by John Colgan-Davis

We are coming up on Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year. This holiday is all about things that really please me: good food, being around people in a joyful and happy setting, reflection and expressing gratitude for what I have and for where I am in my life. The relative lack of advertising and the tiny focus on what to buy when compared to Christmas gives me an opportunity to focus more on the day itself and think about what the holiday is supposed to mean.

In that light, I get a chance to look beyond myself and to acknowledge all the people, things and circumstances that are a part of my life that I had little, if anything, to do with. Particularly given the changes in my life over the last year and a half, I am incredibly aware of the value and wonder of family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Yes, we have disagreements and yes, we do not always see eye to eye. But this day, Thanksgiving, is one day for me to join with many other people to formally acknowledge and embrace the fact that without them my life would not be as rich, as joyous or as full as it is. And how and why it happens as it does is something that is in many ways beyond me.

This “giving of thanks” has always been a human and universal thing; it is probably a human need. It has happened in every part of the world, in every culture, and at all times. Throughout the centuries this giving of thanks has always involved some acknowledgement of forces outside of ourselves and expressed through public and group acknowledgment.

Will the crops have a good season of growth? How high would the river be this year? When would the rain come? When and where will the next herd pass by? When would the heat come? Or go? Or stop? Will there be enough to eat? When would the war stop? These were all things that mattered to us, and we asked for help as a group and also expressed gratitude the same way.

We know that these are not things that humans control all by ourselves, and we need the help of other people and other forces. We can get away from that somewhat in a modern civilization such as ours, as most of us are generally not so directly faced with struggles for the basics of life-food, shelter, etc.

So it is good that we have at least one occasion when we can take a wider and broader look at ourselves and our lives and see the importance of family (by birth or chosen) and friendship. And for most of us it also involves an awareness of happenstance and/or some type of spirit or spirits. This is what we observe and celebrate when we observe Thanksgiving.

Of course, it can be hard to hold on to that feeling in our civilization. We have been bombarded for several weeks now with advertisements for “Black Friday’ and “Cyber Monday” sales. Commerce is and always has been a key part of civilization, and the post-Thanksgiving time period is awash in sales, offers and “special deals.” The time after the traditional autumn thanksgivings has always been the “get ready for winter” time.

After the 1924 debut of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, this time became the start of our “get ready for winter shopping time.” This became the time period when many retailers started turning a profit and going into the “black” and out of the red in accountant’s terms. Thus, the first day of the winter shopping season became known as “Black Friday,” and it continues to be one of the biggest business days of the year.

“Cyber Monday” came into being in 2005 as a marketing company’s idea to build online business. It has been very successful, taking in nearly $8 billion last year. This seasonal urge to spend is quite powerful in our culture; this move past gratitude into commerce will be a part of our culture for years to come.

There is a way to extend that feeling of gratitude, though, even in the midst of so much commerce. Due in part to year end concerns about tax deductions, about 50% of all charity giving occurs in the last three months of the year. This led to the creation of “Giving Tuesday,” a day of donations to fund good, charitable causes following Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The founders wanted people to focus on extending the feeling of gratitude by following a weekend shopping spree with giving to help others and/or support good causes. The idea quickly took off, and it is now an international movement. It even has its own website that serves as a conduit to connect groups, causes, organizations and individuals. The website has history, tools to get organized and connections to local movements from around the world. So that feeling of gratitude and giving can go on beyond Thursday, co-existing with the shopping frenzy. And that is a wonderful thing.

John Colgan-Davis is a longtime Mt. Airy resident, retired public school teacher and harmonica player for the Dukes of Destiny.