Thanksgiving is weird. It’s gluttonous. For too many, the holiday is rife with family bickering and/or stress. Yet, the narrative of Thanksgiving is one of gratitude with a loving family and nature’s bounty, linked to an American origin story that suggests harmony with people of a different culture, sharing agricultural learning and exchange to achieve gastronomical delight. The religiosity of the non-native Americans is known, but the universality of gratitude distinguishes this holiday as one that can be embraced by any and all faiths. It is utterly American.
We celebrate the story. Our version highlights the ideals in theory, but the details often play out contrary to the ideals. Americans love the novel—the always new story that is tidy and lofty, that has us as the embodiment of goodness and Civilization. And we could never be so boorish as to not be grateful for all that we have been given, even when we feel like we are entitled because we stand for what is best. We don’t merely receive a bounty; we have a system that is based on the notion that more is better. We seek abundance; even demand it.
We often look down on those who do not seem to have much. Sure, we will be charitable and give to the needy, especially this time of year. But, there is a sense that abundance is not abundant; that it must always be hunted and gathered. More is more. Black Friday is the inverse of the Puritan holiday feast celebrated the day before, although the theme of gluttony (not in the original narrative) continues.
The sense of vulnerability that pervades American culture—that our precious and abundant life is at risk—is acute. In the 21st Century, terrorism has become even more global and effective and has heightened our sense of vulnerability in a way that was previously unknown to Americans. The Great Recession similarly created a sense of scarcity and risk. We are terrified of losing access to abundance and life as we know it (or knew it).
The very reasonable fears of loss due to extreme economic conditions and terrorism become magnified and take on lives of their own with the pervasiveness of media. Reasonable fears that require reasonable measures quickly devolve into panic and fear mongering.
Sure, we give thanks— at least on the last Thursday of November. But will we say, “You’re welcome.” ? Will we welcome refugees and others in need? Will we share our American bounty? Will we be welcoming to others—all the others that we can easily avoid, ignore, shun? Will we welcome change or other points of view?
The original story of Thanksgiving—of meeting the other and sharing the bounty— is the quintessential American tale. It would be more appropriate if we were more welcoming in our lives.
We can experience abundance when we are welcoming. We do have much for which to be thankful. But the magnitude is felt when we say, “You’re welcome” .