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On The Loss of The Thanksgiving Holiday…Is there anything we can do?

November 28, 2013

Many of us have rightly, lamented the steady erosion of the Thanksgiving holiday. Over the past decade or so that hideousness of people camped out, sometimes for days, in front of stores to take advantage of “Black Friday” sales grew more widespread. This next intensified to stores opening at midnight, then at 8 PM on Thanksgiving evening. And now many are just plain open all day on Thanksgiving.

Sad if you ask me, (and even if you don’t ask me) the loss of Thanksgiving is very sad. And those of us or left holding the candle, of the “old days,” ask somewhat mournfully, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” And the sober non-exaggerated answer is “No, very little, if anything, is sacred anymore.

Those of us who are a little older, remember when most Sundays were quiet days, most stores and businesses were closed, and only essential emergency personnel were expected to work. That went away in most places by the mid-70s. And Thanksgiving, Christmas Day were some of the last holdouts.

When I tell most younger people about the way Sundays used to be, many of them, even churchgoing Catholics, look somewhat puzzled even mystified: Why would things be closed? “I don’t know,” I answer, “But it was just that some of us thought some things were sacred, some days and times were just off limits for doing lesser things like buying and selling and other non-essential things.

Sundays and holidays were “set apart,” the true meaning of the word “sacred.” They were for family, for God, you just didn’t interfere with that.

Now, with the steady rise of secularism, the notion that anything is sacred, seems strange, antiquated, restrictive, even “hateful” since certain “religious” people are trying to “impose their values” on others. The libertarian leanings within me are sympathetic to those who raise concerns that laws could be passed forbidding businesses to open certain days etc.

But even if we could do that, (which we certainly can’t at this point), the concern that we might try to pass laws really misses the point. The point is, that we used to agree that certain days and times, certain things, were sacred and we carved out room, and gave reverence to them. Now we don’t.

Again to the question, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” The sad answer comes back, “No
Almost nothing.”

“Black Friday” By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA   Licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Black Friday” By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What then to do about the current state of affairs? Is there any way for us to reacquaint others with the sacred in an increasingly secular culture?

Something occurs in terms of a solution in what Jesus said to a young man from whom he cast out many demons. You are likely aware of the details of the story, but if you wish to review the whole store you can read it in Mark 5:1ff. The young man had many demons, “Legion,” for there were very many of them. Jesus drove them out, into a local herd of swine, some 2000 and number, which ran off the bluff and drowned in the lake.

What is odd, and also speaks also to the cultural conditions of our time, is that the townspeople are not grateful to Jesus. Rather they are fearful and averse to him, and ask him to leave their town immediately. Now just consider, a young man was so fiercely possessed, that even when his hands and feet were chained, he broke the chains could not be repressed in anyway. One would think that gratitude joy, and a desire for Jesus to stay would be the natural and normal response to this.

But having experienced significant financial loss, and possibly fearing that Jesus could control too much, the people are angry, and fearful, and insist that Jesus leave their town.

Now here is a paradigm for our modern culture. Increasingly, we are seeing more than a mere indifference to God or religion, but and outright aversion, even overt hostility toward faith and the teachings of Jesus. The faith established by Jesus Christ is increasingly seen as an obstacle, both to happiness and progress. Perhaps too, there is some fear that if Christianity were to be more widely embraced, many changes would be necessary; many sins would need to be faced, and repented of; and many virtues such as generosity to the poor would be more strictly required.

Now at some level, these assumptions are true. Christianity, fully embraced, with more than lip service, does lead to significant change in one’s life! But of course the mechanism of this change is not simply the dreadful, fearful following the rules, per se, but rather a transformative power wherein one sees sins put to death, and many virtues come alive.

Yet many, not appreciating this or understanding it, fear Christian influence which shines a light of truth of their sins and/or neglects.

And thus, many in our culture are insisting that Jesus and us leave town on the very next train. So, what happened at the lake side, in the land of the Gerasenes, is very much alive in our time as well.

