November 27, 2009

Och Rocks On: Thanksgiving Debate


The Ochlophobist is a Memphis blogger. He has posted a screed on Thanksgiving that is well worth reading and pondering. The latter part of the post is a good story about bullying and other antics at a Mennonite school. Well worth reading but hardly food for debate.

The former part questions Thanksgiving, among other things because it is surrounded by patrioteering mythology. Our kindergarteners dress as Pilgrims and Indians, and are told about the harmonious beginnings of our country, but not about the massacres that followed not so long after, which were also the occasion of Thanksgiving by the Puritan community. A long history followed, in which our forbears were far from blameless.

Och sees Thanksgiving as an idolatrous feast, in which we gorge ourselves on packaged foods, and celebrate our nation as if it were a god, rather than a flawed set of human institutions. Och is not a zealot, and celebrates with his family, but uncomfortably.

Och, as usual, is onto something. In our sometimes frantic efforts to weld a bunch of immigrants and their descendants, from many different ethnies and religions, into a nation, we tend to become loud, assertive, and if challenged, defensive. Perhaps we have no need constantly to beat our breasts about the crimes of our predecessors, but neither should we be oblivious to them. The ideology of American exceptionalism is indeed idolatrous, and has provided some of the rationale for foreign misadventures from the Phillipines to Iraq. We can love our country without bowing down to it as a god or fashioning a mythology to deify it.

Thanksgiving is part of a festival cycle that has grown up. We can say that it is as follows:

Hallowe'en
Thanksgiving
Christmas
New Year's

American readers will be familiar with the rituals and symbols involved, and because analysis could get tedious, let's leave it at that. This cycle is no longer recognizably Christian, as its personifications (Witches, ghosts, and goblins; turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indians; Santa, Rudolph, Jimmy Stewart and Bob Cratchit; the Old Man and the Baby New Year) show. For some Christians, the Holy Family and the crêche play a minor part, but if one listens to the music in public places, it's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Chestnuts Roasting Round An Open Fire," not "Come All Ye Faithful" or "Angels We Have Heard On High." The religious expressions are frequently treated as private and if expressed in the public square, offensive.

I am not raising the spectre of the "War Against Christmas," which by now is a straw man. If there was such a war, the Christians have long since surrendered.

Ho ho ho.

Follow the money.