View from US: Thanksgiving and Black Friday
“The skies have cleared, the parades can go on,” wrote Harold Goldstein on Thanksgiving morning last week. “As we gather with family and friends, let’s take a moment to thank our good fortune for living in America. There is great uncertainty in Europe with its economic meltdown, while the rest of the world struggles for human rights.”
Goldstein, 80, is a keen Pakistan watcher. He likes to recount his happy memories of Lahore in the 1980s when he was there. He writes to remind me that we all can be thankful that there are no demonstrations in the streets of America (he forgets about Wall Street protest). “So breathe the air of freedom. It’s clean and refreshing.”
Indeed, the air is clean and refreshing. Everyone appears happy. I see families pile out of their minivans carrying food for their hosts covered in foil. The cluster of cars in people’s driveways tells me that the tradition of family reunions is alive and vibrant. The presidential proclamation on Thanksgiving is sobering yet promising.
Obama urges his citizens to believe in the nation’s ability to overcome America’s economic challenges, insisting that the problems can be resolved if all Americans do their part. Thanksgiving is America’s oldest and most cherished custom. When the pilgrims arrived 500 years ago at the shores of the New World, they celebrated the bountiful autumn harvest by preparing a feast on the last Thursday of November, inviting the tribe of Indians who had taught the settlers how to survive.
Sharing of one’s good fortune with loved ones and those who don’t have a family and shelter is the spirit of Thanksgiving. “It is not the feast we give thanks for, but our presence at it” says an editorial in New York Times. Outside, sitting on the stone walkway are two gentlemen drinking hot apple cider. Before them is a gas stove. On it sits a sleek elongated shiny pot shut tight with a lid. “This is our fifth turkey” Bob tells me as I stop for a chat. You must have an army of family members arriving to be fed? I say. “No, all this food is for the homeless and the elderly,” chips in Sam. “We are friends of Mike and Michelle Kiszka who each Thanksgiving feed the homeless and old. We cook and they deliver.” I am humbled.
Americans care. They are a humanitarian society volunteering their time and money to help the needy. On Thanksgiving they pride in donning an apron to stand behind the table and wait upon those lesser blessed than them. We have seen for decades presidents and first ladies stand with aprons, cook food or serve the troops stationed overseas.
Americans don’t have servants. They do the housework themselves. And nor is there a division of labour – like the woman should cook, clean, feed the kids, and the man should cut the grass in the garden or do grocery shopping. I see women mowing grass; I see men wash the dishes.
Another heartwarming sight was the US representative Gabrielle Giffords serving a Thanksgiving meal to service members and retirees at a military base in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona. She is a woman who was shot point blank while meeting her constituents outside a supermarket10 months ago. She was among the 19 who were victims of a mad man’s bullets. Six of them died. It is as miracle the young congresswoman survived; is able to walk and talk.
“One last scuff Pop,” I hear a man coax his father, a very old fragile man trying to get down from the car but unable to move.
Holding the front door with one hand and the wheel chair with the other, the son (himself past his prime!) is urging his father to make just one more move before he can alight and plunk down on the waiting wheelchair. I discreetly stand on the road to see how patient the son is and how keen the father is to enjoy the Thanksgiving feast with his family.
‘Black’ Friday followed Thanksgiving: This year 9,000 waited at the doors of Macy’s in Manhattan. As the clock struck midnight, the floodgates opened up to let a sea of bodies hurtling through to catch the ‘early bird’ specials. Electronics sold the most. Thursday’s turkey soon became a thing of the past as Friday began, replacing the spirit to give with a spirit to acquire. It was a celebration of American capitalism.