November 23, 2005
Thanksgiving Commercial Free
My friend -- my very nice friend -- has sent me a Thanksgiving card.
It is an e-mail card, but a Thanksgiving card nonetheless. I think
it is the second Thanksgiving card of my life. With any luck it
will be the last.
I hope my
friend does not take offense. But the one thing I cherish about
Thanksgiving is that it has remained commerce-free. Almost all
the other holidays, especially Christmas, have been corrupted
by commercialism. Even Thanksgiving is threatened by its proximity
to Christmas -- with the sinisterly named ``Black Friday,'' when
shoppers arrive before dawn to save a buck or two. But as they
stampede through the doors, as they elbow one another out of the
way, as their greed distorts their faces, I have to remind myself
that this is about the Christmas that is coming and not the Thanksgiving
that has past. I also have to remind myself that, no matter what
some conservative commentators say, something other than liberals
has despoiled Christmas.
have suffered accordingly. Halloween was once a golden opportunity
to run amok -- to wish for no treat so that the trick could be
performed. Now it has been corrupted into a sweet national costume
party, an event without menace or meaning, an excuse to dress
as something you're not, which is what most of us do most of the
time anyway -- i.e., middle-aged people in tight jeans, kids in
tight jeans, Al Roker in jeans of any kind and all sorts of people
with studs in their noses and rings in their lips. What do they
wear on Halloween?
Day, which once marked a real event -- the end of World War I
-- has now been amorphisized (OK, I made up the word) into this
thing we call Veterans Day. It celebrates veterans, which means
it celebrates something so amorphous it's hard to say what or
who is being celebrated. Heroes? Not really. Combat experience?
Not that, either. A lifetime of military service? No, too restrictive.
So it's just anyone who was ever in the military. Yes, that's
it. Is it any wonder no one much pays any attention -- or, for
that matter, notices that the day lacks an apostrophe?
and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays have now become one event. Feb
22 and Feb. 12 have been squished into a single day, the third
Monday in February. The tragedy and greatness of Lincoln, the
aloofness and majesty of Washington, have been subsumed into some
grand excuse to dress up an actor in a wig so that cars can be
sold. The reality of these men has been erased, smudged into something
meaningless: another wretched shopping day. Every time I see a
commercial with someone dressed as George Washington hawking a
Toyota, I want to bomb Tokyo all over again. Cut it out!
Only a few
holidays remain more or less sacrosanct. July 4, although widely
disrespected by auto dealers and other such criminals, retains
a vestigial meaning as Independence Day. In some places, the Declaration
of Independence is still read, a document so radical that if it
were introduced into the current Congress, Republicans would bottle
it up in committee. Memorial Day, too, manages a fading dignity,
although it is mostly marked as the beginning of summer. As for
Labor Day, it merely ends the summer, its original meaning almost
-- it is still home and family and turkey and a moment wondering
about the wonder of it all. It is above all about my mother, Pearl,
a remarkable 93, and the family she has gathered around her. It
is a moment to honor the memory of my father, who lives long after
his death in the occasional dream and the odd moment when I remember
to call him -- and then remember there is no one to call. It is
about the words my sister always says when we sit down to eat.
She always gives thanks.
So I say
to my friend, thank you for thinking of me on Thanksgiving, but,
please, no more cards. This is a very rare day. It celebrates
a concept -- not a person, not a group, not an event. It is wholly
and entirely about gratitude -- about the dumb luck that befell
those of us who are Americans and were raised, whether in comfort
or not, in a land of feisty, free people. Keep the day free of
commercialism. When you really care enough to send the very best,
please, for Thanksgiving, send nothing at all.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group