Why are Germans increasingly celebrating Thanksgiving?
Last week a German friend of mine here in Berlin told me that he had been invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. My first reaction was: why would anyone want to celebrate genocide? And my second thought: why the hell would a German want to celebrate an American holiday? The answer is quite simple: (comfortable) ignorance to the destructiveness of a seemingly harmless holiday and willful subordination to everything American (I hope my dear friend B. doesn’t take these comments personally, he was merely being a good family member and — knowing him to also be a weak-willed carnivore like myself — relishing the opportunity of being allowed to consume a delectable XXL-sized holiday bird.)
Which cuts to the heart of the matter: (t)his intention to celebrate Thanksgiving is not a singular anomaly, but part of a larger disturbing trend in this country (and the rest of the world for that matter) of engaging in the high jinks of imported holidays, all of them coincidentally from the United States: Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Santa Clausicized Christmas, and now Thanksgiving (incidentally, a couple weeks back another friend told me one of our batchmates — also an autochtonous German — was hosting a Halloween party, to our mutual amazement and derision). Yes, gone are the days of reliable German Anti-Americanism where one would mass-rally and rail against Uncle Sam’s illegal Desert Wars, shouting oneself hoarse with “No Blood For Oil” and “Ami Go Home.” Now we — even the ones among us fiercely protesting TTIP and Trumpism (having won against the first — for now) — have given in to our post-democratic demons nurtured by over a decade of mind-numbing Merkelism, and are now once again reviving the time-honored tradition of blindly bowing to U.S. America, our eternal liberator. And a key part of this American Renaissance within mainstream Germany — rekindled by the (very relatively speaking) “progressive” Age of Obama — is the silly nuisance of celebrating their key holidays, even if the underlying motivation is harmless occasionalism.
Christmas: proudly brought to you by Coca-Cola
Strikingly, all these holidays have two things in common: they are American, not German, and their original meanings are overshadowed by economic commercialization, reducing these supposed traditional festivities to Hallmark holidays, a chance for big business to make bigger bucks and blind consumers to do what they do best: consume blindly. So the day that commemorates St. Valentine of Terni is kitschicized by everything haptically heart-shaped and ostentatiously romantic (e.g. flowers and expensive chocolates), the celebration of the spirituality and transcendence of that shapeless thing called love thus corrupted into a time- and money consuming orthopraxy drenched in societal pressure not to be alone on this Holy Day of Two-ness (not to mention the feminist discourse regarding the pictorial depiction of the heart being reminiscent of a woman’s posterior, butt-crack and all, from that viewpoint one of the many enduring symbols of our male-dominated sexist societies).
Or Jesus’ resurrection, exclusively applauded by mass-produced chocolate Easter bunnies and Cadbury eggs. Halloween — an originally Celtic tradition, brought to the New World by Anglican colonists, is today the Holy Grail of the sweets & costume industry, while Thanksgiving is strategically followed up by Black Friday, Capitalism’s holiest day of the year, aptly named for unearthing the darkest depths homo oeconomicus will sink to in nurturing his addiction to mindless, hedonistic materialism. And last, but not least, the birth of Christ is commemorated with nativity scenes being mowed down by convoys of Coca-Cola trucks, and material gift-receiving trumping the Christmas message of immaterial love-giving.
That Americans — a people born and bred on a steady diet of mass-consumption and cheap materialism, intentionally kept ignorant of the folly of this American Way of Life by plutocratic elites and their henchmen in politics — that they celebrate these holidays is lamentable, but logical. That Germans on the other hand would buy into this cheap imported fad not so much. Even though our love for everything American — no matter how shallow — also follows an understandable logic: a result of our eternal gratefulness and fealty to those United States that saved us from Nazism, Americana henceforth being firmly encoded into our cultural and psychological DNA.
Neoliberalism trumps tradition
Apologists on this side of the Atlantic point to the cultural familiarity these U.S. American holidays have with our own ones: But Germans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving because of its semantic relation to “Erntedankfest”, we don’t celebrate Halloween because of its cultural Old World origin of All Hallow’s Eve. These traditions are retro-actively invoked to dispel any doubts as to the honorable intent of us honoring non-indigenous holidays for which their is no social, cultural, economic, political or religious need whatsoever. Us Germans celebrate them simply out of two reasons: our eternal self-enslavement to everything remotely American, and our using these Hallmark holidays as a ready excuse to act out the originally Western, now globalized religion of Neoliberalism of which we are equally zealous followers and its key tenet of unfettered consumption and materialistic possession.
GI Joe in Germany
Germany’s blind Americanism has deep post-war roots — at least in the Western part of the country: the coy native gals chumming up to American soldiers, initiating cross-cultural romances with the exotic, occupying other, not rarely in defiance to the inherent patriarchal conservatism of Adenauer-Deutschland where a women’s proscribed societal position was geographically mapped to be conveniently and firmly located behind the cooking stove, and often getting themselves pregnant in the course of those one-sided, reacher-settler amour fous and then promptly receiving a dishonorable discharge when being deserted by those chewing-gum-chewing superegos in blue jeans with their rock & roll and raucousness once their tour of duty had come to a well-timed end. Or German guys dressing like their American liberators, appropriating their every mode and mannerism (the German wannabe-American to this day not entirely extinct: a while back a friend and I were playing pool at a pool hall here in Berlin when at the table next to us a couple of young Germans were playing and talking to each other in such heavy, faux-American accents with exaggeratedly acquired urban slang — most likely picked up on MTV or Netflix and a High School exchange year, that the patheticness of these clowns was enough entertainment to warrant neglecting our own game). The dynamics of post-war American occupied Germany can be summed up in the classic truism “Women wanted to be with them, men wanted to be like them.”
