The Thanksgiving paradox

Published 6:04 pm Friday, November 26, 2021

I’ve never been a huge fan of Thanksgiving. Sure, I love the pumpkin pie and turkey as much as anybody. Yet, I could leave Thanksgiving behind as a holiday.  Honestly, does anybody really love the Macy’s Day Parade or have we just convinced ourselves over the past 97 years that it’s worth our time and attention? There’s the inevitable marathon of James Bond films on TNT, but some of those old ones don’t quite hold up.  I’m pretty sure the femme fatale in Goldfinger would need a less feline name if they made the film in 2021.

Getting back to Thanksgiving proper, I guess I’ve grown a bit uncomfortable with the strange paradox of this holiday.  We gather to give thanks for the blessings of our lives, but it becomes more than easy to prepare far more food than we could ever eat.  There are leftovers, yes.  But what happens when the leftovers don’t get eaten in time?  Into the abyss of the garbage can they go.  Or into a compost heap if you’re environmentally minded.  The point remains the same: on a day we celebrate our blessings, we certainly produce a lot of food waste.

The worst culprit of this week has to be Black Friday.  In full transparency, I’ve done Christmas shopping on Black Friday.  I’ve even shopped for myself on Black Friday as Target inevitably has deals on Star Wars merchandise that, well…I guess I don’t actually need.  It’s a jarring transition moving from Thanksgiving Day, a day of humble gratitude, to Black Friday, a day of naked and unbridled consumerism. Remember how people in the past have been trampled at the door to Wal-Mart as people fight over the best deal on the newest flat screen TV?  Well, if you’ve forgotten, it will probably happen again. Scratch that.  It will happen again, though it might not be a TV they’re fighting over.  No matter the prize involved, the truth is everybody loses when we become reduced to cog-like consumers in an economy that demands more of us each and every year.

I’m not against shopping, nor am I against the idea of a day where all sorts of deals are found and presents are bought.  But the whiplash that we all must endure as we move from Thanksgiving to Black Friday is just too much for me.  I can’t help but think about what we are doing to ourselves, as a society, when we have conditioned ourselves to miss the harsh juxtaposition of gratitude and greed, of thankfulness and consumption.

Either because I’m a masochist or I just can’t help myself, I like to imagine how differently our society would look if we privileged other values and virtues over and against the demands of late-stage capitalism.  How would a community look if the response to Thanksgiving was not a subsequent day of shopping, but a day ensuring that anybody who was hungry on Thursday would not have to be hungry on Friday? Better yet, what if Thanksgiving was a day to celebrate with friends and family, but also to serve those in our community who are lacking basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter?

There will be no end to our gift-giving and holiday shopping.  Perhaps there doesn’t need to be.  However, that doesn’t preclude us from adopting new holiday traditions that are rooted in the love of our neighbor more than the desire for yet another flat screen TV.  You won’t read this until after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so maybe it’s too late for change this year.  Ah, but there’s always next year.


Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.