Back in 1980, every kid wanted the Atari 2600, retail price $199, or approximately a Playstation 3 in today’s dollars. Instead, under the tree, they got a shoe tree, so 1979’s sneakers could last longer. Similarly, this holiday season is not looking very good. With consumer spending at its lowest point since the recession of 1980 (according to the New York Times, in 1980 Americans had “the sort of Christmas that would have made Scrooge merry”), spoiled children around the country will think they are on the naughty list this year.
However, the commercialization of the December holidays, with the inevitable monetary stresses (and the shame, failure and headache of disappointing one’s children) is weeks away. While Christmas or Hanukkah have become about being thankful only if this year’s gifts cost a lot of money, Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is not about spending money — except on a pre-cooked turkey. In short, the beauty of Thanksgiving is that it’s not about giving, but being thankful for everything that we’ve received over the past year. It’s about the gifts that we all share every day. In fact, the history of Thanksgiving is a story of the triumph of sharing and gratis goodwill over commercial exchange. For those of you reading this who are foreigners, Thanksgiving celebrates the kindness of the Wampanoag Indians, who taught the American pilgrims how to farm North American crops and who helped them through the harsh New England winters. This cooperation occurred at Plymouth Rock, now a popular tourist trap where people dress like Pilgrims and Indians year round. Thus, thanks to the Indians, the budding seeds of the American nation were saved, and a profitable tourist destination was created. How did the future Americans express their thanks?
When I was in the second grade, I remember dressing as a pilgrim and reenacting the first Thanksgiving. As a child in my Pilgrim garb, I pretended to shoot my friends who were dressed as Indians, before being reprimanded by a humorless (and historically ignorant) teacher. Only later did I discover that my own version of the enactment was much closer to reality. It’s amazing how insightful children can be.
Yes, it is true that Americans “repaid” the Indians with plague and warfare. They taught us how to farm, and we allocated their land amongst our farmers. But to be fair, after property rights were clearly defined, the Wampanoag got some of the best priced of it (they certainly did better than their friends who ended up in Oklahoma). Whoever said that we gave the bad lands to the Indians doesn’t know that many Wampanoag remained in Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, which has some of the most expensive real estate in the country. Granted, the tribe was given the part of the island known as “Gay Head,” which would have made people chuckle for eternity if the town didn’t vote to change the name in 1998. On their mainland reservation in Mashpee, the tribe is currently considering building an Indian-themed casino, expected to rack in millions in revenue.
Just like the first Thanksgiving, this year Americans have a lot to be thankful for. Certainly on one hand we are facing what is arguably the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, with unemployment rising by the day. The government is still telling you who you can and can’t marry, the Middle East is war torn, and the Cold War is reheating.
Yet, at the same time, there is much to be grateful for. First, many Americans are thankful for the social security and food stamps, for putting this year’s Thanksgiving dinner on their table.
We are thankful that Michael Phelps took the attention away from China’s fifteen gold medal advantage at the Summer Olympics. We are thankful that the Large Hadron Collider broke down before being able to destroy the world. And the entire world is joining us this Thanksgiving, thankful that Bush is soon to be out of the White House.
In a world engulfed in uncertainty and chaos, perhaps the best thing we have to be thankful for this year is Hope. Namely, we are thankful for the hope given us by audacious former presidential hopeful turned president elect, Barack Obama.
The Roman god for hope was Spes, who is often depicted in art as hitching her skirt while sporting a cornucopia. This is fitting imagery: after all, mini-skirts and prosperity are two things that Americans are traditionally thankful for, and hopeful will return soon. Certainly unrelated to the current world situation, Spes was also known as the “last goddess,” alluding to the proposition that when all else fails, hope is the last thing that human beings clutch to.
So this year, we are thankful for hope, and especially hopeful that our President elect gives us something more palpable to be thankful for next year. For one, we’d all be very thankful if he’ll turn the economy around, so that this time next holiday season, children across the country can each have all the video-game systems — the PS3, Xbox, and Wii — as a symbol of the returning greatness of America; a greatness, of course, that we have the Indians to be thankful for.
Dmitri Koustas is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bull Market appears alternate Thursdays.