Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday

In the retail world, the Friday following Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday.  On Black Friday, retailers across the nation move from "in the red" to "in the black" as the American public begin the annual buying and spending frenzy that precedes Christmas and culminates only after the final Year End Clearance.

More than anything else, Black Friday has come to symbolize excess -- excess consumerism, excess spending, and excess debt as people with more money than good sense rush to obtain the latest and greatest electronic gizmo or toy that they can't really afford.  As it has come to symbolize excess, Black Friday has come also to symbolize extremes -- extreme merchandising, extreme retail hours, and extreme crowds of shoppers competing for one or two extreme bargains.  People are regularly injured, crushed, and trampled in the press and crush of bargain-crazed shoppers.  And the season of peace on earth among men of good will and of good will itself gets trampled beneath the feet of "Gotta have it, gotta have it, gotta have it NOW!"

I refuse to participate in Black Friday.  I willingly forgo the supposed joy of competing for bargains with an army of rude and impatient people.  Instead, I plan to spend the day at home where the only competition will be with family over who can make the best turkey sandwich and my worst excess will involve the consumption of at least one such culinary masterpiece.

I refuse to participate in the frenzy of excessive spending that is now part of the season.  Instead, I will do what I can to stimulate the only economy that counts -- my family economy -- by paying cash and remaining debt free.  I do not want to spend my next six months paying for my own excesses and lapses in judgement.

For me, shopping is less a sport than it is a necessary evil.  Nevertheless I will shop.  However, rather than a frenzied search for the latest and greatest bargain from China, I will conduct a careful and diligent search for the perfect gift for everyone on my list.  I am confident that these items are out there waiting for me.  I accept the challenge of finding them.  Many of them, like the items pictured above, will be locally produced, and will benefit some worthy cause. I wish to send as few as possible of my hard earned Washingtons, Hamiltons, and Benjamins overseas.

And finally, I will seek to bear in mind that Christmas is not about shopping, or getting presents, or even the lights and the tree and the food but about celebrating the birth of He who is the prince of peace and acting out the vision of peace on earth and good will to men.

How will you spend your Black Friday?

How will you act out the vision of peace and good will this year?

Thanksgiving Proclamation

"It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favors." 
--George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789

The older I get, the more firmly I become convinced that happiness is more often the result of friendship than of circumstances.  And, dear reader, I am profoundly grateful to count you among my friends. 

I would amend 1789 proclamation of George Washington to read "It is the duty of all people to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favors." 

May your day be filled with a sense of enjoyment and gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Food, Good Friends, Good Times

The day before Thanksgiving is the heaviest travel day of the year, bearing out surveys showing our peculiar American holiday of stopping to give thanks is also our most popular.  On Thanksgiving, the wheels of commerce grind to a halt, traffic ceases, and the world stops and takes a deep breath before sitting down to a table laden with turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, corn pudding, peas and, if you're from my family, sauerkraut with neck meat and giblets and with all sorts of other delicacies.  

This year, three of our children, with spouses, and all eight grand kids, will join us for the feast, hearkening back to similar feasts at my Grandfather's house.  Then, Grandmother, Grand Pop, Aunt Pat and Uncle Ed, Aunt Elsie and Uncle Bun, and my parents and sisters all enjoyed the feast around a table large enough to have room for everybody.  This year, the old table, even with all six leaves, will probably not be large enough to seat us all and instead of sitting around the table, we will end up sitting around.  Around the table or where ever, it will be good.

Somewhere between the last course and the food and football induced coma that precedes pumpkin pie and coffee, I will slip away and compile a list of things for which I am thankful, carefully writing it out in longhand.  On my list, I will attempt to recognize and consciously give thanks for each of the blessings I have enjoyed over the last year.

I will give thanks for life, and the spirit to enjoy it; for paid work and for labors of love that I am able to do.  I will give thanks for my wife, soul mate, and life companion.  Who would have thought such a thing was possible?  I will give thanks for each of my children, all different and all wonderful, and for their spouses.  And I will give special thanks for my grand kids one by one, each one unique, each one a blessing.  I will give thanks for friends, new, old, and re-discovered, carefully listing each by name. Finally, I will give thanks for food, clothing, shelter and for the comforts, luxuries, and experiences that I have been privileged to enjoy or, if not to enjoy, at least to learn from.

