Flight from the Cult of Family – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Evacuation Day

As I am not American, I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this past Thursday.  In fact, it was just an ordinary Thursday, followed by an ordinary Friday, followed by an ordinary Saturday so far.  However, I was bombarded in my email inbox with “Black Friday” sales offers, starting back at the beginning of the week and continuing into today, reminding me that I only have until tomorrow to take advantage of savings.  Furthermore, stories about shopping crowds dominated the news outlets yesterday.  People are lamenting that apparently, many Americans chose to forgo the turkey dinner Thursday evening to queue up outside malls and stores waiting for Friday morning sales.

Many of these stories of shopping had a melancholy and yet shocked tone to them: why would people be so greedy?  Why would people skip such a scrumptious dinner?  Why wouldn’t people want to celebrate?  Aren’t we thankful for anything anymore?

I didn’t see it that way.  All I could think of was that perhaps some people would indeed rather spend their Thanksgiving in a queue of strangers than at an uncomfortable dinner with relatives.  Or perhaps they would rather spend their money at the mall than on travel.  Or they have no family within travelling distance and no friends willing to invite them to dinner because they are not related.

A small part of me was overjoyed that people are rebelling against the Cult of Family.

Don’t get me wrong — with a moniker like Konservativ, I love families.  I love my family, I love the concept of family, and I would love to have my own branch of my family tree.  But I strongly believe that modern North American society has taken Family too far.  Family has become deified, in the sense that blood relationships are seen as the most important connection.

Typical Thanksgiving (and most holidays, for that matter — Christmas especially) stereotype: big supper at the family home, usually one set of grandparents with their grown children, children-in-law, and grandchildren.  What is the first thing that people are supposed to be thankful for, besides the food?  Their family.  It is all a reflection of the supposed “bountiful harvest” — even though the stereotype also includes families fighting and sniping at each other.  Not to mention that there is always conflict such as whose parents do we spend Thanksgiving with?  Do we have to put up with abusive relatives?  Cousins who pick on your child?  Mother-in-law always asking when you’re going to have kids?  While these are stereotypes, they are based on truth, and I am sure there are many people who would rather chance it with strangers at the mall.

Instead of wondering why people would skip supper, I thought of what possibly could be enjoyable about Black Friday at the mall.  Why would people want to go to the mall?

Here is a list:

1. Fellowship — waiting outside with strangers is a chance to meet new people and bond over an experience together; yes, you might be fighting with them over the last cell phone when the store opens, but then you might never have to see them again, or you might laugh over it in hindsight

2. Avoiding relatives — whatever the reasons (or a compromise between a couple deciding that they don’t want to choose between which family dinner to attend)

3. Family occasion — forget dinner, just bring the whole family down to the mall

4. Boredom

5. Lack of family nearby (see #1)

6. Shopping — some people really do enjoy it

7. Experience/Adventure — if you have never camped out for anything before, perhaps you just want to see if you can do it

8. Sense of tradition

9. Actually might get a bargain deal

10. Commemorate Evacuation Day (I admit to making this reason up)

It is fitting that the 229th anniversary of Evacuation Day is commemorated by people standing in the dark cold, looking for their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  Call it Loyalists’ Revenge.  On November 25, 1783, the last of the British ships carrying refugees (and soldiers) left New York, the end of a months-long evacuation that saw over a third of the American population leave their homes, families, lives, jobs, and way of life.  Over 29,000 people left via New York, including many liberated slaves who faced being recaptured by their masters if they remained in the United States.  (This number is small compared to modern New York, but it was no small number back in 1783.  And it is still a very large amount of people.)  In the last days of the evacuation, coincidentally right around what is now Thanksgiving, some fifteen thousand people were shipped out. While the soldiers left to fight another day, and while many of the wealthy and connected managed to successfully transfer their lives to Britain or the Caribbean, the majority of said refugees ended up having to start over again from nothing.

Middle-class Americans, such as they were in 1783, found themselves with nothing but what they could pack, dumped on shores that were in many cases still wilderness.  They had no towns, no homes, no farms, and no jobs.  Many were not farmers by trade and had to learn the hard way.  Others were used to established farms and had little knowledge of homesteading except for what their grandparents had told them.  Also, many families had been torn apart, with some members supporting the new United States while others did not.  Communities had been shattered.  The refugees came from diverse backgrounds and different colonies.

Said people had a very different concept of family than the “three generations around a turkey” image.  They were thankful to have survived.  They had no food for the winter, let alone enough for a feast.  Many had no family members left, or had very few.

The real family is not an accidental genetic one.  It is very nice to be thankful for one’s bountiful harvest of children and grandchildren — they are always a blessing — but they are not everything.  The real family is one of love, forgiveness, and fellowship, regardless of genes.  If that family is one forged by having fled a war, or having spent a night in the mall parking lot, or having had a scrumptious dinner at Grandma’s, or having been invited to a dinner at a mutual friend’s house, or having come together in the same church, that is a real family.

And now pardon me while I go to the mall.

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