What Happened to Thanksgiving?

HOUSTON, TX – The day after Halloween, Christmas wreaths decorated a shopping center near my home. I was appalled – again – dismayed that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, had disappeared beneath a pile of orange and black candy wrappers and silver tinsel. The push for Christmas begins in July, tormenting little kids for months when they don’t understand how long a day is let alone how far away December is, making me want to throttle that little drummer boy before he ever makes it to Bethlehem.
This year, the Hallmark network began its Christmas movie marathon on Halloween! A Boyfriend for Christmas. A Princess for Christmas. A Bride for Christmas. Really? What I wouldn’t give for A Ghoul for Christmas. The Little Vampire Boy. The Zombie on the Shelf! And Black Friday – its name alone conjures the horrors of insane Christmas shoppers mobbing one another to save a few dollars – has leached its way onto Thanksgiving Day itself. Originally meant to point up the traffic jams and crowds that holiday shoppers caused in Downtown Philadelphia, Black Friday came to describe the holiday profits that retailers enjoyed, transforming being “in the red” to being “in the black.” Unfortunately, many retailers now open for business on Thanksgiving Day itself, a perverse example of Yankee ingenuity the Pilgrims could never have anticipated.
For the employees who have to interrupt their family dinner earlier and earlier in order to get to work, Black/Brown. Gray Thursday or Black Friday is synonymous with holiday hordes, messes and, too often, violence. Shoppers have been shoved, assaulted, pepper-sprayed, shot, stabbed and trampled to death at, among others, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R’ Us, Target, and Kohl’s. “In 2008, a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00AM opening of the local Wal-Mart. . . [W]hen the doors were opened the crowd pushed forward, breaking the door down, and trampling a 34-year old employee to death. The shoppers did not appear concerned with the victim’s fate, expressing refusal to halt their stampede when other employees attempted to intervene and help the injured employee, complaining that they had been waiting in the cold and were not willing to wait any longer. Shoppers had begun assembling as early as 9PM the evening before. Even when police arrived and attempted to render aid to the injured man, shoppers continued to pour in, shoving and pushing the officers as they made their way into the store. On the same day, two people were fatally shot during an altercation at a Toys ‘r Us in Palm Desert, CA (“Wal-Mart worker dies in rush; two killed at toy store.” CNN. November 28, 2008).
I wonder if these shoppers stood in line to vote on November 4th.
As I write this, the following retailers have announced that they will remain closed on Thanksgiving: American Girl, Barnes&Noble, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Burlington, Costco, Crate & Barrel, Dillard’s, DSW, GameStop, Half Price Books, Harbor Freight, HomeGoods, Home Depot, Jo-Ann, Lowes, Marshalls, Neiman’s, Nordstrom, REI, Pier, Publix, RadioShack, Saks, Sam’s, Sierra Trading Post, Sur La Table, TJMaxx. Nevertheless, the Galleria, Houston’s retail Mecca, will open from 6PM to 1AM on Thanksgiving evening and reopen at 6AM Friday “to accommodate the needs of holiday shoppers.” What about the needs of holiday workers?
Every holiday was special in our house, but Thanksgiving is quintessentially American, and my immigrant parents celebrated it with a sense of pride and gratitude for what this country had given them. My mother shopped for days. The turkey was enormous, just in case the Pilgrims joined us. After my sisters married and had children, there were two turkeys! The menu was all-American – no dolmades or spanakopita today. Though she was a master of all things Greek and sweet, my mother didn’t bake pies. Instead, she bought boxes and boxes of pumpkin, apple, and coconut custard from the Horn & Hardart and stacked them on my window sill to keep them cool and fresh. Once she bought a mincemeat pie. Once. One. Fruit cocktail, tomato juice, clam chowder, salad (sans feta and olives), Brussels sprouts, turnips for my sister Sybil, cranberry sauce that retained the shape of the can it came in, and the best candied yams in the whole wide world.
I stood right next to my father as he melted a stick of butter in a cast-iron skillet, poured in a cup of sugar and a cup of Karo syrup, and slowly stirred this magic potion. When the consistency was sufficiently goopy, he gently ladled sliced yams into this sweet bath. My job – to even off the yams by snapping off any stray pieces of candy as he placed the finished potatoes on a serving platter. And, miraculously, no calories, no cholesterol.
He stood at the head of the table and carved the turkey, never using an electric knife, knowing who wanted dark meat, who wanted white. Until my nephews and nieces were born, I got the wish bone. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have done better than this.
My mother did make a yemisi, but it never saw the inside of the turkey. And it felt more Greek than 1st Thanksgivingish. I guess she just couldn’t resist: 1 chopped onion sauteed in butter. Add 1lb, chopped meat. Brown and then turn off the heat. Add raisins, pignolia nuts, chopped chestnuts, cinnamon and a little sugar. Add about 4 glasses of turkey juice. When boiling, add 2 glasses of rice, salt and pepper.
The whole apartment smelled of cinnamon, and there was plenty of yemisi for care packages and leftovers. That was probably the best part of Thanksgiving – eating grotesque amounts of delicious food, clearing the table, enjoying an L-tryptophan-induced nap, and then coming back for more. No one left to go shopping.
And after a few weeks – after my father’s name day and my sister’s birthday – then we decorated for Christmas!


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