A Graceless Heritage

by Paul Mathers

There has been a lot of talk online recently about the new practice of some major chain stores in America opening for the purpose of sales on the actual day of Thanksgiving. In days gone by, this was a practice reserved for the day after Thanksgiving. Now certain conspicuous businesses have decided to run with profaning the holiday and, as is so often the case with transgressing taboos, the fact that someone has done it seems to mean that this is now a thing that human beings do.

A great deal of the outrage I am reading seems to focus mainly on how this harms the workers in the stores, specifically on their inability, thanks to their duties, to spend the holiday with their families. This comes on the heels of revelations about businesses running food drives for their impoverished employees, businesses straight-faced giving advice to cut food into small pieces to make the employee feel fuller, and any other number of tales of the entrenched greed culture beyond the wildest imaginings of anything Dickens was commenting on.

I do not wish to minimize any of this. All of those aspects are real and terrible, I acknowledge, I “yes and amen” the outrage. I feel that any company that holds a sale on Thanksgiving day is treasonous and anyone who shops on Thanksgiving day is a Philistine.

However, I did not want to write a post simply to add my voice, but in hopes of illuminating some troubling aspects that I have thus far not seen addressed in the public discourse. Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are our two genuinely unique American holidays. Thanksgiving is the final place in the American public arena where any form of virtue is encouraged. I welcome anyone to prove me wrong on that. It would be such a relief if someone would. The virtue is gratitude and the antidote is discontent, a near synonym (if such a thing actually exists) of which is covetousness. This is the precise antidote being peddled by those open stores on that hallowed date.

Of course, this is the part of my argument that some will be more than willing to reject out of hand. The original language of President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation is highly religious. It rather puts me in mind of a quote from Martin Luther:

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It also puts me in mind of the Old Testament. One way of telling the story of the Old Testament might go something like this “People turn back to God and His expressed ways of worship and expressed ways of pleasing Him. Things go well and people rejoice. Then they forget. Things go very badly for them. Then someone remembers and tells people to go back to God’s way of doing things, at which point you return to the first sentence and repeat until you get to Matthew 1.” Check this out from Nehemiah 8:

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose... And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also… the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Now, I am not explicitly saying that these corporations are calling for damnation to rain down upon us or, at least, for God to withdraw His blessing from America. At the very least, I think we are doing a fine job of that without the help of Wal-mart. But the larger point I was grasping for is this: so often the judgment of the sin, at least in this world, is that the sinner is given over to the sin. In other words, the true horror of what’s happening to Thanksgiving here is that we are becoming a nation in which Thanksgiving and, indeed, thanksgiving has been proclaimed an anachronism.

I would love to see the people rise up and declare as a whole that this will not stand. I would love to see that rarest of beasts, an efficacious boycott, happen. I am wizened enough by harsh experience to expect nothing of the sort. Instead I will seek to foster within myself a spirit of thanksgiving as a lifestyle choice. Also I will stay out of stores this Thursday. I will behave as if they are closed. Perhaps if 10 righteous people are to be found in this climate, we’ll be spared for that.

Perhaps.

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