Thanksgiving: thankful for capitalism?
On Thanksgiving, we fail to acknowledge a true understanding of American history when we deviate toward reinforcing the connection between capitalism and the holidays.
Thanksgiving is rooted in one of America’s grand narratives. Pilgrims who were facing religious persecution sailed from England and landed on Plymouth Rock over two months later, but barely survived their first brutal winter. So with the help of Native Americans, such the Wampanoag people, the Pilgrims were taught valuable skills navigating this new land. They utilized and cultivated their learned prowess to exploit the local fish and game, plant corn and quash and protect themselves from other hostile groups. Conclusively, we are told that the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was held to celebrate the bountiful harvest with the Native American tribes who assisted them in this successful year.
Multiple historians have an unsettled debate on what the real Thanksgiving story actually is. But the accepted, concrete truth is that it is not this one.
The simple and consoling story we’re fed from childhood is a watered-down illustration of what did happen, and many people have their own critiques. Regardless, the true meaning of Thanksgiving was supposed to be of spending time with loved ones and appreciating what we have. But today, even that concept seems to be not so subtly disappearing — sales for the holiday season are starting earlier and earlier, and the traditional Thanksgiving dinner time is now interrupted for many Americans who have to work in retail.
The intertwinement of capitalism and Thanksgiving is not anything novel. When you decide to go shopping on Black Friday, you’re considered late. Stores such as Kmart will open its doors to shoppers at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open for a continuous 42 hours. Other stores such as Sears will have its sales beginning 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, which forces employees to come into work during the one time of year reserved for friends and family.
Extending the shopping season goes back to 1939. Thanksgiving was meant to be on Nov. 30, but President Franklin Roosevelt took the advice of the National Retail Dry Goods Association to make it earlier in order for people to have more time to consume during the holidays. Business owners were naturally gleeful, but traditionalists, particularly selectmen from Plymouth, Massachusetts, were worried. They believed that celebrating early would mean “sacrificing the real significance of the day for the purpose of satisfying commercial interests.”
Many families have put a spin on how they spend Thanksgiving. Some are less interested in preparing home-cooked meals and dining in the comfort of a home, but would much rather go out as a family to buy these meals.
It’s ironic that a holiday that is supposedly sacrosanct and emphasizes being grateful and caring instead propagates the mistreatment of millions of low-wage workers.
Besides, the overhyped sales often end up saving shoppers a couple of dollars off a $200 sweater. There are sales, but they are hardly worth sacrificing the time meant for the actual Thanksgiving holiday.
“The customer is always right” policy prevalent in America possesses an implicit power dynamic. Some customers feel they have the ability to tyrannize employees, saying and doing things they normally wouldn’t because they believe they have impunity as a customer.
During this time of the year, it is important to reflect on our own principles and the principles of the holidays we spend. How you choose to spend it could have a large impact on the larger culture of the community.