Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why Thanksgiving is not real

This post is gonna be a bit ramble here, excuse it please. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the basic ideas I put together in my head.

I decided to spend the day in silence, enjoying the company of my own mind and thoughts. These days are rare, and I enjoy them whenever I can. While I was taking a nice drive, on the radio I heard a Christmas jingle begin to play. I began with my usual grumbling response of "why can't Christmas stay in its own season" and then I paused, because Thanksgiving really doesn't have a "season". Thanksgiving has nothing big, it's an artificial day we created just like Christmas or Easter. Why do I suddenly care if it gets overshadowed?

An hours worth of rushing thoughts and whirling memories (and math) later, I was shocked with the only observable answer I could find: Thanksgiving wasn't real.

To give you some context...another life ago I played a game as a character obsessed with all things Christmas and the Christmas season. To better play as this character, I began to study Christmas and winter traditions all around the world and through time. One thing that I discovered that made me uncomfortable was the uniform way we celebrated these winter holidays. 

All around the world, humanity as a shared species has decided that there needed to be a winter ritual, to inspire the mind and bring the community together. This ritual was based around local spiritual beliefs, but always had the same purpose and context. No matter the time, the culture or even the date; humanity had a shared "winter" ritual/holiday that was incredibly vital and important to us. As I studied this one holiday, to better understand the cycle of progress I discovered that we had done very much the same for a Fall/Summer/Spring holiday as well. It was if at those times we decided this was important, and it shaped our cultures. 

But we still needed to define ourselves individually as well. (Again) In almost every culture I studied there was an additional 4 other holidays around the year that were important, but these were important in idea but not in ritual. For example it was always important to our ancestors that we honor and celebrate our dead and remember them, but how that is done differs not just culture to culture but even town to town. So this happens through all our lives, we seek out and celebrate these events.

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving I'm sure you're asking. Well funnily enough in the Gregorian calendar system that was designed for Western calendars, no ritualistic holidays fall in November. No holiday or ritual of importance to Western culture falls in November.

That's weird right? Especially because the holidays/rituals seem to fall in a pretty set pattern. That's where things start to go deep.

The human mind seeks patterns, it seeks ritual and understanding like no animal alive on Earth. We created these rituals and holidays because we needed them, and not just the celebration but the regularity. These celebrations have anchors to our lives, marked the year. The lunar calendar was always unreliable, because of the fewer day count than the solar year it meant that months would slip seasons. What was a winter month was now a summer after a few years, so the holidays themselves acted as more of a calendar marking system than the written in many early cultures. The spring festival was always around the same time every year, as was the rest. The summer was always roughly the same distance apart from the fall and spring, which meant the holidays all fell together in a nice pattern. We, that is to say humans, like patterns because they make sense. So we were happy with that for a VERY long time.

Fast forward this to the start of modern American culture. In the 1800's as the world was changing due to the industrial revolution, humanity was changing with it. Our patterns changed, our behaviors and every way of life was affected by this change. But we still needed these rituals, these holidays we had created. They were a part of who we were as inheritors of Western culture, and had to find some way of expressing them. I believe we did adapt and change them, and that is the problem.

All around the world we have four major holidays: a spring, a summer, a fall and a winter. Americans have adjusted and changed their lives by moving to a more mild climate than what they left in Europe, and so our major holidays have changed as well. The easiest to point out is Christmas, it's firmly placed in the calendar and its morphing from a religious holiday to a secular one is more evident as the years go on. The Spring holiday is also undergoing a shift, that I feel is more due to again the drifting of Christian dominance in politics/holidays in the country. Valentine's Day is our major American spring holiday, not only does it encompass the beginnings of new love and new life but as the years have gone on its taken a larger consumer focus and begun to incorporate some other spring features like cute baby animals (representing new livestock) and flowers (representing new/blooming life). Easter still has a strong grip, but each year I see it losing more and more generalization and becoming more and more rigidly Christian (which is totally fine!)

Summer was, for a long time in old Europe, given the holiday of Beltane to celebrate...here in America we have Memorial Day. It is the "unofficial" start of the summer, it is celebrated with large group gatherings involving fire/food/drink, stories and deeds of past gathered are told and memorialized to learn from them and be like them. Students are let out to work the fields, trips are planned and happen (hello former season of war) all across the nation. Memorial Day is rooted in the ritual itch that Beltane scratched, which is why that weekend has so many important holiday traditions surrounding it. 

That brings us to Fall...which is in bad shape here in America. We have no real fall festival, hell our fall is dramatically different here than in Europe. For most of our culture we did not have a unifying fall festival, communities would throw harvest festivals in September around Michaelmas but as the industrial revolution ripped across the world that even changed how our country operated; going from an agricultural to a industrial in the relative blink of an eye. Now all the labor and work came from factories and machine halls instead of farms.

Labor Day I feel satisfies MOST of what we want for our fall festival. It honors the "harvest", brings the community and family together, welcomes back the men from their time away (returning soldiers now returning families from vacation), and shares the bounty of the harvest with everyone (hello one of the busiest sales weekends of the year). It brings that ritual component that we need to feel better.

But what about Thanksgiving? Why is that holiday, which should be our fall ritual, regulated to nothing status? Because...it's all made up.

Thanksgiving as a holiday is a fake. It does not draw from the cultural heritage of the other holidays and thus has no support to stand on. The pilgrims landed, probably happened in September by official reconciling. Harvests in America are finished by October to prepare for early winter weather that comes in November. The holiday itself wasn't official until 1942, almost 80 years after Lincoln established it (in comparison to Labor Day which has been regularly celebrated since the 1880's). The holidays point was to thank God that we were delivered from Europe and thank him for our "blessings", NOTHING to do with being focused on harvest. We don't know what to do with this holiday, so we did the only thing our subconscious brings could muster: attach all the fall ritual trappings that Labor Day was missing.

Now we have a Christian general day of thanks, parading around and pretending to be a fall featival. It has no attachment to any ritual itch humanity needs scratched, and we really only acknowledge it when forced to (or point out how it's being overshadowed by a real holiday). It's empty, devoid of the meaning that these other holidays all have for our hearts.

And that is why Thanksgiving is not real.