Holiday in Harmony: Understanding Thanksgiving's Role in the American Identity....by KBS Sidhu
Chandigarh: The Threshold of Thanksgiving: A 2023 Perspective: As we approach the threshold of November 23rd, marking the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA this year, we delve into the nuances of this unique celebration.
Thanksgiving, a secular festival celebrated on the last Thursday of November, heralds the beginning of the winter holiday season, leading up to Christmas. This day of gratitude and family reunions transcends religious and cultural lines, but this year, it faces challenges from severe weather conditions on the US East Coast, potentially disrupting travel plans.
Historical Foundations and Presidential Patronage
Tracing its roots back to the early 17th century, Thanksgiving was officially declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Amidst the Civil War, it was an initiative to foster unity and gratitude in a nation then sharply divided.
Subsequent Presidents have maintained its significance, with traditions like the 'turkey pardoning' becoming a symbol of national values of compassion and thankfulness.
Celebrating Inclusivity and Unity
Unlike other holidays, Thanksgiving invites people of all faiths to participate, similar to the universal spirit of Diwali in India. The tradition of feasting on turkey harks back to the historical 'First Thanksgiving', and its continued prominence underlines the holiday's historical and cultural significance. This inclusivity has made Thanksgiving a key event for strengthening family bonds across America.
The Indian-American Thanksgiving Experience
For Indian-Americans, Thanksgiving echoes the concept of 'Shukrana'¹ or gratitude, a cornerstone of traditional Indian ethos. This melding of Indian cultural values with American traditions showcases the holiday's capacity to transcend cultural boundaries and nurture cross-cultural relationships.
The Commercial Impact of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving not only symbolizes familial gatherings but also marks the onset of an important commercial period in America. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is so named because it traditionally represents the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, moving from 'the red' (losses) into 'the black' (profits).
This day heralds the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, characterized by substantial sales and promotional activities, sparking a surge in economic activity nationwide.
Other Notable American Holidays
- Labor Day: Celebrated on the first Monday of September, Labor Day honors the contributions of American workers and the labor movement. Originating in the late 19th century, it reflects the country's industrial history and the evolution of workers' rights.
- Veterans Day: Veterans Day, observed on November 11th, is a tribute to U.S. Armed Forces veterans. Initially Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, it was renamed to honor all veterans, reflecting the nation's respect for military service.
Thanksgiving's Distinct Role Among U.S. Holidays
While Labor Day and Veterans Day have specific focuses, Thanksgiving is unique in its emphasis on gratitude, family, and national unity. Its secular and inclusive nature makes it a distinct emblem of American cultural identity and values.
Reflecting on India's Need for a Similar Festival
Reflecting on the unifying role of Thanksgiving in American culture, it's intriguing to consider whether India could establish a similar festival to enhance national unity and collective gratitude, transcending religious and cultural differences.
This proposed festival, potentially aligning with a period of universal significance like Christmas or Diwali, could extend over an entire week.
This extended holiday period would offer an opportunity for all Indians, irrespective of their diverse backgrounds, to celebrate shared values and a common national identity, strengthening the fabric of unity across the nation.
The Unifying Spirit of Thanksgiving: Develop an Attitude for Gratitude
Thanksgiving stands as a powerful testament to the values of unity, gratitude, and family in American society. Its widespread embrace, including by the Indian diaspora, illustrates the universal appeal of these values that cross cultural and national lines. This festival underscores the significance of shared traditions in fostering cohesive and harmonious communities.
As America prepares to take a four-day pause for Thanksgiving, it presents a poignant moment for each of us to reflect and introspect. This time encourages us to ponder deeply on what we have in our lives to be thankful for.
In the hustle of daily routines, such moments of gratitude remind us of our blessings, the support of loved ones, and the unseen victories we often overlook. It's a time to acknowledge both the big and small things that enrich our lives, fostering a sense of appreciation and contentment.
November 22, 2023
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