What do Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day have in common? They are all holidays, of course but what else do they share?
For many generations, Thanksgiving Day was the door-opener to the Christmas shopping season. In fact, in 1939, President Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the third Thursday for the sole purpose of increasing the length of the Christmas shopping season. He was trying to help boost retail sales, a kick-start made necessary by the Depression economy.
In 1941, Congress voted to change Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November, where it has remained ever since. Now, In the middle of the 1990s, Thanksgiving Day has ceased to be the jump-off point for Christmas shopping. The ads began in earnest before the Halloween pumpkins disappeared from the porches and Thanksgiving Day has been buried down in the footnotes somewhere.
Christmas In July, originally started as a cutesy way of reminding people that if they didn't drive carefully, they wouldn't be around for Christmas in December, will probably be promoted into a full-blown national holiday, complete with tree and trimmings. If that doesn't happen, we can at least expect pre-Christmas shopping to begin with the fireworks of July 4th.
Independence Day, however, has more to do with Thanksgiving and Christmas than as a potential starting point for Christmas shopping. To make the connection I am trying to make, you need to see the movie by the same name. We rented the video this past week and were frankly disappointed with much of its shallowness. It struck me as a Star Wars wannabe.
But one of the points made by the movie had a chilling effect on me. These aliens from outer space were described as similar to locusts, moving from one planet to another, extracting life as they went, and leaving a trail of death and destruction. In the quite unrealistic climax of the movie, the aliens, despite their superior technology, were utterly destroyed by human beings united in their efforts to save themselves from destruction.
Now, If you will, travel back in time with me to the first Thanksgiving Day. It was a day of celebration made possible because the Natives who lived on Turtle Island had had mercy on the first European settlers, bringing food to them because they were destitute and seemed helpless.
Little did they know that they were sowing the seeds of their own destruction by reaching out to help these European transplants. The Europeans who followed could well be described as locusts, taking what they wanted, killing and destroying a people, a way of life, and Mother Earth.
Independence Day would come later for the European aliens but that day of freedom would signal the end of freedom for the Natives of the land. They would be assigned to concentration camps called reservations. Their culture and languages would be suppressed and their religions would be outlawed. Also, the white man's Thanksgiving Day would have a different meaning for the Indians of later generations. For the Natives who survived the guns and diseases of the alien invaders, it would become known as Thankstaking Day.
There was one moment of time in the Independence Day movie that caught the spirit of the Christmas season and it had nothing to do with tinsel-covered trees, carols or snow. Faced with the inevitable destruction of humanity at the hands of the invaders, there was no prejudice or bigotry to be found among the survivors. With their backs to the wall, their hearts reached out to one another, black, white, red and yellow.
The real magic of Christmas is not, after all, the season or the day. Neither is Thanksgiving a day in November. These are only numbers on a man-made calendar. If the spirit of Christmas is not every day, it is not at all. If Thanksgiving Is not every day, it is not at all.
When my heart is right, every day is magic.