Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

"Thanksgivukkah" poster created by Dana Gitell
Americans have a special fondness in our hearts for Thanksgiving, a holiday that traditionally centers around family, friends and of course food. Most of us have a deep personal connection to it as it also resonates in our memories of Thanksgivings past, reminding us of those near and dear to us who are no longer with us.

It kicks off the holiday season and makes us excited about the upcoming gatherings, parties, time with family and friends, the approach of a new year; and of course music. Personally I officially start listening to Christmas music tomorrow.

But it's origins and interesting evolution offer some really fascinating insights into our collective culture and national identity.

Thanksgiving was first declared an official Federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War, but the actual tradition of a day of observance for giving thanks in this nation stretches as far back as far as 1607 in what was then known as the Commonwealth of Virginia.

What many of us learned in school as the "First Thanksgiving" was actually a three day celebration of a successful Autumn harvest  attended by 93 members of the Wampanoag tribe and 53 settlers that took place in 1621 on the Plymouth Plantation.

The fact that this holiday was essentially a multi-cultural gathering is important in the context of a nation composed of many different ethnicities, religious backgrounds and nationalities. Unlike the other major holidays, Thanksgiving stretches across boundaries and links us together in gratitude and a love of good food. In that sense I think it's the quintessential American holiday.

This year it's particularly special. Not only does it fall on the 5th Thursday of the month (it's normally the 4th) but because of the calendar it happens to coincide with the first day and second evening of the celebration of Hanukkah, (or Chanukah as it's also spelled); the "Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication" observed for eight nights and days - one of the most important Jewish holidays of the year.

It's extremely rare that the two holidays coincide on the calendar like this. According to an October 2nd article by Jonah Lowenfeld in the Jewish Journal the next time Thanksgiving and Hanukkah take place on the 5th Thursday of the month will be 77,000 years from now; while the next time both holidays take place on the 4th Thursday of November will be sundown November 27, 2070.

Boston-based marketer Dana Gitell is credited with coming up with the clever mashup term of both holidays called "Thanksgivukkah" and she also created the great ethnic twist on the painting "American Gothic" shown above.

Yesterday on the Brian Lehrer Show there was an interesting segment where Brian asked Jewish listeners to call in with personal memories of their Hanukkah experiences growing up. You can listen to it here, click on "Hanukkah, American Style" it's not too long. I was personally stuck by a guy who called in and talked about growing up in a neighborhood where there were very few Jewish families and he was always affected by going to his grandmother's apartment in Brooklyn and seeing many windows with Menorah candles lighting up the windows and the sense of cultural connection he felt.

As an African-American who grew up in suburbs where there were very few black people, I really identified with that; but that's another blog...

But let's also remember there also many Americans who don't celebrate Thanksgiving at all. Some people don't like how the holiday has become so commercialized. Many Vegans oppose the holiday on moral grounds because it promotes the killing of turkeys and consumption of meat and some people simply don't feel like being bothered with it.

If that's you there's an interesting article on the Website by Julie Whitaker and Caitlin Thompson titled, "WNYC's Alterna-Guide to Thanksgivukkah" which lists some interesting and fun things to do on this day off.

Unfortunately for employees of K-Mart stores that's NOT an option today as the heartless president/CEO of Sears/K-Mart Edwin Lampert decided that K-Mart stores nationwide will be opening at 6am and stay open 41 hours straight through the shopping chaos of Black Friday.

The decision has generated a huge media backlash across the country as people express sympathy for the thousands of K-Mart employees who not only make just above minimum wage, but will not be paid overtime or have time to spend Thanksgiving with their families or friends.

We all KNOW where the C-level executive types of the Sears Holding Corporation and K-Mart will be - sitting on their asses at home with their families eating turkey, arguing politics with the resident "drunk uncle", watching football and waiting for the company's Black Friday revenue numbers to come in.

No one is going to argue against the company making a fair profit but staying open all day on Thanksgiving is just wrong. And I think it's ultimately going to do a lot of damage to their brand as there have been calls for people to boycott the store. Personally I could get behind binding Congressional legislation that no store can be open for more than six hours on Thanksgiving Day; but I'm not holding my breath waiting for Speaker John Boehner and his dysfunctional GOP House majority to do anything about it.

Anyway that's it for now. Thanks a lot for taking time to come check out my blog; I check my Google stats and I really appreciate it. I've got to go work out before I get ready to head down to Philadelphia to this afternoon to my Uncle's house for dinner. It's not going to be a "Rocky" workout or anything but least I'll feel a little less guilty about that 2nd plate of tasty goodness, multiple trips to the desert table and the leftovers I bring home to do it all again tomorrow (aww yeahhh....) but after all we are a nation of consumers; I'm just trying to do my part to be a good American. Happy Thanksgivukkah!

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