Every November like clockwork, my mother complains about Thanksgiving having become a "lost holiday." She thinks it's the red-headed stepchild of holidays. In the late hours of October 31st, all the stores take down their Halloween decor and displays and products, and replace them with Christmas decor, etc. There aren't even any traditional Thanksgiving movies--who really watches Spencer Tracy's Plymouth Adventure every year? "What happens to Thanksgiving?" she laments, "It's lost in the shuffle!"
I used to nod my head knowingly and agree. This year, however, I started thinking about her complaint and realizing that, while she has a point, she's not exactly correct. After all, Americans still celebrate Thanksgiving--time off work, big family get-togethers, traditional foods and activities, major movie releases, and the Macy's parade. I'll be heading down to Mom's tomorrow for the usual turkey and dressing and kidney bean salad and green bean casserole and relishes and pumpkin cheesecake, followed by the usual early evening bloat and mild stomach distress from eating too much.
Her complaint actually centers on two things:
1) Thanksgiving seems to be something to get past so we can start splurging on Christmas. For many consumers, Thanksgiving is mostly notable for being the day before Black Friday, the wild, out-of-control day of shopping. Of course, when Mom was younger, she was just as guilty of this as anyone else, what with our traditional trips to Eastland, Northland, or Westland on the Friday after Thanksgiving (before it had the name "Black Friday" attached to it). Now that she rarely takes advantage of this day, it's just the day after Thanksgiving for her.
2) There aren't enough commercial tokens or markers of Thanksgiving on the market. With aisles of Christmas merchandise out on the first of November, it's difficult for a self-respecting American shopper to find any Thanksgiving novelties, doo-dads, knick-knacks, or paddy-whacks to buy. Mom still decorates for each season and holiday, so she puts up fall stuff (leaves, gourds, bittersweet branches) in September. Halloween decor intrudes for a few weeks, but then it's right back to fall since she can't seem to come up with enough stuff to put on the walls and mantle that would specifically indicate Thanksgiving (a turkey, maybe a little Precious Moments pilgrim).
Mom takes this as a slap in the face at Thanksgiving, but really it's only a "lost" holiday at the mall, specifically at Hallmark stores--try as they may, they haven't turned Thanksgiving into a card-buying, gift-giving occasion yet. As a society, we still slow down for a day, gather with loved ones, and think about, if only for a minute or so, the things for which we're thankful (for me, that would be my mom, my partner Don, having a job in this economy, and Turner Classic Movies). You want a lost holiday--try finding Arbor Day decorations.