Steve Gimbel, philosophy prof. and the Edwin T. and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Chair for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities, authored a guest column that appeared in the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving edition of USA Today. The column explores the shifting meaning of the holiday -- from giving thanks for what you have to rabid consumerism.
The full text of Gimbel's piece is below.
We're past Thanksgiving. Time for Thanksgetting
Thanksgiving is un-American. Thanksgiving is obsolete. Thanksgiving needs to be eliminated.
In our culture, we tell our children that it is o.k. to be pleased with what you have done, but never be satisfied. You need to keep your eye on the prize, do not rest content with what you have. To be content is to stop moving forward, to stop moving forward is to quit and winners never quit. Only losers are content and contentment with what you have is the basis of thankfulness.
Maybe in the Norman Rockwell mythological 19th century America we could be truly thankful, but in today's America, we need to keep on needing. To reflect on how much you appreciate what you have instead of considering what you lack and thereby still need is to undermine the entire basis of our economy.
Consumer spending is key to keeping this nation strong. In our hour of need, immediately following the attacks of 9/11, we were told that the patriotic thing to do was to go shopping and if it held true then, it holds true now.
To stop and reflect on the sufficiency of what you have violates the true spirit of what it is to be an American which is to always need the newest, the best, the biggest. No matter what you have, someone else has more or better and to be grateful to be less than the top banana is unacceptable.
As the sacred texts of our t-shirts and bumper stickers remind us, if you are not the lead dog the view never changes. If you have the iPhone 5, it means you are socially and morally superior to those with the iPhone4, but inferior to those who have beaten you to getting the iPhone 6. You must get it. And even then, if someone else has the gold one, you need that too.
To be American is to constantly be in a state of need, of having something else that is required to keep pace. To stop and be thankful for what we have is to fail to appreciate how much we do not have and how far behind that is leaving us.
The third Thursday in November is not really for giving thanks, it is the kick-off of the holiday shopping season. The true American celebration is the next day, what has come to be called "Black Friday." It is an unfortunate name, borrowed from the stock market crash of 1929 which ushered in the Great Depression. This nominal connection with collapse and decay is problematic because the day after Thanksgiving is essential to our economy's growth and taken as a barometer of its relative health.
We should at least rename it Green Friday or, so as not to make it seem like another Earth Day we should name it "Thanksgetting." After all, we are not thankful for what we have, but if you are well-mannered, you say "thank you" for what you get. It is the day when the process by which we get things begins and that is really what we are celebrating as Americans.
I am not suggesting that we eliminate the festivities and rituals of Thanksgiving. The celebration itself is not unpatriotic, after all, non-stop gorging on carbs and high fat food then napping on the couch in front of football is as American as deep-fried apple pie. We need that day to rest and fuel up for the real American holiday, Thanksgetting.
Without having Thursday off of work, how will we be able to get a good spot in line waiting for the midnight opening of the big box store with the deep discounts on the newest toys and electronic gizmos we have to get for Christmas? If we sat around enjoying each other's company, being grateful for all we now have, what would we need to elbow strangers out of the way in order to buy? And if we are not buying, we are not Americans.
Let's just be honest – out with Thanksgiving, in with Thanksgetting.
Steve Gimbel is the Edwin T. and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Chair for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities at Gettysburg College.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,700 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803
Posted: Thu, 28 Nov 2013
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