The battle of Thanksgiving: Holy days go head-to-head

How to win the war between gratitude and purchasing power this Thanksgiving.

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Customers flock to Best Buy on a Black Friday.

How to win the war between gratitude and purchasing power this Thanksgiving.

Given the other conflicts raging here and there you may have missed this one: the Battle of Thanksgiving.

The Battle of Thanksgiving? Really? Isn’t the Thanksgiving holiday, which we celebrate this week, a time of sharing and savoring, drawing together in gratitude and grace? Isn’t it a time for remembering and telling stories, welcoming to our homes those who are far from their own, and giving thanks for the sheer gift and wonder of life, despite its losses?

Something like that is the idea.

But an alternate faith and order is waging war against even Thanksgiving’s brief twenty-four hours: Consumerism. Its temples are malls; it’s chapels, the big-box stores. Black Friday is its high, holy day.

Not only are a host of stores, including Wal-Mart, KMart, and Target, open for business on the national holiday of Thanksgiving, but this year the Black Friday shopping frenzy gets underway at the very stroke of midnight in stores and malls across the land of the free and the home of brave.

Best Buy, Target, Old Navy, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, the Disney Stores, and a dozen more will open their doors at midnight. Still, its a kind of rolling start, perhaps so buyers can experience the thrill of store openings in the wee hours at multiple sites in succession.

Sears and JC Penny open at 4:00 am, followed by KMart and Lowe’s at 5:00. Not to be left behind, Office Depot, Office Max, and Staples begin moving paper and office supplies at 6:00. Why, even Tractor Supply will open at 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday. Tractor Supply?

Note that these consumer meccas are dis-aggregated from community. They do not stand on any real Main Street. They are not locally-owned or small businesses. These they drive out of business. Moreover, all summon their minimum-wage-without-benefits employees to work, away from their own families and rest.

If the Occupy Movement really wanted to raise America’s hackles and get a very swift boot, it might try occupying the malls on Black Friday.

Two holy days, two faiths go head-to-head this week. One savors the idea of gratitude, a sense of harvest abundance, and enough. The other cultivates grab and grasp, an anxious sense of scarcity, of never enough. A person may be forgiven for feeling a bit schizophrenic.

Thanksgiving would teach us the patience associated with the season’s cycles, planting and harvest, and an older and mostly by-gone America; consumerism offers 24/7 convenience and the instant gratifications of a global economy and its sweat shops.

If Thanksgiving would savor contentment, consumerism thrives by discontent: the burning need to have the newest and latest, preferably before others do.

Thanksgiving invites and encourages generosity; Black Friday is all about profit-maximization.

Or maybe the two aren’t so different after all. Perhaps Thanksgiving too is more about consumption than grateful hearts, more about more than enough?

One can hardly blame shoppers — whose incomes count for less year by year — for seeking the sales. We are hectored into buying, not only by truly degrading advertisements, but by banks that brandish credit and debit cards like drug dealers offering crack and speed. Not to be outdone, politicians urge shopping as sacred duty.

“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth’s words seem never more true. 

Consider something really counter-cultural this year. Keep Thanksgiving. Let it linger, even beyond its appointed twenty-four hours.

Savor gratitude slowly and let it grow. Say a deep thank you for all that cannot be gotten, but only given: nature’s wonder, faith’s wisdom, prayer’s power, the beautiful wherever it finds a toe-hold, and acts of kindness that suprise and touch us.

Even if it's bad for economy, say no to consumerism’s anxious litany, “Never Enough, Never Enough.” Refuse to trade your identity as citizen and child of God for a real mess of pottage, “Identity: Consumer.” Sort out the difference between need and want. Refuse to buy crap. Cultivate a sense of abundance that depends not on stuff, but upon the intangibles of community, grace, and kindness.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Anthony B. Robinson

Anthony B. Robinson was the Senior Minister of Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle from 1990 to 2004. He was also a member of the Plymouth Housing Group Board. After living for many years in southeast Seattle, he moved recently to Ballard.