Stop the War on Thanksgiving

War on Thanksgiving

For years I have been hearing about the “War on Christmas.” This bloodless war, whose primary weapon seems to be the phrase “Happy Holidays,” apparently threatens the spirit and soul of Christmas and Christians by recognizing that one fifth of the US population and over two thirds of the world’s population do not celebrate Christmas.  I was never worried about this war because it seemed that Christmas and Christians were doing just fine.

I am however, worried about Thanksgiving. Because folks, there is a War on Thanksgiving. Oddly enough, its chief combatant is Christmas, or more accurately, the retailers who seek to make Christmas shopping a year round activity.

I must divulge a little background. I love Thanksgiving. I always have. I love the smells of Thanksgiving, as the crisp air of Autumn shifts almost imperceptibly to the chill of Winter. I love the food and the decorations: cornucopias filled with autumnal gourds, the reds, browns, yellows and golds of fall foliage, the cinnamon and nutmeg of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider and the savory goodness of stuffing, turkey and gravy. I love the gathering of friends and family. I love our ritual of going around the table and saying what we are thankful for this year.

Thanksgiving is the one time of year in which I embrace my inner Martha Stewart, decorating the house with gourds and children’s seasonal crafts.But over the past several years I have had difficulty engaging in my seasonal ritual. Because whereas in my childhood, retail Christmas fervor did not take over until the day after Thanksgiving, today stores hardly wait until after labor day to begin the madness and by the day after Halloween, Christmas season has begun its assault.

The primary casualty of this Christmas Creep (aside from our wallets and our bleeding ears as the grating strains of “jingle bells” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” play on a loop for over 2 months) is Thanksgiving itself.

The War on Thanksgiving started in the retail setting. I began to notice over the past ten years that it was increasingly difficult to indulge my Thanksgiving decorating tendencies. Retailers began to push aside my cornucopia and autumnal colors for the ubiquitous red and green. Oddly cheerful turkeys gave way to Santas and menacing elves and our secular holiday of giving thanks was shunted aside for Christmas.

But the combatants in the War on Thanksgiving were not content with their expulsion of Thanksgiving from the retail arena. Bent on complete domination, they set out to banish Thanksgiving from our homes and our lives. Retailers like Walmart, Kmart, Staples, Sears, J.C. Penny, Best Buy, Toys R Us, Macy’s and countless malls across America have begun opening their stores on Thanksgiving itself.

These retailers make their low wage employees give up one of the only days they have off with family to wage the War on Thanksgiving. These employees must abandon their families and their one day off together to feed retailers’ insatiable desire for profit. And we as consumers are asked to abandon our festive tables, friends and families to brave the crowds of shoppers looking for that elusive bargain.

I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. Thanksgiving is literally a holiday about giving thanks. It is a holiday that welcomes all Americans (though Native Americans may have some misgivings on this) regardless of religion. It is a holiday that celebrates home and hearth and asks us to be grateful for that which we have.

The message of the actual holiday of Christmas may not be far off. But the religious Christmas of December 25th is not the one currently being celebrated in malls across America. Retail Christmas demands you spend what you do not have and indulge in unmitigated greed. Retail Christmas tells you there is never enough and that you should only be thankful when people bring you more.

This year I will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will be thankful for all the good things in my life, very few of which were purchased in a store. In protest, I will not shop on Black Friday and this season I will only buy from retailers who do not open on Thanksgiving Day.

I will fight for Thanksgiving. I will stand with those who are fighting against the War on Thanksgiving. Join me.

Thanksgiving Meditation

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful.  These are the words I say every night with my family as we sit together and practice our “loving kindness meditation.” In this meditative practice we, through a series of affirmations, acknowledge and honor our connection to each other and the larger world.  The practice, in which you send your love and kindness to an ever widening circle (from yourself, to a loved one, to an acquaintance, to someone who has been unkind to you, to the whole world), opens up your awareness, calms your mind and develops empathy.

This year at Thanksgiving, I have decided to meditate on the meaning of these four affirmations for this season.

May you be Happy:  As I sit with family and friends, I am aware of the love and joy in the room.  Happiness sits in these moments of connection, not in the crazy hubbub of impending black Friday.  Happiness is something within all of our reach, if we are open to it- and choose to see and savor it, even in the briefest of moments.  Happiness can then be the taste of the stuffing, the belly laugh of a child, the beauty of the table.  Not every person’s Thanksgiving is a Hallmark card.  There are stressful relationships, histories of pain and hurt.  Sometimes the holidays bring it all up in uncomfortable ways.  But happiness is possible in the small moments, and that happiness is in our power to create, hold and nurture.

May you be Well:  At the Thanksgiving table I will be sitting, smiling, talking, laughing, listening, breathing, and eating.  All of these are things I am able to do because I am blessed this year with physical health.  It is easy to forget the importance of this gift when we are so busy in our lives.  But this year I am thankful for all the ways my body works every day and the ways in which this allows me to appreciate and experience the world.  Not everyone is in perfect health.  But each of us can be thankful for the degree of health we do have and be grateful to be able to share at least one more holiday together.

May you be Safe:  This Thanksgiving I will be snuggled in with my family and friends in a warm house- safe from the cold and rain of a New England November.  The elements will not threaten me as they do the victims of typhoon Haiyan or the homeless on the streets of our cities.  I will not fear that missiles may rain down on my home or that roving militias will enter my house- things that could not be taken for granted in other parts of the world.  In my suburban home, I will not fear random street violence as others in less safe neighborhoods do.  I often take these things for granted.  This Thanksgiving I will be thankful of all the ways I am blessed to be safe.  Perhaps if we all recognized the degree to which our safety makes our lives possible, we would have more empathy for those who do not have that luxury.  Perhaps we might be motivated to make it so that more people could live in safety.

May you be Peaceful:   Through nightly meditation this year,  I have tapped into a source of calm and tranquility in myself that I had previously never experienced.  As a coach, teacher, wife, mother, friend and daughter, I often have more on my To Do list than feels possible.   However, the calm that I have found through mindfulness and meditation has allowed me to stop and breathe.  I have found stillness in the midst of commotion.  It has allowed me to be both happier and more productive.  In an era when we are always moving, checking our cell phones, email, texts and social media, being peaceful is something for which I am deeply thankful.

Your meditations may look different than mine, but this Thanksgiving, take a moment to identify the things for which you are thankful- both big and small.

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful.  Happy Thanksgiving.