As I write, it’s the morning of “Black Friday,” the colloquial name for the Friday after Thanksgiving as celebrated in the United States. Though that name for the day didn’t really pick up national usage until the internet, people in certain regions of the U.S. have been using that name since before I was born. As with many such colloquialisms, the etymology is uncertain, but it’s fairly clear from the name itself that it is a reference to the consumerism attached to the Christmas shopping season and its effects on people.

This is definitely a very American response, to acknowledge, with irony, a situation one finds distressing, but about which one cannot individually do much. Since the advent of the internet, even retailers have embraced the name, declaring “Black Friday Sales” in their advertisements, ignoring, or oblivious to, the irony in that way that only brands can be.

I still think of Black Friday in my head as Buy Nothing Day, a name that implies an alternative approach to the day, one promoted by Adbusters magazine. As such I try not to spend a cent on Black Friday, a deliberate refusal to participate in the sales and their frenzy. Like calling the day “Black Friday,” I know my abstention won’t do much to change the situation, but I endeavor to abstain all the same, because, of course, abstaining isn’t really about changing the world; it’s about changing me.

I feel the same way about Thanksgiving itself. Thanksgiving in the U.S. is a fraught holiday. It was first celebrated during our civil war, after some diaries of early European colonists were discovered and the narrative of what gets called, but what was not actually “the first Thanksgiving” came to light. That narrative, of the country’s indigenous people and the colonists sharing resources and a meal, gave hope to people living in the United States that the Confederacy and its war to secede and continue in the practice of slavery would not succeed, and it offered a satisfying myth about the possibilities of equality and unity, even though the myth obscured the bloody reality of how those colonists and their successors ultimately treated the indigenous people.

Many people with whom I share political goals find that aspect of the holiday troubling enough that they can’t celebrate it at all, a position for which I have much sympathy. My personal approach to most holidays and national myths is to choose to see them not as statements about an historical past (they make for bad history, being mostly factually incorrect, and often functioning to obscure serious national sins) but instead as aspirations of a possible future. The big table where everyone can share and eat and fellowship is not something that ever really happened in the history of my country. Yet.

Yet can be a powerful word, and here I choose to hope that with work and humility, we could maybe build a world where everyone gets a seat at the table. We are a long way off, but I’m a stubborn fellow, so I continue to hope.

I also take Thanksgiving quite literally in another sense, which is one passed down to me via family, namely, that I take the day to reflect on, and to vocally express, what I’m thankful for. My wife and I have a simple little ritual of each listing our yearly thanks for all the good things in our lives and the world from the previous year before we begin eating dinner. Some years this is really hard. This year it was not as hard as others in the recent past. But we always find things to be thankful for, and it seems to be the case that once we begin reciting our thanks, more things to be thankful for appear. Remembering the gifts, mercies, graces, delights and joys brings more and more to mind.

This also will not change the world. But it definitely changes me.

One of the many thinks for which I’m thankful is you, reader. It could very well be that no one found my writing useful or interesting. But you keep reading, and your time and attention are a beautiful gift.

Here are a few poems I’ve written over the years regarding Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Hymn

I did not want to sing a hymn of praise

in the years of plague, in an age of shootings,

with the demagogues, kleptocrats, the bigots,

the invasions & melting glaciers

& people of every politic setting aside love.

Wasn’t I mostly powerless, except in inconsequential

ways? Built, as I was, as poets are, to feel

each travesty & collapse at the level of my own cells

dividing, how could I pray thanks during the police murders,

with the superstorms & starvation, with the billionaires

climbing us all like so many corpses

as if they could ever reach heaven? But

I woke this morning to find an astonishing

light draped across the sleeping face of my wife

& I dared not breathe until a cloud passed outside

the window & tugged it away. & there was the stubbornness

of the only red maple still holding its scarlet

leaves against the November gusts

also the blue jay who landed so close

I could have kissed it. Even the smell of something

delicious from the direction of the neighbors

& scraps of Duke Ellington falling from the window

of a young man’s passing tricked-out car

as I walked toward the stone bridge where the sunrise

was waiting & I saw someone fall from a bicycle

only to be surrounded by strangers,

one checking for wounds, another offering water,

a third testing the bike itself, the rest waiting

to see if they’d be needed, if there was any

way they could help. For decades

I did not say aloud the name of the hand

of love I could sometimes feel myself bumping

against as I clumsied & improvised

my way toward today, but all along it was a second

heartbeat in me, a breath underneath my breathing,

the silence in between footsteps,

a peace in that handful of moments

when I was granted, briefly, a happiness

not without sorrow, but with it lying

curled up on the floor, momentarily asleep.

First Thanksgiving

He gave me the flu

he’d probably caught

on the airplane. We spent

the holiday in fever

together, I so sick

I slept in a separate bed

from his mother who was angry

with me for being unavailable

to share in the childcare.

Sitting up in my sickbed

I held him while he slept

the fitful sleep of the feverish,

his snot & drool seeping

a widening rorschach

blob on my shirt, his infant

body heaving with the tide

of his breathing, hot as a little star

in my lap. In the sweat

of my own sickness I dreamt

the first instance of a recurring

dream in which I’m wandering

a post-nuclear landscape

searching for him, needing

him to be safe. Now he’s tall

as I am, & strong, with a voice

dark as mine. This man

surprised me a few months

ago on a long train ride

back from Coney Island, sitting

next to me he lay his head

on my shoulder, closed

his eyes & napped.

I saw the baby in his face.

His eyelids still look fragile

as flower petals. His lips

have the same shape

they did eighteen

autumns ago. I tried

to slow time down

to quarter speed, to relish

in the tender connection,

the trust, just a little longer,

to savor & save it, knowing

how the world wants to hammer

shut the open hearts

of the young, hoping these minutes

of sweetness

won't be the final such gift.

Thanksgiving Prayer

So much good

has come to me by grace

or good fortune,

despite my inadequacies

& failures, my shortsightedness

& defects of character,

still blessings have lighted

my living like silence

split by birdsong, like splashes

of sunlight on a frosty

morning. Thank you.

May I be worthy

of these gifts. May I become

the person all this largesse

suggests I could be

& thank God

I so rarely get

what I’ve got

coming to me.


My friend Dougald Hine has begun a Substack. Dougald is one of the founders of the Dark Mountain journal, the host of the podcast The Great Humbling, and a thinker whose wise, provocative and compassionate views in this age of uncertainty always have me reflecting and rethinking my own views.


As it is the end of the year, I have compiled my end-of-year playlist, made of of one song from each album I purchased this year. There is an Apple Music and a Spotify version:

John Paul Davis’s Favorites of 2022 (Apple Music)

John Paul Davis’s Favorites of 2022 (Spotify)

As always, please support these muscians by listening and buying their music.

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