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Thanksgiving Thoughts

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People have given thanks for the harvest since long before any major religions were formulated.  This giving of thanks always has something of a religious quality.  The relation of religion to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday has long been tangential at best, however.  Those paper pilgrim hats and feather headdresses from grade school weren’t about religion; they were about making us citizens with a common heritage, a shared history, incomplete though it was.

94933_CoverFrontThe role of religion in the Thanksgiving holiday made it a subject that liberal preacher John Emerson Roberts spoke on almost every year; the hypocrisy of talking about religious services and preferring feasting and games was an obvious target.  Here, from the biography, is a summary of his thoughts on the subject in 1895:

At this time, the day still had to be set by the annual proclamation from the president (The proclamations are still made, even though Congress fixed the day as the fourth Thursday in November in the mid-twentieth century.) These proclamations have religious overtones that go back to the Puritans. Grover Cleveland’s 1895 proclamation called for giving thanks “in our accustomed places of worship,” and for prayer that God would continue to show mercy to and guide the nation. Roberts applauds the people of the country for being ahead of the platitudes of the proclamation: they use the day for feasting, fun, and football games. He notes that even the newspapers, supposedly holding up the pious conventions, give far more space to reporting sports than to church services. The people know what they need and they act accordingly.

When the Kansas City Star published an editorial objecting to what Roberts had said. he used the papers themselves as evidence to support his argument. In the four daily papers published in Kansas City on the day after thanksgiving, he counted 568 lines covering religious events for the day and 6,480 on football alone. “These figures prove nothing,” Roberts admitted, but they showed what the editors judged to be “what the public was interested in on Thanksgiving day.”

What would Dr. Roberts say today about Black Friday and the way it has recently leaked into Thanksgiving Day?  Would he assert that “the people know what they need and they act accordingly?”  Or would he perceive a pressure of corporate capitalism throwing society out of balance, as I do?  My perspective is affected by the fact that I have what I need, and when I make a big purchase it is usually because something has broken and I want to replace it.  When something does break, I’m not likely to wait for sales or the crowds that go with them. I give thanks that I can avoid Black Friday.

An additional note on Thanksgiving:

I recently heard an ad for some worthy cause in which the speaker said, “People remember the thanks but they don’t always remember the giving.”  Another blow to language: giving thanks is not a two-part action.

Comments Roberts made on other Thanksgivings, and his comments on many other subjects are reported in John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.  See more on the Books page.

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Thanksgiving Walk

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The blog’s new header is intended to reflect my interest in nature and native plants, a “third side of one mind.”  It is a close up of a cottonwood tree I saw at the Bosque del Apache.  Today’s post about my Thanksgiving features other native plants.

 

Waiting at the copy center in Staples I listened to the customer in front of me and the salesclerk chat.  “I hate Black Friday,’ the clerk was saying.

“So do I,” the customer said.  “Maybe if you’re poor it makes sense.”

“I’m poor,” the clerk responded.  “And I’d rather spend time with my family than save $100 on a television set.”

Recovering quickly the customer said, “I’ve been there too.  I felt the same way.”  When I was done my business I told the clerk “I hope you survive Black Friday!”  She smiled.

Desert Willow

For me, “Black Friday” is a day to stay home, catch up, finish cleaning up for Thanksgiving.  One of many things I have been and am grateful for is the extended family and friends who came to our house for Thanksgiving every year for many years: anywhere from six to seventeen people.  That left a lot of next day cleanup to be done, but it was worth the effort.  I am also grateful that we no longer do that.  We do a Thanksgiving dinner for ourselves, because for us, next after family, Thanksgiving is about the leftovers: the sandwiches and all the stock for soup, the many uses of turkey chunks.

This quieter Thanksgiving allows me time to take a walk.  This year I walked into

Apache Plume

the arroyo behind the dam that is built for a 500 year flood and rarely sees more than a few small ponds in the rainy season.  Now it is quite dry.  I found many things to be thankful for, including desert willows whose long seed pods showed me how many flowers I’d missed seeing by not being out their way in the warmer weather.  There was apache plume which was still “pluming” – its sprays of seed pods not yet blown away.  And most pleasing of all, there were buffalo gourds.  These grow on large leaved plants which have gotten scarce in the last year or two because of the drought conditions.  I picked up a few for my Thanksgiving table decoration.  It was a longer walk than I had taken in quite a while.  But I knew I would have Black Friday to rest up.

Buffalo Gourds