Thanksgiving, in the proper noun sense familiar to all in the U.S., is offensive to so many on so many levels its hard to know where to start. Perhaps that is one reason (or many) that the culture warriors of the religious right take it up as a cause celebre (see for example Kate Zernike’s piece ) much as they bemoan the attack on Christmas, or the war on Christians in general. And despite the learned efforts of Richard T Hughes and others, it would appear that the ignorance of the mass of Americans is a tide that will not be turned.
But setting aside the mythology associated with the day, the fact that it commemorates to many ethnic cleansing on a continental scale, the institutionalization by President Lincoln at what was arguably the temporal acme of the Christian fundamentalism rampant in the early 19th Century, the current economic function as the eve of “Black Friday”, not to mention the gorging, the turkey pardoning and the celebration of one of the most brutal “games” known to humankind; is there something to be salvaged from all this?
I have to argue that the fundamentalist take on Thanksgiving, i.e. giving actual thanks to a living deity actually involved in the day to day affairs of humanity, was as preposterous to our Deist forefathers as it is to most of us today. Deists, and by extension many of us, give thanks to “Providence” not on the basis of any intercession, but as a way of expressing our recognition of that which we have and our acknowledgment that things could always be worse (much worse.)
But in comparison to the rabbinic view of a holiday such as Yom Kippur, I have to say that the Deist approach falls short, in that while Jews are expected to not only atone to God but to each other, acknowledging Providence is a far cry from engaging in any interpersonal expression of appreciation.
As I type this I am all too aware that my wife is, as she is every year, embarked on an herculean task familiar to many households in the U.S.; creating and setting a holiday meal, presided over by a huge not quite rampant turkey of impeccable pedigree. She (my wife, not the turkey, which is a tom this year after all) is an easy target for my thanks, but not so the many others who may have contributed to our well being (especially those who did not so intend.) And while it is one thing to have appreciation in our heart, it is quite another to acknowledge, personally, all those who should be thanked.
How easy it is to forget the hundreds who in one way or another cared for my recently injured son, the girl friends, boy friends dogs, rabbits, cats and others who care for or being cared for by our family have enriched our year. Those who have asked for help have given me something to do, and I am as thankful for that as for the ineptitude of those who seek to diminish my community, my state and my country; thank you – each and every one. Thank you.
And as I watch my home gently blanketed with fresh snow (acknowledging that the roads may be soon safe again) I have a feeling that despite the horrible baggage Thanksgiving may entail, and the famine, homelessness, violence and abuse endemic to our species, I will nevertheless savor the a few moments this evening with family, friends and a deceased tom.
I wish one and all a day to give thanks for.