Given the similarities, what did Jesus advise then, and what does it mean now? The young man, having been healed, begs to follow Jesus, Jesus says “No” and advises the following, which the man does:

Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.(Mark 5:19-20)

So, the solution for the hostility in this land of the Gerasenes, is to leave behind a witness to the goodness and mercy of God, who by his witness and testimony, will help bring people to their senses.

The Man becomes quite a witness, it would seem, for he went through the cities of the Decapolis, (which means the region of the ten cities), and thus he covers a good bit of territory.

And the text states the results that all who heard him were amazed. Actually, the Greek verb is a little more specific than that. ἐθαύμαζον (ethaumazon) is an imperfect, indicative, active verb.

That a verb is in the “imperfect” tense implies that it is not yet fully completed at the time it is reported to us. Thus perhaps a better translation of this verb would say that those who heard him were “becoming amazed.” In other words, witness, and evangelization, is generally not a “one and you’re done,” scenario. More is needed than one barn-burner sermon where everyone gets converted instantly. But rather, it involves staying in a conversation with people over some period of time and leading them back.

And this then is our lot, and also our solution in a culture that has lost almost any sense of the sacred, and is becoming increasingly irreligious and even hostile to the faith.

So, what are we to do? The Lord’s advice seems clear enough: Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you. In other words, tell them how he healed you; tell them what he’s done for you; show them how you have been healed; and manifest a joy to them. And while this may take time, many will begin to be amazed.

It seems clear today, we cannot simply reduce evangelization to an intellectual appeal. Doctrines and dogmas are ultimately very essential, lest we go off and invent our own new religion, a very bad and idolatrous thing to do!

But it would seem, that our first appeal is to be living witness of the transformative power of Jesus Christ in our lives. We need to be able to tell others, to manifest to them the power and the glorious majesty of Jesus Christ and the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring joy and many graces alive.

Of course, this will take time, and we will take back territory from the devil one soul at a time. But at a certain point things reach critical mass, and faith goes from small little communities to a more cultural influence. It may take a long time, and that is not without his frustrations. At times, it seems that it takes centuries to build something up, and only twenty minutes to tear it down.

But all we can do is rebuild. One day, we may rediscover the sacred, Sundays and holy days may return his days of special observance. For now, all we can do is get to work it is the Lord will bring the harvest.

This song’s text is “Gratias Agimus Tibi” (We give you thanks) from the Bach B Minor Mass.

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Comments (21)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you, Monsignor, and Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thomas Gallagher says:

    Black Friday seems to be starting in my town at around 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day.

    At least the Reformed Church-dominated little town where I live still has the decency to wait until after the Thanksgiving dinner hour. How many Catholics are now treating sacred days and sacred seasons as one parishoner did in conversation recently with a priest whom I know: “Father I work all weekend, I just can’t get to Mass on Sunday!”? Who are we to judge this fellow? His economic circumstances may be forcing him to work all weekend. And there’s the rub: it is the secular culture itself which often forces Christians to conform to a non-Christian view of things. And we don’t have to posit an active hostility against Christianity among secular-minded people. Indifference towards religion is a sufficient motive for the rejection of all elements of the sacred, and this is one more proof–if any were needed–that indifference is a far worse enemy than active hatred.

    • You say we don’t have to posit active hostility. As you may have notice I do refer to indifference in the article. However there IS a growing active hostility to the faith in our culture that we are foolish to ignore, not just because it might harm us but because its growing existence affects our tactics. Hostility bespeaks fear, and thus, as in the Gospel cited, we need to do more to address the fear that leads to hostility.

      • Thomas Gallagher says:

        I certainly agree with you that active hostility against the Church and against Christianity in general has been growing in the past few years. The evidence of its growth is all around us, a matter of observation. But even if, let’s say, 20 or 30% of the people of a country like the U. S. became actively hostile towards the Faith, something which may or may not come about, the force that would allow them to triumph and do great harm would be the huge indifferent middle group. Actively hostile atheists sometimes have a yearning for God deep in their hearts, and it can be argued that if we get the atheist to substitute the word “Love” in place of “God,” we’ll discover that he’s halfway home on the road to belief. Dialogue with hostile people is, as you suggest, a vitally important way to turn hatred into curiosity about Christian Faith, and then to conversion.

