At the beginning of each Tai Chi class at Ming’s Tai Chi Fitness Academy in Nyack, N.Y., Lao Shir (Veteran Teacher) Cindy Ming invites each student to take five “gratitude breaths,” each one representing something for which the student is grateful.
Rastafarians have a way of prefacing and ending their response to inquiries about their health, family, business, etc., with the words “Give thanks,” or in the long form, “Give thanks and praise to the Most High, Jah Rastafari.”
These are ordinary, uncelebrated thanks, nothing more than an acknowledgement of bounty bestowed.
The fourth Thursday of November is set aside for the nation to give thanks, though few today can point to a single nation-binding reason for doing so, or to a single nation-binding expression of gratitude. Everyone does their own thing. Families get together, though without the spiritual base of other family celebrations, where fundamental values and practices are reinforced; some Native Americans mourn; colleges trot out their football teams; protesters rail against gluttony, obesity, poverty, hunger or the turkey holocaust; Indeed, this year’s Thanksgiving finds the country more fractious than ever, deeply split on matters of race, healthcare, the distribution of wealth and foreign policy.
Pilgrims, a religious separatist group, held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest, this year marks the 386th anniversary of the celebration. The day became a national holiday in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving. President Franklin Roosevelt subsequently clarified that Thanksgiving should be observed on the fourth Thursday of the month to encourage earlier holiday shopping, thereby formally linking the day to commerce. Retailers now regard Thanksgiving Day as the start of the Christmas shopping season, while analysts who track the industry use the day’s sales as a key indicator of the commercial health of the season.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. Census Bureau each year publishes its own Thanksgiving tally—facts and figures that can be used in feature stories on or near that day. The tally largely is a snapshot of the country’s production and consumption of various foods associated with that day. This year’s data include an estimate of the number of turkeys raised for the year (272 million); receipts to farmers from turkey sales ($3.86 billion); cranberry production (690 million pounds); tart cherry production (294 million pounds); per capita turkey consumption in 2005 (13.1 pounds); and per capita sweet potato consumption in 2005 (4.5 pounds).
Given the increasingly ugly divisions in our society today and the pressure on African-Americans to find our “own way forward,” perhaps there is an opportunity to use Thanksgiving Day as a galvanizing vehicle for self-sufficiency.
For The Network Journal, this November marks the first month of the 15th year of the magazine’s existence as an independent, 100 percent Black-founded and Black-owned publication. Give thanks.
By Rosalind McLymont