We take a look at where Thanksgiving came from and how it developed over the centuries into the holiday we all know today
There are those that will argue, typically when they’ve had a few drinks too many, and their third serving of turkey has begun to settle in their stomach like concrete, that Thanksgiving is an American celebration, that it is as star-spangled-red-white-&-blue as mom’s apple pie and electing unsuitable people to congress, and they will almost certainly insist that it is part of US culture and one of the celebratory gatherings that marks the US apart from other, they often imply lesser, countries.
Of course this is wholly, entirely and, quite frankly, amusingly wrong. Certainly there are some traits to the US Thanksgiving that no one else emulates, some traditions that are specific to the US and nowhere else, but these are cosmetic at best, and at worst seem to have turned the activity of giving thanks into a cross between the twelve tasks of Hercules and a lengthy stay in purgatory whilst an ineffable higher power decides how much you should be made to suffer, what penance is due to you this November.
Between the nightmare of one’s family, the horror of travel, the ridiculous quantities of food you feel sure could be being eaten by folk far hungrier than you, and then the consumerist explosion of the following few days, it is as if the entire country suddenly feels the need to self-flagellate by coming together on one specific day a year and pointlessly suffering as a whole nation together. In essence the US has turned Thanksgiving into a holiday nearly no one is actually thankful for.
The businesses that do so well in the post-Thanksgiving sales might be thankful, the travel industry and companies that supply fuel are probably quite pleased with it too, but individuals? No. Individuals spend most of Thanksgiving giving thanks that they only have to do this once a year and desperately trying to think of an excuse to spend Christmas “sans famille”. Oddly whilst this might seem at first glance to be a billion miles away from the origins of Thanksgiving, it has retained the central point of it without anyone noticing.
Agriculture Gave Reason For Thanks In Autumn
Thanksgiving, the act of giving thanks on a specific day, has been around for as long as the human race has had a language to complain to each other about things. Just as soon as someone was able to look across the cave and mutter about how bloody cold the winter was being, someone came up with the idea of having a party to celebrate it being over. Likewise, it didn’t take a hugely smart member of a proto-society to realize there were other reasons to be thankful, especially if you’ve just given up hunter-gathering for the more reliable agriculture.
Give Thanks For Thanksgiving
- Harvest festival since agriculture began
- Religion took over the credit and blame
- Government used it for economic reasons
Agriculture banded societies together in one place, where the fields were, and was the foundation of pretty much all cultures that followed. The towns and cities that rose up were entirely based on the locality being able to provide water and food, and whilst the rivers rarely ran dry (and if you built your city away from a river you were insane) there was a yearly possibility that the harvest would fail and you’d all be starving by the time mid-winter rolled around.
As a species, of course, we’re inherently gamblers, our inability to see the future rather imposes that one upon us, gambling news from the shaman would be good this time around is where gambling per se came from, but gambling the lives of everyone on the weather? That’s a big ask, and when it went right, when we as people “won” by having enough food to see us through the long, cold, dark nights ahead? We celebrated, we gave thanks. Not just because we were grateful for what we have, but that it wasn’t going to run out before Spring.
Religion, naturally, usurped all this gratitude just as soon as it possibly could, with their culture’s festivals and celebrations just so happening to fall around the same time as the parties everyone was already having. Rather than merely the world granting us a harvest to survive upon, God had specifically granted us this mercy of being allowed to remain alive. Of course this being religion they got slightly carried away. By 1536 there were 95 church holidays, alongside the 52 Sundays that already existed for worship (apparently).
Religion & Government Both Used The Holiday
These 147 church holidays were slashed back to a much more manageable 27 and any other day of thanks giving (of which there were many) were ad-hoc in nature and tended to be for successful survival of a plague or the winning of a war, or even the failure of an act of terrorism (Guy Fawkes I’m looking at you). Even the original US Thanksgiving, so often cited as being the first despite the long history of giving thanks prior to that, was a celebration of a triumph over death itself.
Until late in the 19th century various states celebrated it on different days, the date having wandered about the calendar since 1621, and it was only Roosevelt’s decision to increase the Christmas shopping period that set it as being the fourth Thursday in November across the country, and that was in 1941. Religion might have snaffled some of the harvest festival’s thunder, the US government enslaved it for economic reasons. Black Friday is an invention of 1940s government, not modern day corporate greed.
The modern Thanksgiving has even extended itself to the following “Cyber Monday” when hoards of people take to the internet betting in the US somewhere there’s a perfect gift for Aunty Josephine if they just click another few links on Amazon. Thanksgiving has become far more than merely giving thanks for a successful harvest, especially in a globalized world in which so much of our food is imported, the one time celebration of survival now a celebration that in of itself is a herald of it.
We are no longer an agrarian society as such, and Thanksgiving has become an economic pillar of the trading year. As a society we could probably survive without it but some businesses couldn’t, so despite having traveled across the globe, having danced about the calendar, and having been twisted by various groups of the powerful to meet their own ends and requirements, Thanksgiving is still a celebration of society having done what was necessary to survive since we stopped being mobile betting crops would be better.