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November 30, 2013

On the Go: We need to rethink holidays' meaning

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The Daily Star

---- — The end of November smells like comfort. Our bellies are full and our wallets are empty. 

An entire vacation is dedicated to extravagance. 

I like the ideals of Thanksgiving as well as anyone. Those picture book ideals we tend to forget shortly after grade school. We still talk the talk and preach gratitude but our actions condemn us to hypocrisy. As a society we tend to bend holidays to meet our cultural greed and consumerism. 

With Thanksgiving we take it to a whole other level. Gratitude morphs into rabid gimmes and excessive indulgence. I think we should reflect on this past Thanksgiving and plan to do better next year. 

Once upon a time on a crisp fall day a group of friends sat down to celebrate their harvest. People of different colors came together to be grateful for their abundance. In the next couple hundred years, the friends showed their love for each other by brutal murder and sabotage. Friendly dining turned into racial purging and lasting conflicts. 

As school children dress up and perform historic stories. Many Native Americans consider Thanksgiving to be a day of mourning. Picture books don’t mention that. While the glossy, romanticized version may sit better with most people of European descent it isn’t the truth and shouldn’t be portrayed as if it is.

Another bone I have to pick is its birth as a federal holiday. As the Civil War was brewing Lincoln wanted something to unite the country. Ta da! Thanksgiving. But we weren’t thanking Natives. We were thanking God. It failed to foster unity and undermines separation of church and state. A national holiday to thank God is about as secular as the 1954 addition to the Pledge. 

The tainted history of Thanksgiving lends itself to the faulty execution of the day. 

Regardless of its origin Thanksgiving rolls around each year. We spend quality time with our families and enjoy plentiful food. Sometimes, however, family gatherings lead to feuds. Children’s visitation, in-laws’ rotations, and elderly transportation create sticky situations. Instead of being thankful for food most people gorge themselves with many times the healthy amount. Practicing gratitude has evolved into wasting our excess food and resources. Our days off from work and school are spent stressing over trivialities. 

When it boils down to it we completely miss the mark with Thanksgiving.

Black Friday is to Thanksgiving as Christmas is to Christmas Eve. You simply can’t have one without the other. Early Friday morning, or often times late Thursday night, eager consumers line up to shop shop shop. Thursday is spent being grateful for what we have (supposedly) so Friday can be spent buying more! Black Friday is at least historically accurate. 

Black Friday is “black” because it is traditionally the time of year when stores would be out of the “red” or deficit and start making a profit. No one can argue that economically we want stores to make a profit. Yet we must ask ourselves at what point is it still worth it. Black Friday is steadily creeping into Thanksgiving. Employees are scheduled to work on a day that is supposed to be reserved for family time. People are being injured in crowds. There has got to be a better way to achieve economic success and kick off the Christmas season.

We aren’t perfect but we aren’t terrible either. At least we’re trying. The past is set but the future is ours to create. Holidays evolve. I’m not suggesting we scrap the turkey but we could stand to be more giving. As a nation we might be struggling with absurd debt and stifling poverty. No matter how down we are we’re still citizens of the global community. So be aware this holiday season. 

Enjoy all you’ve got and give to those with less. Happy holidays!

Katherine Ahearn is a junior at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk