As I sit here once again as I do every year, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I feel the thrill I always feel when I hear a marching band. The Macy's parade has been an annual event since the 1920s and has grown more spectacular every year. It demonstrates the best in American creativity, ingenuity, and talent, and heralds itself as the official opening of the holiday shopping season, and for the very first time, Macy's will be open for shopping this Thanksgiving Day. Thankfully this gives us one more day for shopping.
In the past week, we have all been peppered with a barrage of ads for the shopping events of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the few remaining weeks until Christmas. I am having a real problem seeing the connection between retail sales and giving thanks. Couldn't we have one day, when store-doors stayed closed and we focused on each other and all that we do have - not all those things retailers want us to buy. I don't begrudge anyone making a living but sales on one single day couldn't possibly make or break a company's profitability.
Thinking about all of this, made me question what I know about the origination of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. I like most Americans know that Thanksgiving is based on a feast the Pilgrims and Indians had celebrating the bounty of their autumn harvest, but knew little more. Apparently it was Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War (1861), who declared the last Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving. Some how my instincts tell me that Lincoln was sincere in creating a day to truly give thanks.
As I mentioned before, Macy's began the parade in the 1920s and Franklin D. Roosevelt (President from 1933 to 1945) moved the holiday up one week, to lengthen the holiday shopping season. The Great Depression was wreaking havoc across the U.S. so I guess no one can be blamed for trying anything to help the economy get back on track, including the commercialization of our day for thanks. And, once the precedent is set, there's no turning back, especially when it gets traction and becomes part of tradition. (BTW, Congress moved the holiday back to the last Thursday in November in 1941 because many states had refused to "extend the season".)
I really am not meaning to sermonize, despite appearances, I simply want to remind myself and those I love to remember the true purpose for this day. We are exceptionally fortunate in this country even given recent hardships like the financial crisis, floods, and super-storm Sandy and the painful ramifications thereof.
Today, Peter and I are celebrating our day of thanks with friends, enjoying the bounty of the northeast - oysters, tuna, lobster, sweet potatoes, and apples. Untraditional perhaps, but a meal caught or grown from our local waters and shore. I truly do give thanks for all we have and wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to you all.