My list will be woefully inadequate.  Remembering everything is impossible.  But, when I pull my list out over the next year and read it, it will be enough to remind me how lucky I really am, and how greatly I am blessed.

Good food, good friends, good times -- Thanksgiving is all that.  But more than that, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect.

So, what will you put at the top of your list this year?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Eleventh Hour, On the Eleventh Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns stopped.

For four years, the armies of the great nations of the world had savaged each other from Europe to Africa to  the Middle East in a war of such a scale and of such brutality that it became known as the Great War and the war to end all wars.  But on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the combatants agreed to an armistice, and the guns stopped.  

Some units stopped firing and ceased operations well before the eleven  AM deadline.  Others, not content to let the enemy have the last word, fired at maximum rate until the deadline. But at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns stopped and silence fell across the trench lines and no-man's-land from Switzerland to the North Sea.  It would take another year to conclude peace, but for all intents and purposes, the Great War, a war involving over 70 million personnel and leaving over nine million dead, was over.

It's been 93 years since the day the guns stopped and the generation that fought the war to end all wars has passed from among us.  Even now, as the memory of those men and that war and those times grows dim we remember that no less than five subsequent wars have proven that there is no war to end all wars and no end to the savagery that can be practiced between men and nations.

In 1954, in recognition of the service of those who served and fought after the Great War, Congress amended the law to change the name of the 11 November holiday from Armistice Day -- the day the guns stopped -- to Veterans' Day, in honor of those who have served.

This Veterans' Day, I will remember those who served and sacrificed in the Great War and all wars subsequent to it.  And I shall reflect on the words of the poem, written in 1915 by Canadian surgeon, Lt. Col. John McRae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

How will you hold the torch high?
How will you keep faith with those who suffered and sacrificed for you?
How will you remember the day the guns stopped?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

To Everything, a Season

A few short weeks ago, when I stepped into a local store to pick up some treats for Halloween I was surprised at the difficulty I had finding them.  This year, the black and orange Halloween candy and treats were almost hidden behind shelf upon shelf of red and green goodies laid out for Christmas nearly two months in the future.  Today, Columbus Day, with it's sales seems to usher in a period of intense consumer marketing and spending that lasts until the end of the final year-end clearance sometime in the month of January.

It was not always so.  When I was growing up before the age of national mass marketing, back in the stone ages of the 1950's, each holiday was separate and distinct to itself.  As a schoolboy, I enjoyed the unique character and emphasis of each.

On Columbus Day, we celebrated the Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  We celebrated because America was a great place to live.  We celebrated Columbus because we would not have such a great place to live if Queen Isabella had not hocked her jewels to finance Columbus an had he not taken the voyage.  There were a few sales, but nothing like the marketing extravaganzas of today.

Three weeks after Columbus Day, we celebrated Halloween.  Kids in town went trick or treating.  Kids around the farming community went to the annual Halloween party at the church hall.

Halloween was followed by what was then called "Armistice Day", a day of solemn remembrance of those who had given their lives in what was then called "the Great War."  In school, we read and memorized lines of the poem "In Flanders Fields".  I recall them to this day. "In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our graves, while in the sky, The lark, still bravely singing fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below."  Do schoolboys and girls still learn of the sacrifice of so many?  I know not.  If not, our nation is the poorer for it.

Then came Thanksgiving, and we learned about the Pilgrims and Indians celebrating the first Thanksgiving in New England.  No one knew or cared that the first Thanksgiving had already been celebrated in the colony of Virginia three years before.  According to popular knowledge, the first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts and that's what we commemorated.  The knowledge became part of our cultural heritage. 

Christmas was purposely kept separate from Thanksgiving. Even the Sears Christmas Book, filled with pictures and descriptions of the toys my sisters and I used to drool over, never arrived in the mail until the week after Thanksgiving.  Each holiday deserved and had its own special place.

In a way, I miss that slower, more deliberate time when the distance between Columbus Day and Halloween stretched out almost forever, and the four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas was an eternity.  In our rush to get from one day to the other with such haste, we are in danger of forgetting the very important reason why each occasion is and should remain a separate holiday in its own right.

So, what will you be celebrating this season?  Will you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day as the separate occasions that they are or will you rather celebrate the emerging holiday of Columweenvetgivmasyear?

Your answer is important.