Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's represent the big three of American holidays and have been celebrated and honored for generations. While Christmas and New Years are global, Thanksgiving is uniquely American.
New Year's Day has traditionally been a time for reflection, both contemplating the past for meaningful insight and looking to the future towards a new goal or fresh start by making a ‘New Year’s resolution’. Babylonians celebrated the new year with the first new moon following the vernal equinox (which would be late December/early January) over 4,000 years ago. The original Roman calendar was 304 days which fell out of sync with the sun. So, in 46 B.C. Julius Caesar consulted with his best astronomers to rectify the problem. The new calendar was very close to the current Gregorian calendar which is used almost universally. Caesar named January 1 as the first day of the new year and many lavish parties were thrown, though with the onset of Christianity this gradually settled down and became almost an extension of Christmas.
There were many winter celebrations throughout history but after the birth of Jesus that began to change. When Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity he joined the pagan winter rituals with the celebration of Jesus' birth so that pagans and Christians could celebrate together. The Roman church was very successful in making the celebration more about the birth of Christ than the honoring of a pagan god, the celebration of a good harvest or the new year. Eventually, Christmas became primarily a Christian holiday.
The first Thanksgiving was more of a gathering than a feast. After the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620, the 56 surviving Pilgrims (from the original 102) and 91 Indians, who taught them how to plant corn and other crops, extract sap from the maple trees and catch fish, celebrated their scarifies and gave thanks for being alive and well provisioned for the bitter winter to come. This gathering was a continuation of a traditional English three-day harvest festival which was based on a successful crop harvest.
The next celebratory meal would not occur until 1676 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. This time, however, the colonists did not invite the Indians to the party. They were now considered barbaric savages, despite all they had taught the settlers. A hundred years would pass before another celebration would take place. In October 1777, all 13 colonies took part in a “thanksgiving celebration” of their victory over the British at Saratoga. In 1789 George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday while in 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as the official Thanksgiving day.
My how the times have changed. New Year's Day is now about surviving the hangover incurred on New Year's eve where it’s accepted to party until you drop. Christmas is about endless consumerism and buying a plethora of gifts with money you don't have for people you might not like. Jesus has been left at the bus stop while Santa Clause is riding shotgun with big Retail behind the wheel. Only Thanksgiving has survived relatively unscathed and true to the original meaning of celebrating what you have with family and friends -- until now.
Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been about family, and giving thanks for personal blessings. Things began to take a turn in 1924, when Macy's held a lavish parade on Thanksgiving Day which was comprised of balloons, extravagant costumes, zoo animals and bands. The parade culminated with Santa Claus symbolically representing the start of the Christmas shopping season.
It was a ploy to get consumers to open their wallets, and it worked. In 1939 Thanksgiving was to fall on November 30. This was bad for business, claimed the National Retail Dry Goods Association, not enough time before Christmas for consumers to consume. They asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week, allowing for more shopping days. There was an unwritten rule back then that Christmas advertising would not start until the day after Thanksgiving. Roosevelt conceded and congress passed a law that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday in November, not the last.
Gradually holiday spending blossomed like never before. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, consumer spending became a driving force for the American economy, often resulting in profits that would make or break a company for the entire year. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was given a name, ultimately becoming the busiest shopping day of the year.
An urgency developed as Black Friday became a phenomenon; whoever got to the store first would get the best deals, so long lines outside big retailers became the norm. This lead to earlier opening times -- after all the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the big screen TV at half price. Businesses began opening their doors at 5:00 a.m. 2:00 a.m., Thanksgiving night, Thanksgiving evening, then afternoon.
This year, more stores than ever are advertising they will be open all day on Thanksgiving Day. ALL DAY, effectively completing the corruption of Thanksgiving. Who has time for a family meal and giving thanks when there are sales galore and only a limited amount of merchandise to grab before your neighbor can get it?
It's yet another example of society's need and greed, the spectacle of crazed and desperate shoppers buying stuff at a discount, all the while shoving, cursing and sometimes causing injury as they trample each other to save a few dollars. With the Internet now firmly in virtually every American home, stores have posted their online fliers so customers can shop from their easy chair, thus creating another type of furor on Black Friday, or is it now Thursday?
This is the season that should be about counting our many blessings and giving thanks for all things. But sadly we have indeed become a me, me, me society. All too often we think more about money and possessions as the key to happiness while nothing could be farther from the truth. A recent study conducted interviews with multi-millionaires and billionaires. When asked how much more money would it take for you to be truly happy, the answer by the majority was 2-3 times more than I have now. So we must ponder: How much is enough?
True happiness comes with an attitude of gratitude, living each day as if everything was a miracle. Especially at this time of year, instead of focusing on what you want or don't have, focus on what's already present in your life. Research reveals that happiness and well-being can be greatly improved just by practicing gratitude every day. When you focus on being thankful for what you have you become happier, develop a positive attitude and enhance social bonds. The appreciative individual experiences stronger relationships, reduced stress and an all-around healthier life. Even the immune system improves!
I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t have time for all that!” Well it’s not that hard. Here are two simple ways to focus on gratitude this Thanksgiving holiday:
First on Thanksgiving day or the night before, take some alone time and write down everything you have to be grateful for -- no negatives, only the good. Think you don't have anything to be thankful for? Think again! Parents, family, friends, the gift of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, heart, lungs, legs and arms. What about the sun, moon and animals! Music, your bed, the roof over your head. Things we take for granted every day are the very things we should embrace. Kindness and goodness are everywhere, but all too often we're so focused on ourselves or the negatives we fail to notice. Writing about these experiences will help you become more aware that there really is good in the world.
Next, after your Thanksgiving meal and before you head to the mall, open up a discussion about giving thanks with your family and friends. Sharing your new-found gratitude can influence others. Yep, it’s actually contagious!
That’s all; it really is that simple. Happy Thanksgiving!