Happy banks-giving: Consumerism beats thankfulness

Thanksgiving, a cherished American holiday, has a rich history rooted in gratitude and communal harmony. However, over the years, it has undergone a transformation, evolving from a humble celebration of blessings into a consumerist frenzy that often overshadows its original meaning.

Brittanica goes into detail about the roots of Thanksgiving, which can be traced back to the early 17th century when a group of English pilgrims seeking religious freedom embarked on a perilous journey to the New World. Faced with harsh conditions and unfamiliar surroundings, the pilgrims struggled to survive.

It was the Wampanoag Native Americans who came to their aid, teaching the pilgrims essential skills for survival such as cultivating local crops and hunting. The following year, in 1621, the pilgrims and the Wampanoag came together to celebrate a bountiful harvest, marking the first Thanksgiving. This event was characterized by a spirit of gratitude, unity and the acknowledgment of the interdependence between the pilgrims and the Native Americans.

Contrary to the secular celebration today, biblical themes played a significant role in the early observance of Thanksgiving. The pilgrims saw the bountiful harvest as a manifestation of God’s providence and grace. Their faith and sense of community were at the core of the celebration, with prayers of thanks and a recognition of the divine role in their survival.

Over time, however, the spirit of gratitude that characterized the early Thanksgiving celebrations began to wane. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the emergence of a more commercialized approach to the holiday. By the 1920s, Thanksgiving Day parades became a popular tradition, with giant balloons and elaborate floats taking center stage. While these events brought joy and entertainment, they also marked the beginning of a shift toward a more consumer-driven celebration.

The mid-20th century witnessed the rise of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as a major shopping day, signaling the start of the holiday shopping season. Retailers capitalized on the holiday spirit, enticing consumers with discounts and promotions. According to CNBC, in 2022, online spending on Thanksgiving hit a record of $5.29 billion. This was an increase of 2.9% from previous years — over $3 billion more than the average consumer spending in one day. Thanksgiving dinner, once a time for family and gratitude, began to compete with the allure of Black Friday deals.

Psychology Today notes that three in five Americans would “rather do something else” than give thanks on Thanksgiving. In recent years, the encroachment of consumerism has become even more pronounced, with many stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself. The mad rush for discounted goods has led to scenes of chaos and long lines, overshadowing the original purpose of the holiday. Yet, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The theme of the holiday is a mentality that Christians are called to hold not just once a year, but at all times. Giving thanks should be a second nature act and not something that is exclusively done when Christians gather around a feast.

While the history of Thanksgiving is deeply intertwined with Christian themes of gratitude and communal harmony, the current state of the holiday raises important questions about the values it represents. As we navigate the bustling shopping malls and online sales, it’s essential to reflect on the roots of Thanksgiving and consider how we can reclaim its original spirit of gratitude, unity and appreciation for the blessings we share. 

Perhaps, in rediscovering the true meaning of Thanksgiving, we can strike a balance between tradition and the temptations of consumerism, ensuring that this holiday continues to be a time of reflection, generosity and genuine thankfulness.

Daniel is an opinion writer for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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