned a huge continental nation on the last Thursday of every November into one indigenous community. Thanksgiving's deep roots even pre-date the founding of the United States.
Unlike that first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims, our yearly American Sabbath has been auctioned off. And the bidders have been standing in line waiting to turn Thanksgiving into just another Sunday. This year, JC Penney has announced its stores will be open for business all day on Thanksgiving in the annual run-up to Christmas. Stores from sea to shining sea will celebrate shoppers who haven't even had time to eat, let alone digest, any turkey or Great Aunt Funkster's traditional down-home shoofly pie.
Once upon a time in America, there was a covenant between retailers and their consumers that shopping on Thanksgiving was sacrilegious, just like the one honoring the Sabbath with Pennsylvania's blue laws. But that was too much Old Testament and would depart from us the way disco and traditional marriage has. After all, there is no edict quantifying that Thanksgiving must be observed a certain way. It was just a long-standing civic tradition. This year it's Penney. Next year, you can wager your turkey wishbone more retailers will join the mix.
So, what's the big deal? The logic behind it isn't too far gone because if other big box retailers are trampling on a once sacred American tradition and the NFL can do their thing from morning till night on Thanksgiving Day, why not JC Penney or the local muffler shop?
The indifferent but ubiquitous "Everybody else is doing it, so why not us?" rings louder than ever. And so it is. Penney's is not alone in jump-starting the Christmas shopping season on Thanksgiving. The list includes Sears, Target, Macy's and Lord and Taylor, among others. The retail monarchs have spoken, adding more nails to the coffin of Thanksgiving Past. Black Friday morphs into Thanksgiving, followed by Small Business Saturday, Online Monday and, of course, Identity Theft Tuesday. Forget napping or fading in and out of consciousness watching another NFL triple header; saddle up, it's time to go shopping.
In a nation often divided morally, politically and socially, we were always able to steadfastly harmonize about Thanksgiving. It was a relaxed day, a supplementary Sunday with an opportunity to celebrate God, family and a wholesome meal. In its unique, nondenominational way, Thanksgiving was sacrosanct. Gather. Give thanks. Eat. And watch the Detroit Lions lose another meaningless game. When was the last time the Detroit Lions played a meaningful game on Thanksgiving anyway? It happens to be this year, proving that things do change, but not always for the best, particularly if you're a Giants fan. But I digress.
Since Thanksgiving has been taken hostage by secular consumerism, it is disconcerting on several levels. This change is beyond one's control, but only to a point. Stores may open, but no one is compelled to go shopping; but human nature being what it is, people will go, especially if enticed, so in essence this is a false hope and most troubling. Shopping will now transcend the day as many folks will be consumed with getting a jump start on holiday shopping and the contexture of the day will forever shift as quickly as you can swipe a credit card. We can't prohibit retailers from opening. However, despite the inducement, we can stop ourselves.
Commerce, in and of itself, is not bad. After all, food, clothes and an iPhone are necessities. Well, maybe not so much the clothes, especially if you call San Francisco home. Nevertheless, when commerce itself dictates the attitudes, behaviors and traditions of contemporary culture, discontent lurks in the corners. When we fall prey to the myth that the good life is found in the abundance of our possessions, we are setting ourselves up for perpetual disappointment. The Pilgrims sought abundance, yes; that abundance, however, was one of blessings and freedom.
The real guarantor of our freedom is not the Constitution, or a long-standing holiday. It is God. Only in God is our hope, and it is to God alone that we owe our allegiance, love and deepest thanksgiving.
This will never be breached.
(Greg Maresca, a freelance writer, composes "Talking Points" for each Sunday edition.)