As the recession has crushed the retail market in the past few years, stores have been pushing the holiday shopping season earlier and earlier in an attempt to stay in the black. (The term Black Friday is based on the fact that stores used to count on the day after Thanksgiving to get them out of the red for the year and into the black, making a profit.) In New York City, the 34th Street Macy's had its display windows decked out for Christmas before Halloween, and giant holiday ads have been up for weeks in Times Square.
Thanksgiving has almost been swallowed whole by the Christmas Money-Generating Machine, but it's more important than ever to take it back. As the country muddles through a difficult economic time, focusing on a holiday that transcends religious difference and is about being thankful can only be a good thing. Thanksgiving is about gratefulness for what we already have, whereas Christmas, as wonderful as it can be, has also become about anticipating what we will receive.
I'm trying to remember that, especially this year, as I'm in the midst of wedding planning and job searching. Planning a wedding can easily slip into a focus on materialism - who's wearing what, how many peonies can you afford in each bouquet, will the color of the bridesmaids' shoes precisely match the groomsmen's ties, do you go with passed lobster purses with creme fraiche and taragon or served mini crabcakes with remoulade? These decisions must be made; even if you decide to have a small and simple wedding, you still pick a dress and a location and a menu. Sometimes you have to look across the stacks of bridal magazines and checklists at the person you're getting married to and remember what you already have, and what you'll have long after the last specialty cocktail has been drained.
Job searching too is all about what you'll have in the future, with a little woe-is-me-I'm-unemployed tossed in for good measure. Everyone has the thing they plan for, the thing they can look forward to, and that's important. Christmas is that thing for many people, and that's good. But if you look too far ahead, and only focus on the future, you can miss what you've got in the present. That's what Thanksgiving should be about.