The evoluion of a Happy Thanksgiving.

Doomed gobbler: Photo shows a boy offering a turkey some seeds that he holds in one hand, and holding an axe in the other hand in the 1930s

Everything about human life is always in the process of evolving.  As a species and as social beings we are evolving, however, for the most part, the process is too slow and long for us to observe it directly.  We only have little bits of evidence to give us clues about our development.  The evidence is scattered over 250,000 years; the latest spear point to be found was dated at 250,000 years ago, over 100,000 older than the previously oldest human tool.  That 250,000-year old spear suggests that we have been something close to human for much longer than had been thought.  When we follow the DNA evidence, there is a trail of footprints out of Africa by a very small band of people 60,000 years ago.  The size of the band is scary, we were so close to dying in Africa;  not so very long time before the migration, our family might have been down to one female – an Eve in fact as well as in myth.   From that one woman all of the people on the planet have come, or so it is believed at the moment.  You will recall that a similar belief about the origin of human race from one man and one woman was discredited some time ago when evidence to contrary was found.

Regardless, our cultural evolution is much older than that and that is one of the great questions of our era; how did our migrating family connect with those very, very old tools?.  For when our family reached central Asia they met others, others who were very close to us in many ways – but unlike us in other ways both physical and cultural.  We might have even mated with them; recent DNA findings give a significant percentage of the world’s population a little of the DNA of Neanderthals; for certain we did exchange somethings.

While we were swapping spit with the wild men, we most certainly swapped technology.  Big brained and superior we might have been, but we left Africa pretty naked; we had a language, some primitive tools, but no art, no social structure, no domesticated animals or plants and probably not much that resembled religion.  All of the trappings that we think today as the traits that make us human and superior to all other living creatures on earth were missing.  In the varied lands we crossed we discovered, learned, borrowed or invented domestication, religion, philosophy, science, literature, tens of thousands of languages, traditions, cities, writing, clothes and an endless stream of technologies to help us cope with the lands we invaded. We have spent the intervening years developing those things to fit our circumstances.

For example, take Thanksgiving; we date the holiday from 1621 and the English colonists breaking bread with the native American Indians – including the infamous turkey.  However, technically, it was not until Abraham Lincoln was president that it became an official national holiday.  But, the celebration is much older than our version; it has evolved from the tradition of a fall harvest celebration.  It must date to the beginning of domestication of plants and the advent of agriculture.  Even that is just another beginning, there are other precedents buried deeper in our common history.  Recently the oldest temples have been revealed in Turkey – 12,000 years old.  12,000 years ago one branch of our family was building elaborate temples miles and miles of their homes – places to go and perform rituals and celebrations of ……..? That is indeed the question, what did the honor and worship?  Whatever it was, today we are continuing a tradition they started – annual ritual celebrations.

So, by my reckoning we have been celebrating something resembling Thanksgiving for over 12,000 years; the celebration is always evolving.  Just in my life time it has gone from a quiet family dinner, we celebrated the founding of our nation, our family and gave thanks for our lives.  No football games (no television), no crowded flights or highways; we stayed close to home and in the house.  In a way it is still just quiet family dinner – well not quiet.  But it seems that the Thanksgiving family dinner may be heading the way of the dodo bird.  Every year we are progressing closer to a new celebration. The new celebration, like the old one, will be a celebration of our nation and our national values, only the ritual will have changed.  It will be celebrated not around the table, but in the market.  Black Friday is eclipsing Thanksgiving.

Twenty-five years ago, Black Friday was just getting started – it did not even have a name. In twenty-five years the celebration of commerce and retail will be the celebration; we will gather to shop.  It will probably still be a family holiday, but the turkeys will be spared and we pick up fast food at the mall.  That is if in 25 years we are still shopping in bricks and mortar stores – if not and we are shopping online, all bets are off.  How then will we celebrate family, our lives and our nation?  Maybe the Thanksgiving dinner will survive, unless someone figures out how to feed us online.

We will still need to eat and what better way than with friends and family?  Food and thanksgiving have been at the root of our existence for a very long time; so with or without the Black Friday trend, we are likely to be gathering thankfully around the table for as long as we survive as a species.  Happy Thanksgiving, and now I have to get ready to go eat dinner at my sister’s house with my family, which a friend once described as being like the battle scene beneath the decks of a ship during the Napoleonic Wars in the film Master and Commander.  Quiet, not in our lexicon!


4 Responses to “The evoluion of a Happy Thanksgiving.”

  1. 1 Suzanne Stormon November 23, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m participating in Buy Nothing Day today instead of Black Friday. Tomorrow, I might participate in Buy Local Day (unless staying home and relaxing some more seems more refreshing)..

  2. 2 Ken Adams November 23, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Black Friday is, as you prove, bound to create a backlash; people who resist a mass commercial impulse to buy and trample each other in the process. However, shopping is not an easy thing to avoid – it is a secondary reinforcer and therefore connected in our psyche to some of our most basic needs. Good luck in your efforts -both in abstention and in support of local businesses; they need you.

  3. 3 rexdstock1 November 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Santa Cruz is still churning waves of salty saltos…


  4. 4 rexdstock1 November 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    errata: salvos


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