        But our contemporary indifferentists . . . just couldn’t be bothered. The enormous power of Indifference can be read in the Scriptures. Many of Our Lord’s sayings call us not to indifference but to a radical commitment to Him. See especially Luke 14: 25-33: we must prefer Him to family, take up our crosses, forsake the other things we are passionate about for the sake of discipleship. Revelation 3: 15-16: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Don’t ya just love the Catholic edition of the NRSV!)

  3. micaelisn says:

    I agree with you on the issue and I’ve worked up my own partial solution, and perhaps others should do the same. If enough did, it might have an effect. The place I shop at most often which is one of the most egregious offenders in the sense in which you are speaking is Walmart. I get many of my groceries there since they are far less expensive than my neighborhood grocer (for which I worked for some fifteen years some time ago). My budget is severely limited, so a full boycott of Walmart is not feasible. But I have informed them of my objection, first, to their midnight opening and now to their Thanksgiving evening opening, told them I will continue doing my grocery shopping there but that I will do absolutely none of my Christmas shopping there. Since their early openings are primarily to get the Christmas dollars of me and others, if enough of us were to tell Walmart and other such establishments they won’t be included in our Christmas budgets, they might reconsider their policies. This type of boycott is indeed far more practical in today’s world, since many of these establishments are where we shop year around, so it is difficult for many of us to contemplate a complete boycott of them, but notifying them that we are not doing our Christmas shopping there because of their Thanksgiving practices might cause them to reconsider their practices, since many of them do not make much money on those early hours in any case (most of their advertised specials are loss leaders – items sold at or below cost – and their profits come from getting them into the store so that they do much of their other holiday shopping there also) and are highly dependent on a high turnout. Even a small reduction can hurt, because all that advertising also has cost them money. So if enough of us told the Walmarts of this country that we will continue to do our regular shopping there but don’t expect any of our Christmas dollars, they might find it in their interest to curtail their practice. Another way to do so would be to lobby state legislatures to require that holiday pay be not the usual time and a half (if there is a requirement at all, since some states don’t have such a requirement) but two or three times the regular wage. If their labor costs could be placed at such a high level as to make such holiday openings prohibitive, then perhaps something bearing at least a semblance of reverence for those special days in the year where we collectively celebrate something might come into being.

  4. Ed says:

    Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine still ban businesses from opening on Thanksgiving Day, but there is enormous pressure on legislators to repeal this old blue law. I think R.I. and Mass. are still predominantly Catholic states. When I grew up in R.I. from the 50’s-70’s it was about 70% Catholic.

  5. Mike says:

    I think the loss of both holidays and Sundays are rooted in the dominance of big business. Legislators are swayed by lobbyists for the big corporations, which profit from this materialistic weakening of our laws. Stockholders and executives don’t care if the company stays open to make more money– they don’t have to work on the holiday; instead their underlings do. But no mom-and-pop business would dream of staying open on a holiday, nor would a sole proprietor. For example, in our state they recently legalized Sunday liquor sales. The small proprietor liquor store owners fought the law; they didn’t want to work seven days a week, which they’d have to do to compete. But it passed anyway: supermarket chains had recently been given the right to sell liquor.

    I think Black Friday should be renamed “Zombie Apocalypse”, a more fitting description.

    Maria vonTrapp wrote a beautiful little book on the loss of Sunday, with a glorious description of what it was like in Austria in the old days. I heartily recommend.

  6. Billy says:

    So, micaelisn – you’ll shop at the place that’s most convenient for you, right? That’s why these stores open on Thanksgiving – because it’s convenient for many customers. For no other reason.

