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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

"Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday. it’s essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." — Ayn Rand

I awoke on this Thanksgiving morning with thoughts of Thanksgivings past. As a child growing up in a large extended family Thanksgiving was always a family event with dinners rotating between our house and those of my aunts and uncle’s

The dinners were traditional events with the servings of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, string beans, rutabagas, and of course pumpkin pie. At some point during the meal there was always the fight over how one of the dishes was prepared and some feelings were always hurt. I guess this happens in most large families.

After the dinner there was always the adjourning to the living rooms where the men engaged in deep discussions over politics, sports and the economy. The women busied themselves with cleanup tasks and dividing the leftovers for the following day.

As I grew older and TV began to influence the day we would watch the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers (1951-1963). Who can forget Max McGee catching passes on the snow-covered field at Lambeau Stadium and sliding into the end zone for a touchdown? While watching Jeopardy the other night there was a question about the traditional Thanksgiving football game and the correct answer was the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. I wanted to jump through the TV set and scream at Alex Trebek that he was wrong. While today’s Thanksgiving Day Classic involves the Cowboys and Packers it was not always that way. The Cowboys did not enter the picture until 1970.

As time progressed we had another Thanksgiving classic — The Macy’s Christmas Parade. The parade began in 1924, but it wasn’t until the mid 1950s when we began to see it on television. The Macy’s Parade always marked the beginning of the Christmas season with its big balloons, marching bands and of course the appearance of Santa Claus.

By 1960 the family schedule for Thanksgiving was; the Macy’s Parade, the football game and then the big dinner. I guess this is what we all had to be thankful for. Today we still have the football, but have added another pair of teams and the parade is nothing but one giant advertisement for TV shows and celebrities with hardly a marching band to be seen — at least on TV.

Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I loved the time with family and the felling of fall in the air. There is something special about the harvest time of the year, a time to reflect on the bountifulness of this land. It was a time for families to gather and spend time with one another, even with the fights and gossip.

Today my feelings for Thanksgiving are wearing thin. The holiday has become the day before “Black Friday” when people will flock to the stores and run roughshod over each other to grab the latest fad from Mattel, Apple or Sony.

While browsing my news sites I came upon an opinion piece by John Stosell that is worth sharing. Stossel writes about the beginnings of Thanksgiving and how he Plymouth settlers almost starved to death because of their adherence to the “Communal Pot” and how Gov William Bradford saw what was happening and forced the settlers to fend for themselves, thus bring plenty to the colony.

Bradford wrote in his diary’ “"began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, (I) (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land." In other words, the people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.

“This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many." Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623.

What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons. The problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."

If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free-rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty. Click here for Stolssel’s opinion piece.

Today we will celebrate the holiday with our family. We will have the tradition dinner, including my favorite — rutabagas. We will no doubt watch the parade while we make breakfast and have the football games on the TV. My grandchildren will be here and I will ponder on what memories they will have of Thanksgiving.

Perhaps my cousin john and his wife Kim know the real meaning of the day. They will be financing, cooking and serving a Thanksgiving dinner at a halfway house in Cleveland, Ohio. This is not only giving thanks, it is sharing of your bountiful fruits with others without the dictates of the government.

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