Tag Archives: Black Friday

THANKSGIVING IN PICTURES

Just a few images of Thanksgiving that come to my mind today as I read about current events.  They don’t add up to a clear historical narrative–just food for thought.

“Home to Thanksgiving,” George H. Durrie, 1861. As late as the Civil War, homecoming was probably the most common theme of Thanksgiving images. For supporters of the holiday, Thanksgiving was “supremely the home day,” with “the gathering together of the family its most charming feature.”

“Home to Thanksgiving,” George H. Durrie, 1861. As late as the Civil War, homecoming was probably the most common theme of Thanksgiving images. For supporters of the holiday, Thanksgiving was “supremely the home day,” with “the gathering together of the family its most charming feature.”

 

"Football Match between Yale and Princeton," Harper's Weekly, 1879. In 1876 the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association held its championship game on Thanksgiving Day in New York City, and in short order the annual Thanksgiving Day contest had evolved into the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

“Football Match between Yale and Princeton,” Harper’s Weekly, 1879. In 1876 the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association held its championship game on Thanksgiving Day in New York City, and in short order the annual Thanksgiving Day contest had evolved into the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

 

“Thanksgiving: A Study in Proportion,” Udo Keppler, 1912. BY the early twentieth century, numerous commentators feared that Thanksgiving had become nothing more than a day for pleasure and self-indulgence. This Puck cartoon shows a pile of large items representing the pleasures of the holiday—a football, golf clubs, a shotgun, a theater mask and, of course, a turkey—towering over a dark and probably empty church in the background.

“Thanksgiving: A Study in Proportion,” Udo Keppler, 1912. By the early twentieth century, numerous commentators feared that Thanksgiving had become nothing more than a day for pleasure and self-indulgence. This Puck cartoon shows a pile of large items representing the pleasures of the holiday—a football, golf clubs, a shotgun, a theater mask and, of course, a turkey—towering over a dark and probably empty church in the background.

 

"First Thanksgiving at Plymouth," Jeannie Brownscombe, 1914. On the eve of WWI, Brownscombe's imaginative recreation of the "First Thanksgiving" helped link Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims 1621 celebration in the public mind. Although full of historical inaccuracies, the artist did rightly portray the feast as a large, public, outdoor event.

“First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” Jeannie Brownscombe, 1914. On the eve of WWI, Brownscombe’s imaginative recreation of the “First Thanksgiving” helped link Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims’ 1621 celebration in the public mind. Although full of historical inaccuracies, the artist did rightly portray the feast as a large, public, outdoor event.

 

"Freedom from Want," Norman Rockwell, 1943. This now iconic portrayal of a family Thanksgiving meal graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of WWII.

“Freedom from Want,” Norman Rockwell, 1943. This now iconic portrayal of a family Thanksgiving meal graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of World War Two.

 

Thanksgiving Night, 2015? A spontaneous photograph of early Black Friday violence sweeps the internet.

Thanksgiving Night, 2015? This spontaneous photograph of early Black Friday violence has swept the internet.

A COUNTER-CULTURAL COUNTDOWN: 25 DAYS TO “BLACK FRIDAY EVE”

The calendar has turned the page to the first of November, and that can only mean one thing: there’s another holiday looming on the horizon.  I’m thinking of Black Friday, of course.  The Thanksgiving holiday isn’t officially dead, but it’s been on life support for some time now.  Many Americans still manage to squeeze in a turkey dinner before heading to the mall, but most of us have long since abandoned any idea of a Thanksgiving season, an extended period in which to anticipate the holiday, reflect on its significance, and live out its meaning.  I’m convinced that our lives are the poorer for it, and I think some of you agree.  So while Amazon.com and other shapers of American values conduct their “countdown to Black Friday,” I’ll be conducting my own countdown to Thanksgiving (now better known as Black Friday Eve).  I think we have much to learn from the true story of the First Thanksgiving, and a great deal to learn as well from how that story has been remembered, imagined, and manipulated.

Tell your friends.

THREE CHEERS FOR R.E.I.

Thanksgiving is less than four weeks away, but I’m not sure anyone has noticed. On the whole, Americans have long since forsaken the idea of a Thanksgiving season. Tomorrow is Halloween, and the Hallmark Channel officially begins its “Countdown to Christmas” movie schedule the very same night. (If you’re disinclined to watch something spooky, you can go ahead and shift into mistletoe mode by watching A Princess for Christmas or Hitched for the Holidays.) In sum, we now pretty much transition directly from the Halloween “season” to the Christmas season, and Thanksgiving Day itself has become more and more the equivalent of “Black Friday Eve.”

Even that’s not strictly correct anymore, as fewer and fewer national chains are waiting till Friday morning to open their doors. In a move that’s all too likely a portent of things to come, K-Mart recently announced that it will open at 6:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and remain open for the next forty-two consecutive hours. In a masterpiece of Orwellian doublespeak, a senior executive for the corporation presented its blatantly opportunistic initiative as a disinterested expression of holiday spirit. “This holiday season is all about giving,” vice-president Leena Munjal rhapsodized, and “because many [customers] like to start shopping well before Black Friday, we’re excited to open our doors early on Thanksgiving and offer other early access opportunities for them to shop and save.” How generous. Munjal went on to thank the corporations’ thousands of minimum-wage “seasonal associates” who have “volunteered” to share part of their Thanksgiving serving this worthy cause. I hope none of them gets trampled to death.

Not all the Thanksgiving reports are depressing, however. Costco and Nordstrom have both announced that they will not open on Thanksgiving, and REI has gone even further in the right direction. Not only will the sporting goods and outdoor gear retailer be closed on Thanksgiving; earlier this week the company stunned the business world by announcing that it will be giving its employees a paid day off on Black Friday as well and is encouraging them to spend the day outdoors instead of at the mall.

Good for REI. Americans have not celebrated Thanksgiving primarily as a religious holiday for more than a century and a half. The first Thanksgiving Day college football game took place during Reconstruction, for goodness sake, and even as early as the Civil War religious writers were lamenting the secularization of the holiday. But while Americans in large numbers by the late-19th century were celebrating Thanksgiving by attending sporting events, dances, and plays, the day was still remarkably free of commercialism, much less the frenzied consumerism that now threatens to overwhelm it. I can’t speak to REI’s motives, but this looks like a welcome step in a healthy direction.

Just in case you’re like me and resent the way that we are now skipping over Thanksgiving entirely in our rush to open the Christmas shopping season, might I suggest that you read the following book as a good way to fight back against the craziness?

First Thanksgiving

OK, so this will undoubtedly appear as an act of Shameless Self-Promotion, but in all honesty, I wrote The First Thanksgiving in response to a sense of calling to be in conversation with the church about what it means to think Christianly about the past.  If that is something that you aspire to, consider picking it up or ordering it from Amazon.  If you would like to read a brief review of the book before forking over nearly $14 to add it to your library, Christian historian Jay Case of Malone University has written a wonderful synopsis on his blog, “The Circuit Reader,” and you can link to it here.