Puritans lacked an Object for their Thanksgivings?

Puritans lacked an Object for their Thanksgivings? November 23, 2012

As of the moment I started writing this post, the following headlines graced — if that’s the right word — the top of The Drudge Report.

‘Gang fight’ at Black Friday sale…

Man Punched in Face Pulls Gun On Line-Cutting Shopper…

Woman busted after throwing merchandise…

Thousands storm VICTORIA’S SECRET…

VIDEO: Insane battle over phones…

Mayhem at Nebraska mall where 9 murdered in 2007…

Shoplifter tries to mace security guards…

Men Steal Boy’s Shopping Bag Outside BED, BATH & BEYOND…

Heckler calls them zombies…

Thus, let me begin by saying that I am thankful that The New York Times published its story the other day on the New England laws that exempted people in that region from some of yesterday’s early-onset craziness that gripped our fair land. The story even put one of the crucial P-words in this story right there in the headline: “Where Pilgrims Landed, Thanksgiving Is Kept at Table, Not Mall.”

Thus, before describing the Thanksgiving sale madness, the Gray Lady paused to offer this alternative picture:

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Here in the birthplace of Thanksgiving, where the Pilgrims first gave thanks in 1621 for their harvest and their survival, some residents are giving thanks this year for something else: the Colonial-era blue laws that prevent retailers from opening their doors on the fourth Thursday of November.

While shoppers in the rest of the country will skip out on Thanksgiving to go to Walmart or Kmart or other big-box stores, William Wrestling Brewster, whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower and participated in that first Thanksgiving, will limit his activities to enjoying a traditional meal here with his extended family at his parents’ house.

“Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks for all you have,” said Mr. Brewster, 47, who runs a computer repair business. “I cringe to think what society is doing to itself,” he said of the mercantile mania that threatens one of the least commercial holidays.

So what’s missing from this story.

I am sure that faithful GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked at my criticism.

Yes, it is true that the story goes out of its way to avoid any Divine Object for the word “thanksgiving,” which is rather strange when one is writing about the Pilgrims and, to be precise, the Puritans (the other crucial P-word in the history of all of this).

However, Thanksgiving is a rather strange bird, in the lineup of American celebrations. It’s a secular holiday that clearly has modified Judeo-Christian roots. I mean, some of those images of families sitting at overloaded tables show the people praying and just as many others do not.

But is it possible to separate the New England laws from their Puritan context? Here is what we end up with in the Times account:

New England’s blue laws were put down by early settlers to enforce proper behavior on Sundays. (The origin of the term is unclear. Some have said the laws were printed on blue paper, while others have said the word “blue” was meant to disparage those like the “blue noses” who imposed rigid moral codes on others.)

Over decades, many of those laws — which banned commerce, entertainment and the sale of alcohol, among other things — were
tossed aside or ignored, or exemptions were granted. In some cases, the statutes were extended to holidays and barred retailers specifically from operating on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I don’t know. Something seems to be missing here.

Perhaps the historical images at the end of the story will help?

Beyond the malls, Plymouth has its version of a Thanksgiving mob scene. The Plimoth Plantation, a living museum (spelled the old-fashioned way) that tells the story of the original colonists, draws about 4,000 visitors on Thanksgiving Day, about half of whom will have dinner there. …

Among those in the parade Saturday was Rebecca Tuchak, 33, a restaurant manager, who was dressed in Pilgrim garb and riding a float that honored the first Thanksgiving. As she held her 3-month-old daughter, she said she had been staggered to learn that of the original 102 Mayflower passengers, about half had died during their first winter here.

“It’s amazing to think of all the things we have and all the things they didn’t have, and yet they still gave thanks,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll find a group of people more against opening stores on Thanksgiving than us.”

I don’t know. Something basic, something factual, seems to be missing, some Object for all of the thanksgivings at the birth of this feast. Am I alone in thinking this?

Meanwhile, as the news coverage rolls in of the almost demonic goings on today, please help me look for Black Friday coverage that includes a spiritual dimension to all of this chaos and commercialism. Share the URLs in the comments pages.

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