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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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Larry Donnelly: Thanksgiving should be the American tradition that goes global, not Black Friday

A spirit of volunteerism – not consumerism – abounds in the US on Thanksgiving, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

PART OF ME – the irredeemable political junkie part – wanted to write this column about tomorrow’s voting in Dublin, Cork and Wexford.

I love campaigns and elections and am fascinated by the peculiar species that is the Irish by-election.

To repeat my prediction, a guesstimate, really, made last weekend on Gavan Reilly’s radio programme, I suspect that Fianna Fáil will capture three seats (wavering slightly on this one in the final run-up) and that Paul Gogarty will prevail in Dublin Mid-West.

It should be an enthralling weekend for those of us afflicted with what my late mother used to call “the disease”.

With that out of my system, today is Thanksgiving. It is the one day of every year that I wish I was still in America. Watching people going about their business as if it were just an ordinary Thursday actually drives me crazy.

I know this is Ireland, where I have lived for 18 fast years, and there is no such holiday. I will never get used to it though.

Thanksgiving is a day to take stock and to reflect upon what we have to be grateful for. It is a day to celebrate the people, places and things that make our lives worth living. It is a day for eating, drinking, relaxing and watching American football with family and friends.

Possibly the best aspect of Thanksgiving is that it does not necessitate the exchange of presents and all of the stress, expense, time and effort of shopping that comes with the territory.

That is not to attack Christmas, which is so deeply beloved here, but to emphasise what makes Thanksgiving so special and unique. It is close to impossible to contend credibly that Christmas hasn’t been overwhelmed by consumerism.

In this regard, it horrifies me that Black Friday, which most Americans have off work and marks the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, is now a feature on the calendar in Ireland too.

Although sensible Americans scoff at it and spend the day digesting the feast from the day before, there is a sizable contingent who begin queuing outside department stores in the wee hours and race inside to avail of the deals on offer.

Annually, footage of the fistfights and chaos that often ensue is broadcast around the world. It is embarrassing.

A compelling argument can be made that of all the things the United States has exported well beyond its shores, Black Friday is the worst. When I hear or read Black Friday ads from respected Irish retailers, I despair.

‘Giving thanks for what we have’

On the other hand, and assuming the risk of being labelled a cultural imperialist, I wish that Thanksgiving went global. Surely, the practice of giving thanks for what we have is a noble and desirable one?

Many of us have a tendency to dwell on all that is wrong in our lives and with the world we inhabit. It is a good idea to forsake the negative and accentuate the positive, if only for one day.

Those who would take issue with adopting this quintessentially American holiday would reflexively point to all that ails the country of my birth. They have a point, even if some critics of Uncle Sam overegg the bad and overlook the good.

Others would cite the murky origins of Thanksgiving, a meal shared among settlers in the new world, and the historically awful treatment of Native Americans. They also have a point.

Additionally, some find it hard to give thanks when so many people in this country and nearly everywhere else have precious little to give thanks for. Sadly, no one in Ireland in 2019 has to look very far to identify someone who is struggling and marginalised.

Community spirit abounds

One of the crucial things to remember when giving thanks, however, is our duty to remain cognisant of our fellow human beings who are not as lucky as we are and to recommit ourselves, both in our thoughts and our deeds, to ameliorating their plight.

In this vein, an admirable spirit of community and volunteerism abounds in the US on Thanksgiving.

At a personal level, as one who tends to fixate my mental energies on the more difficult facets of this life and my own failings – a grossly disproportionate amount of consequent pessimism stems from decidedly first world, relatively insignificant problems, like the rather desperate state of my golf game – I am resolving to be more upbeat and appreciative of all that makes me so fortunate this Thanksgiving.

Ireland has been my land of opportunity. I have a good job in legal education and an equally satisfying avocation in politics and media.

I have a beautiful, kind and generous wife, an older son who has his priorities in considerably better order than I did when I was his age and little Larry, who lights up my life, notwithstanding his snarky comments about my multiple miscues in our regular rounds of golf together.

At the end of the day, this is what matters and this is why I have every reason to be thankful.

So, whether you support my goal of making it global or not, Happy Thanksgiving.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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