    • But again the question remains, is nothing sacred? And the answer comes back – No. Convenience has become too absolute a notion in modern culture. And though convenience is nice, are there no limits? And the answer comes back – No. That is what we are currently dealing with, and so the question remains for the few of us who still care, how best to push back the no-limits attitude and carve out some space for the sacred again.

    • RichardGTC says:

      Bill, micaelisn’s comment makes it clear that that person shops at Walmart because of economic necessity, not because of mere convenience. If we are going to insist on tearing apart each other’s flesh, which St. Paul admonishes us not to do, we could, at least make the effort to be factually accurate when doing so. God help us.

  7. Craig says:

    1. Dont perform any non-emergency shopping Thursday/Friday.

    2. How about more Advent music versus “Christmas” for a bit?

    3. Wait until after Thanksgiving to put up s Christmas tree, decorate.

    4. In general, do much of the servile work and shopping Saturday throughout the year.

    5. Keep holy the Feast days (eg, maybe a dessert for a saint)-THINK: St. Dominic Savio!

  8. Lorraine says:

    My husband and I made up our minds several years ago that we were going to live according to the teachings of the Catholic Church regardless of what everyone else was doing or how they were living. We found ourselves becoming more and more depressed because we were constantly waiting for a national repentance to take place that just wasn’t happening. Even in the Church we see the filth and pollution of the world. My husband and I believe that America is too far gone at this point. We don’t believe that national repentance is going to take place; we believe that the next thing on God’s agenda is the day of chastisement. Then, maybe then, this nation will repent. In the meantime, we’re going to live as God wants us to live regardless of what other people are doing, and this goes for many in the Church as well. We refuse to allow others to break our stride when it comes to living as God wants us to live. It is good that you still hope for national repentance and a return to the sacred in this country. My husband and I don’t believe that will happen until God visits this country with a devastating judgment. Many millions will have to die before America ever takes notice that something is amiss between her and God.

  9. Henry William says:

    What could you really want that much as to stand in line for hours before a big ticket store opens?
    These people are not only crazy but they are addicted to shopping and spending money. Stand in line for
    confession and realize that you have to confess all the badness that is compiled within your soul is enough
    to make you realize that you need to change your bad habits once and for all.

  10. Mike Warrior says:

    @micaelisn
    Nice words, but no action to back them up. If you are serious about telling WallyWorld where to put its open 24 hours a day/7 days a week/52 weeks a year with the cheapest stuff on the planet program, DON’T SHOP THERE! Period, end of statement. You can flap your gums at the store manager until they bleed. The only thing the store manager hears is the Ka-Ching of the cash register. Consider that.

    Yes, your budget will take a hit. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. If you are Catholic and belong to a parish, ask for help. Take up your cross and follow Him.

    Do I shop at WallyWorld? Never. Ever. No Way, No How. They have destroyed the American middle class with their Every Day Low Prices. I will not contribute to the annihilation of whats left.

  11. Robertlifelonfcatholic says:

    Unfortunately it usually takes a degree of martyrdom before an adulterous generation wakes up to the holocaust of their sinful ways.

  12. susan says:

    Many of these folks that are shopping on Thanksgiving shop because they have no family tradition of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is just a day off, indeed, many of the stores advertising their Thanksgiving sales stated in their ads “see you on Thursday.” Kind of like what’s been happening with the Christmas shopping season. Yeah, we’re shopping for gifts and decorating our homes, but why are we doing this? Every year the reason is a bit more murky. We give thanks on Thanksgiving, but to whom do we give those thanks? We celebrate the Christmas season, but why do we celebrate? Without Christ, it all loses its meaning.

  13. bt says:

    There was a Pizza Hut manager this Thanksgiving that took matters into his own hands. Read the article:
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-pizza-hut-manager-fired-20131129,0,7634377.story

  14. Will says:

    Celebrate Thanksgiving on September the 8th…

  15. F.R. Duplantier says:

    FAST FORWARD
    I remember with special delight
    How each holiday had its own rite:
    Now that commerce trumps living,
    We skip over Thanksgiving
    And start Christmas on Halloween night.