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Is Thanksgiving Dying?

I was reading a blog post on Patheos  about society and merchants killing Thanksgiving.  I found it an  interesting read and I had to sit and think about the idea a bit. The  blogger, I think, got it right in some ways and wrong in others.  Since I  am most likely older than the blogger (I painfully admit this), I can  probably add my two cents as to what is happening to the Thanksgiving  holiday in the United States.

What Thanksgiving was in Relation to Christmas

Before  I get some push back, let me state that even though I'm Heathen, I  recognize that the "holiday season" is largely the Christmas season.   That's because the majority of people in the US are still Christian, and  even those who aren't Christian still celebrate Christmas as a secular  holiday.  So even though Christmas is just a hijacked Yule, I'm going to  be a realist here and talk about what the majority of Americans  celebrate.

Thanksgiving was born out of the traditional  harvest festivals. It became an official American holiday in 1863 thanks  to Abraham Lincoln.  Before that, it was mostly celebrated in New  England, although presidents before Lincoln would often declare a day of  Thanksgiving.  If you want the whole story, you can read my post on it.

Thanksgiving,  due to its proximity to Christmas, was a natural start of the holiday  season, once Christmas became popular, thanks to Charles Dickens and  Queen Victoria. (Christmas, by the way, was not that popular of a  holiday in the New World, thanks to our Puritan founders.)  Even in  Europe, Christmas was unpopular by the 19th century, requiring Dickens  to give it a facelift.  In Medieval times, it was a time of communal  feasting and playing games.  Much of that stopped abruptly when the  Black Death hit. 

So, by the time World War II came  along, Christmas had enjoyed enough popularity to have President  Franklin D. Roosevelt tinker with the date of Thanksgiving to be the  last Thursday of the month so that merchants could plan their holiday  sales.  Seriously.

Thanksgiving and the Christmas Buying Season

The  blogger bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving is being run over by black  Friday sales that start on Thursday in the hopes to lure more shoppers  to buy.  And in truth, the holiday season is often a make or break time  for many merchants. But should it mean that the stores should be open  for you to buy stuff when people should be staying home with their  families?

As old as I am (old as dirt, I reckon), I  seem to recall that the Christmas buying season started around  Thanksgiving, but I don't remember Black Fridays until at least the 70s,  but the term was coined in the 50s because cops had to pull 12 hour shifts to deal with the shoppers.   Since I didn't live in Philadelphia, that's probably why I don't  remember it much when I was a kid.  This Christmas shopping on  Thanksgiving is a headache and one either people will embrace or decide  to skip.  It depends on how popular it will be for the trend to survive,  but I'm counting on people to use their smartphones and buy online on  Thanksgiving.

What I'm More Concerned With

As depressing  as Christmas shopping taking over Thanksgiving is, I'm more concerned  with the lack of association of the Thanksgiving and Harvest festivals.   Sure, kids learn to draw turkeys and pumpkins and corn, but in most  cases kids don't see turkeys other than in books and in videos and have  never stepped foot in a field where corn and pumpkins are grown.  They  and probably their parents look at the world through their extremely  urban or suburban living.  Sure, they might get a chance to visit a farm  on a school trip, but that really is about the extent.  So when they  have their highly processed bird at Thanksgiving, they haven't really  had a connection to the harvest.  Instead, it's an excuse to eat and  then sit on the couch and play video games or watch football. And yes.  we look at Thanksgiving as the beginning of the Christmas buying  season.  Yay.  

There's a town I enter when I hunt in a  certain area which has an honest-to-gods harvest festival annually.   That's because it's a farm town.  When I saw the signs, I was delighted  and intrigued.  If it weren't hunting season, I'd be there just to watch  what went on.  Unfortunately Skadi has not gifted me an elk this season  thus far, so I'm busy looking for those.

Understanding  harvest, which is where Thanksgiving comes from, is important.  Knowing  where our food is from.  Actually growing crops and tending livestock.  Thanking Freyr for the abundance. Saving the last sheaf of wheat for the  wights and gods.  Remembering ancestors.  That's what I believe is  endangered.  

Thanksgiving will undoubtedly morph into  something more commercial, if Madison Avenue has its way.  But hopefully  as Heathenism grows, perhaps more people will pay attention to its  roots and recognize the importance of Harvest.

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