Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From old Thanksgiving mythology to new?

On the day before Thanksgiving, I heard Mara Liasson talking on the radio about Thanksgiving. She described a few turkey day traditions as shared by NPR listeners. One woman's email described an after-the-big-meal family gathering around the TV to watch the entire Star Wars trilogy.
And so I was thinking about people sitting on the couch, unwinding after the feast, viewing movies that project a kind of modern mythology of interstellar diversity and fantastical space travel.
We've come a long way from celebrating the peaceful union of alien European settlers whose viands were combined, almost 400 years ago, with the amaizing native fare of "Indians." That whole turkey and pumpkins scene has become an idealized ritual of familial sharing and neighborly goodwill. It has become a part of our national heritage.
But it's slowly becoming our old mythology; now we're replacing it with a newer set of fables, like Star Wars, or football, or Twilight at the local megascreen, followed up the next day at the mall with sacrificial oblations of ecstatic acquisition. And now that we're in the Great Recession, those black Friday organized expeditions of spending become expressions of patriotic confidence. Consumerism and entertainment overshadow the quaint monotheism that once enfolded our gratitude into prayers of Thanksgiving to a transcendent God.
How quaint now are those old tales of Pilgrims and native Americans in New England.
While Mara read the email on the radio about the family watching Star Wars, she included a statement that in successive years other families or persons had joined in the popular after-turkey viewings. She used the phrase en masse to describe how relatives and neighbors were establishing this new tradition of gathering to celebrate the adventures of our new intergalactic heroes-- Obi-wan and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and all those other characters who never really existed.
Mythology, you know, en masse.
It's a little like going to mass in the old days, or prayerfully expressing thanks to an unseen Creator, or sharing bitter herbs and lamb while passing along ancient histories of deliverance from oppression.
Our ancient talebearers stand aside while a new cast of characters takes center screen. But what d'ya say we leave a place at the table for Elijah, for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Or for the spirit of those Pilgrims and Indians, or even Jesus. Maybe they'll show up again someday.

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