Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American occasion.
A group of Protestants seeking refuge from Catholics in Europe – who were suppressing their freedom to worship as they chose — took the risky option of sailing the unforgiving Atlantic, to attempt to colonize the “new world.”
Sounds like a good movie to me, but the Puritans were exactly that, puritans, so it would be a pretty dour and serious group. Not much color or real drama, except the action itself which was plenty dramatic.
The only people living in this hemisphere were the indigenous tribes we came to call Indians (because Columbus didn’t know where he was.) The Indians were, understandably, reluctant to share their natural paradise with aliens.
Nonetheless, the Indians of what is now Massachusetts shared their knowledge of survival and local agriculture with the newcomers. And since the newcomers were a “dour and serious group,” they did well with that knowledge. Well enough to survive for a year, complete a harvest, and put away stores for the winter. That is a huge accomplishment.
It all seems pretty ho-hum in the elementary school history books, but establishing a home in a new environment with rudimentary tools and a few livestock is no easy thing. Watch a few episodes of “Homestead Rescue” if you want to get an idea. And the homesteaders on TV often have power tools.
So, when the Puritans finished the harvest of the crops they had grown, with the aid of the helpful locals, the Christian settlers shared thanks to God by having a feast of God’s bounty, along with their new friends.
That is the simple story. (Remember: suppression of freedom; thanks to God. There may be a quiz.)
We all know that little of it was idyllic; they didn’t always remain friends, other groups followed, without the same principles, and the larger group eventually had to fight to establish freedom from the King who’d sent many of them here. The European kings were the reason colonists came to North America — either because they were fleeing them (like Protestants from Catholic persecution) or because the kings sent them, giving them commonwealths and land grants, money and blessings of their own.
But, back to the first “thanksgiving.” It was a simple harvest ceremony that included Christian prayer and a feast. Humans have been having similar events since they started growing crops.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, though, the settlers’ “thanksgiving” became, first, an official holiday where everyone went to share a meal with their families and watch football. (In the 50s, we actually went to church on Thanksgiving, but that disappeared entirely.) Then, Thanksgiving became a huge blow-out of a meal, with as many people as you wanted to invite and which your facility could accommodate. Soon, it was the sort of event which demanded replication in military facilities, homeless shelters, ex-pats in exotic countries — in other words, the only holiday comparable to Christmas.
And that ushered in Thanksgiving, Part Two, wherein the retail merchants, ever eager to make their biggest profit season start as early as possible, came up with “Black Friday.” The bean counters had noticed the spike in sales on that Friday following Thanksgiving, and the horses were out of the gate.
Retailers tried to outdo each other with ridiculous “door buster sales” until mobs of people were actually breaking down doors and trampling each other. Only in America could you have a melee, with injuries, over 60″ TVs. There were shootings, and arrests. Lots of crazy videos on social media.
It went on so long that it became a part of Thanksgiving, the day. Stores would open Thursday night at midnight. Or Friday at 3 am. Many people made it a challenge. A game. Many did all their Christmas shopping then, and kept score. It was fun and funny, in that fun and funny way we Americans have with consumerism.
We all love a bargain. I once posted a JC Penney receipt which showed me getting almost $300 of clothing for something like $27. I’d gone in for a shirt on sale for $12, but could get two more free if I bought another $5 item. That item was Buy One/Get One, so it just snowballed. It remains one of the craziest shopping experiences ever. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving, not that long ago. Some of you who get gifts from us may be wearing a pair of slippers, or some pajamas from that craziness. I remember walking to my van thinking, “No wonder JC Penney is in the red!”
That is what we had come to, prior to this Thanksgiving. The 2020 Thanksgiving.
Everything about 2020 has been one for the books. Since March, nothing in our lives has been normal. The littlest things have been disrupted. And big things, too. Thanksgiving is huge. Huge turkeys, huge gatherings, huge eating and drinking and arguing and everything that goes with groups. Huge shopping.
Not this year.
This year, in many states, you were liable to be arrested for having too many people at your house. The number varied from state to state, as did the penalties.
The Washington Post claimed that “the world looks on in horror as Americans gather in groups for Thanksgiving,” or some other foolishness. We are all going to die from cranberry relish, because it is a “super spreader” all by itself. Wear masks at all times. Bring your own food and utensils. (I kid you not — that was some advice I read.) In New England, the site of the original Thanksgiving, you couldn’t travel between Maine and Massachusetts because they “quarantine each other.” DiBlasio threatened anyone who left or came into the city of New York.
Nonetheless, I was pretty sure there were still people going out to shop on Black Friday.
I live in the South. Our state has been open since June. We are required to wear masks in some stores, and social distance. Period. And for those of you who find this alarming, we have had similar spikes and valleys in cases, but our death rate is no higher than your state’s, where you can’t do anything at all.
I needed groceries. I have access to real grocery stories in four directions, and all of them are at least 17 miles away. Two involve I-95. And one involves the tourist destination of Beaufort. I didn’t want to go to Walmart either, because… Black Friday. But I also needed bird seed and corn for the squirrel mafia, so I had to go where there was either a Tractor Supply or an Ace Hardware.
The town with the least possiblity of tourists or interstate travelers had an Ace. So off we went. My husband only went because he needed some actual “hardware.”
We found out that Ace has their own Black Friday. Ace Hardware has Christmas decorations, guns and ammo, fishing supplies, grilling and smoking supplies, and carries clothes by Carrhardt, UnderArmour, and Simply Southern, and some of all of it was nicely marked down.
They were very busy.
We ended up with spray paint, ammo, a fishing rod, and the hardware.
And the seed and corn.
The wild bird seed I needed was two 20lb bags for $10, and 50 lb. bags of corn for $8. Cobs or kernels, your choice. They had two young men with earpieces doing nothing but loading deer corn.* Because that’s what it really is. It’s hunting bait, not squirrel bribes. But it’s all the same to me, and if I can feed my critters for months for $18 – yay! One of the guys had my 50 lb bag on his shoulder as soon as I asked for it to be added, and he carried it out to our vehicle. He told me he’d been doing nothing but that all week.
After we’d been in town for awhile, got the groceries and were headed home, my husband told me every truck he saw, and SUV with a tail rack, were loaded with deer corn. He saw a pickup with Florida plates filled with it.
Why not? This is 2020. None of us knows what is going to happen next. The chance to put a couple deer in the freezer to feed your family? You bet. We weren’t raised to be fragile flowers. We were raised to take care of ourselves, and our families, and our friends.
Hope is not a strategy for a person with common sense. And in spite of all the urban elite, who are stymied by life without virtual assistants, our country has a lot of people with common sense, who know how to farm and fish and hunt.
It seems we may have come back to the first Thanksgiving by default. It’s not a bad thing, either. Self-sufficiency is always going to make a difference in your quality of life.
And if Jeff Foxworthy says, “If you do your Christmas shopping at the hardware store, you might be a redneck” — well, proud of it!
Carol Joy Shannon grew up on the coast of Maine and moved to the South in 1968. She paints, too.
- Baiting animals and birds for hunting purposes is very specifically regulated and varies by zones, private and public land.
- “Our” deer know they are safe from hunting. Clearly, so do the squirrels. Nuisance animals like feral hogs, coyotes and armadillos can be hunted whenever you see them. Since they’re all nocturnal, we rarely do. We have all three nearby and an armadillo wreaking havoc on the “lawn” every night.