In recognition of Thanksgiving, I came across a fun article in the Journal of Consumer Research, which showed how our Thanksgiving activities reflect the cultural meanings surrounding the abundance that we celebrate every fourth Thursday of November.

a stuffed Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving is when the family celebrates the abundance of the simple goods that we have, rather than the quality of goods we can afford. Thus, turkeys are stuffed, the table is stuffed with too many plates to finish, and plates are stuffed with food. Family members are sometimes so stuffed after the meal that they must wait a couple of hours before dessert. Meanwhile, vegetables are relatively plain, potatoes are simply mashed, and usually, not much alcohol is served. At the same time, the plain food is displayed on fancy china.

While Thanksgiving traditions aren’t written down, they are assumed to be universal, but traditions have changed over the almost 400-year history of the holiday. While many families used to serve mince pie, hunt their own turkey, and play board games, families now usually don’t serve mince pie, don’t hunt game, and watch parades and football games instead.

Gender segregation is evident, as women are busy preparing massive amounts of food, while men usually rest and help. The man’s labor is sometimes more symbolic than actual, as he is usually photographed carving the first slice of turkey.

In a perhaps subconscious backlash against consumer branding, family members are proud of preparing food “from scratch”, and  food that is bought is disguised with personalized stuffings and fillings. During Thanksgiving, our celebration of basic abundance is evident in our decommodification of branded products to provide for our family from scratch.

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