**I originally wrote this post two years ago, but I think it’s worth dusting off and sharing it again.
Last year, two Chinese students joined our family for the week of Thanksgiving. The dorms had been closed for maintenance, and the school pleaded for families to find space for those students unable to travel to their homes for the holiday. Plenty of space and food, and a long tradition of Southern hospitality led to our spending the week with two young men from China.
Our bustling child-filled home was a shock to them. Raised in a world of only children, they were overwhelmed by the number of children in our house. One of the young men, who goes by the American name David, is an only child without cousins, aunts or uncles. The other, Sean, has an elder sister. It took his parents and grandparents years to raise the $45,000 bribe to gain permission to have a second child. He told us how relieved everyone had been that he was a boy, because their was no way for them to either raise that amount again or gain permission for a third child.
Thanksgiving itself didn’t hold much interest for them. Instead, they focused almost entirely on Black Friday. They scoured ads and compared the advertised deals. They asked me repeatedly where we would be shopping, and were confused when I said that our family doesn’t do Black Friday shopping unless it’s online. We prefer to eat leftovers, watch movies, and lounge around in our pajamas all day Friday.
On Thanksgiving Day, dinner started at two o’clock, but our house-guests were already checking the time long before we had begun to eat. David looked at me nervously and asked if we would be done eating by 4:00, and would we have enough time for me to drive them to Best Buy for their opening time of 5:00. When I told that I’d likely be doing dishes or eating pie at that time, and that we didn’t still didn’t plan shop on Thanksgiving Day itself, he shook his head and ordered an Uber for 4:00. They inhaled their food before dashing out the front door.
I don’t know how many shops they hit between Thursday afternoon and 3:45pm the next day. They came dragging back through the door with tales of all the things they had bought “very much cheap,” and the crowds they had waded through in an orgy of buying. Twenty-three straight hours of shopping, then they fell into bed, and slept until 10:00 on Saturday morning.
As we got ready to take them back to the dorms on Saturday evening, David asked me, “Your family is not very patriotic?”
I was momentarily surprised, and answered, “We’re very patriotic, David. Why would you ask that?”
“You didn’t participate in the celebrations.”
It seems that our foreign guests totally misunderstood the holiday that week. In their minds, the real festival had been Black Friday. They saw Americans celebrating our national wealth and abundance with an all-night shopping spreethat saw stores open for 24 hours straight and hoards lined up to take part. They saw the news stories and media reports as further proof that Black Friday was about showing how well our government runs our economy in a massive propaganda scheme.
What about the Thanksgiving dinner, I asked him.
That was the cleverness of Americans, he explained to me. We have a day of gorging ourselves on food on Thursday so that we had the strength to make it through the shopping frenzy to come.
These men who had each lived in America for over six months, who had studied American culture for years, and worked hard to prepare themselves for the holiday spent at my house, never got the message from our culture that the whole point of Thanksgiving was thankfulness and gratitude. Sadly, I don’t think we were able to counteract any of what they had seen. Thanksgiving, which was meant to be a day for counting our blessings and our gratitude for what we have, has been overshadowed by an annual rampage of greed. When foreigners can’t be convinced that it’s anything other than a nation-wide shopping binge, maybe it’s time for us to reexamine who we are as a people.
There have been years when Black Friday was a game that we chose to play, but as it crept backwards into Thanksgiving itself, we decided to no longer take part. We consciously chose to forgo the pursuit of bargain priced Christmas presents in favor of appreciating the people and gifts we already have.
While we don’t judge those who choose to go out in the wee hours of Friday morning, it’s not something we want to be a part of. Our un-patriotic selves will be drinking hot chocolate and staying in our pajamas until it’s time for Mass on Sunday morning.
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