Strangers, Pilgrims and Forefathers

Apple pie, BBQ sauce, peanut butter, HBO, Spider Man. Cadillacs, theme parks, free refills. The Bible belt, R&B, cowboy hats, tipping. White sneakers, baseball hats. Latter Day Saints. Hopper, Pollock, Jasper Johns. Frank Lloyd Wright, Hemingway, Salinger. Tiffany. Extreme couponing, nipple fear, having a dream. As stereotypes go, this is America.

But there is nothing as quintessentially American as Thanksgiving.

A harvest festival, not unlike Makar Sankranti, Sukkot, Dozhinki or Mid-Autumn Festival, Thanksgiving is the day Americans give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. It is a day Americans reunite with friends and relatives. A day when people celebrate the bounty of the preceding year.
Although its origins go as far back as the English Reformation, there is a popular, albeit inaccurate historic, commemorative element to Thanksgiving, going back to the Puritans and Pilgrim Fathers and the Wampanoag at their 1621 “First Thanksgiving”. So when in 1863 Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday, he created a new myth that both whitewashed the less savoury moments of American history and unified its people.
On the day itself however, it matters not. After all, Oktoberfest, now trying to gain respectability by placing it within the periphery of Erntedankfest, started as a royal wedding feast, had an agricultural show added onto it yet is still Germany’s, read Bavaria’s, major (drinking) event.

Notwithstanding America’s export prowess, think Coca Cola, Ketchup and Corn Flakes but to name a few, Thanksgiving has remained an all-American affair. Surprisingly so. It is not because of the event itself. Harvest feasts all over the world share the same principles of gratitude, appreciation, community, harmony and plain joy. Nor can it be the food. Turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkin are readily available, globally palatable. Gravy of course is gravy and perhaps stuffing could initially, by some, be considered unusual but not insurmountable.

Is it because of history? The uniqueness of the success of a colonized past? Hubris? Humility? A solitary moment of ‘This is us?’ – minuscule.

The fact remains. Thanksgiving is a local, American phenomenon.

What has taken off, worldwide however, is Thanksgiving’s aftermath. Not the indigestion, nor the trip to the mall but, Black Friday.
Originally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday has become the world’s answer to what was initially Cyber Monday. Lead by the likes of Apple and Amazon, Black Friday is already the single largest online shopping event in German-speaking countries. The UK predicts Black Friday 2014 to be the biggest online shopping day of the year. France’s mail order companies are following suit after Carrefour’s promotional campaign for ‘Le Black Friday‘, and in Spain ‘El Black Friday‘ is being introduced, poco a poco.
Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and to top it al off, #GivingTuesday, the most recent addition, gradually taking hold.
From Giving Thanks to Getting Deals to Giving Back.
Pilgrims and pioneers.

Full circle.

220px-Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project

“We’ve got another holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.”
“I haven’t even finished eating all of my Halloween candy.”