November saw everyone’s favourite shopping event of the year roll around – Black Friday – followed shortly by Cyber Monday, a witty but not necessary online version. However, neither of these have really caught the imagination of the British population quite like Brexit or The Great British Bake Off because they are not ours.
We live in a multi-cultural world whereby we can enjoy an amount of globalisation and movement. This means we celebrate Christmas traditions from almost all over the world; the streets of Birmingham and London light up for Diwali and Chinese dragons wind down our streets every Chinese new year. As a capitalist nation, it makes sense for us to have gripped hold of Black Friday at the start of the commercial Christmas countdown, only to ring it dry within a few years.
When it comes to the rest of the holiday surrounding Black Friday, we encounter Thanksgiving. Stories of colonists and Native American interactions are now resembled through a roast Turkey, pumpkin pie and a four day weekend- it is easy to see the appeal. A holiday in which to reflect and be thankful for what you have – which is similar to other holidays that exist.
“Should employers in the UK allow US born workers the time off?”
We can see aspects that have crept through into our celebrations through the Christmas/Winter period: eating a turkey on Christmas Day when it would have been a goose or duck and the notion of being thankful for what you have and ‘giving’ offerings of thanks by exchanging presents.
According to the findings of the 2011 UK Census, there were 173,470 US-born residents in England, 3,715 in Wales, 15,919 in Scotland, and 4,251 in Northern Ireland. Traditionally, these people will celebrate Thanksgiving. However, when it comes to how they interact with British society, the question of cultural practices is called in. In America, Thanksgiving is marked by two days of National Holiday – should employers in the UK allow US born workers the time off? When it comes to key dates within a range of other social groups, such as Eid, Muslim employees are often offered the day(s) off and children do not have attend school. It is, after all, an important religious festival.
“Thanksgiving is, by historical definition, an English holiday.”
Throughout history we have seen countless celebratory feasts, festivals and holidays be merged with pre-existing dates, most notably when Christmas was merged with pre-Christian British winter solstice and the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. This meant that Christians were not creating a new holiday but rather rebranding an existing format, something which keeps happening to Christmas to keep it culturally relevant. From Prince Albert and the Victorian love of Christmas trees and Christmas cards to commercialisation and, arguably, gift receiving (or over giving) as we enter into a more non-secular and ethnically diverse society.
Thanksgiving is, by historical definition, an English holiday. During the reformation by Henry VIII, Church holidays (including Christmas and Easter) were looked at being removed. Instead Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving were introduced. Days of Fasting were introduced in relation to droughts and plagues, while Days of Thanksgiving were used to mark important dates such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the failure of the Gunpowder plot. Pilgrim English people in the New World also marked Harvest dates with Days of Thanksgiving. These days existed throughout the 17th Century before the War of Independence. Therefore, the pilgrims in the New World, most notably New England, were still English and served under their monarch.
But do we really need another event to have to spend way too much time with extended family?
If Days of Thanksgiving were going to have remained a vital part of life in the Church of England system then they would be more culturally significant today. We ‘celebrate’ Guy Fawkes night on November 5th, through a sinister mock human sacrifice and blowing stuff up, but there is no formal holiday to commemorate the day: no special feast, people have to go to school and work and no presents are exchanged.
How we commemorate events and dates nowadays is very different. The internet has awoken an entire, previously unknown, calendar of ‘International *fill in blank* Day’s (such as International Talk Like A Pirate Day and International Doughnut Day). These seem to reflect our social need to celebrate things, no matter how insignificant they are, and to try and unify as an international collective rather than individual groups with our ‘own practises’.
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