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Thanks but No Thanks

In the midst of holiday indulgences and Black Friday specials, Americans commonly drift farther and farther away from the true meaning of the holiday season: gratitude.

Much like the suffering the Pilgrims first experienced, most Americans arrived here as struggling immigrants who had to work hard and rely on the help of others to survive, but feelings of thankfulness for safety, freedom and abundance do not always remain strong.

In a Westerner survey of 220 students, 71% said they do not think that Americans have a sense of gratitude for the safety and freedoms they have.

Junior Megan Adamowski explained how sometimes teenagers tend to take the privilege of having an education for granted. “We get to come to school everyday, and many, myself included, complain about waking up early every day; what we don’t realize is that there are people in the world who yearn for the opportunity to go to school,” Adamowski said.

Additionally, teenagers might complain about trivial things, over-exaggerating their hardships. “People, including me, are always complaining about not having a good wifi connection or our phones being too slow,” senior Harsh Dave said.

Dave analyzed how teenagers, and Americans in general, do not always understand how fortunate they are and how much harder things could be. “What people can’t seem to wrap their heads around is that there are kids who have to walk miles to simply get water—which at times may not even be clean. I think it is hypocritical how we complain about the littlest things; we should appreciate that we have a roof over our heads and not complain all the time,” Dave said.

Like in every story, there are two sides to every character. In this case teenagers are not merely selfish, unappreciative beings. “Teenagers aren’t as bad as most people make them out to be. In my time as a teacher, I have had the opportunity to know kids that really want to make a difference in the world and contribute to society,” English teacher Charles Gray said.

While the intent of President Abraham Lincoln in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday was to allow Americans to reflect upon the blessings in their lives, the commercialization of holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah might get in the way of that. “Black Friday makes the holiday season more materialistic than it should be, especially with stores opening extra early on Thanksgiving and people missing Thanksgiving dinner to go shopping. Because of this, people might forget that they already have nice things and not pay attention to what brings the true spirit of the holiday season: being with your loved ones,” Adamowski said.

Because of the sometimes negative effects Black Friday has had on consumers as well as store workers, one outdoor store, REI, has decided to encourage their customers to experience nature, instead of promoting the best sales of the year. “I think this emphasizes another way to approach the holidays that doesn’t consist of anything materialistic and helps you connect with yourself,” social science teacher Randall Harper said.

Keeping with its original intent, the holiday weekend should not be about who buys the best gifts or how many presents you later receive, but rather appreciating those around you. “The holidays are a time to spend with your family. Even though my younger brother and I sometimes argue, I love him more than I love anything else. I think that the holidays are a perfect time to get closer to the people in your life and tell them how much you actually care about them; during the year we don’t always take the opportunity to do so,” Dave said.

Gray explained how the true spirit of the holiday season does not have anything to do with the treasures that lie in the aura of big department stores. “The best feeling in the world is when you give a present to somebody instead of receiving one. That is what truly gives you ‘a feeling that nothing in the world can buy,’” Gray said.

Students’ and teachers’ busy lives might also keep them from welcoming the holiday season in a true spirit of humility and charity. “Sometimes, especially as we get closer to finals week, I see that students and teachers are all too busy and stressed, which doesn’t allow them to enjoy and acknowledge the holidays the way they should,” Harper said.

In the Westerner survey, 48% of students said they personally do not take enough time to appreciate all they have. The Maine West human rights group “Voice for the Nameless went to Refugee One on Halloween and took the kids trick-or-treating. I stopped for a moment and realized these kids have been through some situations unimaginable to me: they might have escaped a civil war in their country,” Harper said.

Harper emphasized that instead of being pessimistic and focusing on all the bad things in life, we should take the holiday season as a time to reflect on all our blessings. “I am not saying what I have aren’t considered problems, but taking the situations that kids and people like this have been through in perspective can help us realize all that we can be grateful for,” Harper said.

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