Thanksgiving is a great holiday. It is a celebration of family and, if you accept the narrative rather than the historical record, of tolerance. Perhaps best of all, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to practice humility and appreciate the simple things in life.
It is unfortunate that this celebration of thankfulness has been paired up with vulgar materialism and gluttonous feasting. The extravagance of Black Friday, and of the whole Christmas season really, leaves me wondering whether we as a society aren’t missing the point of one of my favorite holidays.
Just to be clear, that point isn’t turkey or arguing over politics, and it certainly isn’t football (talk about extravagance). It’s being thankful: thankful for electricity and modern medicine, thankful for not having to work on a farm so as to not starve to death and for all of the advantages big and small that are so easily overlooked in the course of day-to-day life. It’s western version of mindfulness.
It seems to me bitterly ironic that we follow up this celebration of family and thankfulness by buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. This tradition is completely at odds with everything Thanksgiving stands for, and moreover, it makes no sense. Consumerist materialism has nothing to offer but an artificial and insatiable need.
The money we spend is money earned from working—which takes us away from our families and from doing the things that we actually want to do. And we buy things from stores, requiring others to work, and thus taking them away from their families and the things they want to do.
The cheap goods we buy are cheap as a result of the exploitation of foreign laborers, which makes our demand for them anything but humble. Not to mention the fact that, while we invest all this money in luxury goods, there is widespread suffering in our own society and in others, including suffering that is directly caused by industry.
We cannot continue to celebrate these holidays in the ways that we do. It is necessary to resolve the fundamental contradiction between consumerism and the values we claim to celebrate, preferably by reassessing the way we value products and labor in a need-based way and by renouncing consumerism in favor of a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.