To this day, the continuity of idolizing America as a cultural gold standard — even when realizing its many civilizational drawbacks — is unbroken: the aforementioned culture of High School exchange programs where German students spend one year in the supposed Land of Unlimited Possibility is a good example. Even though their amazement is boundless as to the ignorance of the average American to not only the world but also his own country (the classic “Do you have washing machines in Germany?” and “Is Hitler still alive?” heard by many a German student and the butt of many a joke in this country), their twelve-month-stint in the largest illiberal democracy in the world with the most checkered of histories, guilty of genocide, slavery, war crimes, structural racism, crimes against humanity, environmental destruction, etc. (all in the course of merely 500+ years!) does not help to cure them of their disease of near-blind worship to an overrated hegemon.
Or the high numbers of German tourists to the U.S. being another indicator of cheap ingratiation, humbled by the high buildings and wide roads, perversely drawn to gas-guzzling Lincoln Town Cars, Chevy Trucks and SUVs that make our BMW X5s look like Mini Coopers, bewildered by the over-sized food portions and super-sized and sugar-coated (literally and figuratively) soft drinks without being ethically consistent enough to refuse them, thus indulging in guilty pleasures morally whitewashed down with a gulp of “When in Rome…”-esque holy water, not once realizing that ostentatious grandeur is the tackiest way of impressing someone and is more than often designed to hide cultural and psychological deficiencies.
The masochist loves him some sadism
So it is only befitting that Germans — historical guilt robbing us of the last residues of self-worth and on top of that now also suffering from a post-democratic narcissism honed by 13 unlucky years of cancerous Merkelism (of which the only positive contribution to German politics and reputation has been the knee-jerk open border policy of 2015 which is now all but defunct as we have — in keeping with our genetic provincialism, non-hyphenated-German chauvinism and faux-Christian, neo-atheist habitus — closed our borders, and correspondingly, our minds) — are therefore easy game for whip-wielding sadists, readily giving in to our masochistic pro-American deliberations by starting to celebrate American holidays: a beaut of a win-win situation as the sadist and masochist — from a psychological standpoint — are mutually co-dependant on each other for their survival. In that regard, Germans are increasingly appropriating Thanksgiving, Halloween and Santa Claus Day and turning them into sexual holidays, celebratory occasions for us Krauts to commemorate our love for getting our butts slapped, spanked & screwed. This sadist-masochist-dynamic can also be transferred to the political level: the so-called transatlantic partnership describing Germany’s political relationship with the U.S. is a semantic misnomer, falsely implying an egalitarian approach between two equals when it is nothing more than a traditional top-down power-relationship between liberator and captive, with the latter suffering from a terminal case of Stockholm syndrome. To once again make use of a sexual metaphor: Uncle Sam can always rely on us Germans, eternally kneeling towards the New World in gratitude and retainer-like loyalty, for some gratis fellatio and a good bout of consensual ass-fucking.
The German captive mind
Fast food, soft drinks, TV shows and fashion: we are all the willful recipients of American cultural exports, some good, some bad, most of them ugly when taking into account the human, health and environmental toll connected with producing them. I myself, having spent my blissful and formative childhood years in the U.S., am no exception to this rule, treading the earth on near-slave-labor-intensive Nikes from Indonesia, binge-watching a misogynist and hipster-racist Big Bang Theory, gaining sustenance from the All American Meal of processed burger meat, fatty fries and a diabetic Cola drink. In a neoliberal American Empire where the disease of free(-for-all) market capitalism has infested every corner, nook and cranny of the globalized world it is extremely difficult to rectify the habitus of destructive habits, to alter the strategic imbalances in power-relationships enabling the reality of exploitation that is at the heart of our economic brand of cut-throat capitalism and market fundamentalism better known as Neoliberalism, many of its historic precedents originating — or perfected — in the US (Wall Street, the Washington Concensus, McDonaldization). But must we also celebrate the American holidays that celebrate capitalism, commercialism and consumerism as well? Especially in a Germany where the combined population of American citizens and those with American ancestry is not more than 430,000, meaning 0,52 % of the total population? Shameful enough that in the land of actual football we are increasingly embracing the pageantry of American „Football“, a sanitized plagiarism (and persiflage!) of down-and-dirty English Rugby and the best example of the name of a sport having absolutely nothing to do with the sport itself, as in American “Football” the foot rarely touches the ball (one is reminded of another instance of misleading American name-giving: calling a national baseball tournament the World Series, on top of that also revealing a shocking sense of self-aggrandizement). That we in Germany submit to every whim of American culture, no matter how ludicrous, is a sad indictment of our position and function in the hierarchy of a still intact American-led world order: we are — borrowing a term from Postcolonial Theory and oriental discourse — “captive minds” of the U.S., European versions of the Brown Sahib of the Subcontinent and the Uncle Tom of the American South, nothing more than the useful idiots of a hegemon.
While celebrating Halloween is harmless, commemorating Thanksgiving is downright destructive, in U.S. America as well as here, its heinousness lying in the mere fact that it belittles (and mocks!) genocide: not actively like Columbus Day, but more perfidiously by obscuring historical facts of white settler-colonialist barbarism under the smoke screen of ahistorical pilgrim-father-fiction. As Alli Joseph, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation based on Long Island, NY, wrote on salon.com: “Thanksgiving is a reminder of the genocide of millions of our people, the quashing of our culture and traditions and the stealing of our virgin lands.”
That a majority of Americans celebrate this white supremacist holiday that is in the words of Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! “predicated on the wholesale whitewashing of the colonial genocide against Native Americans“ is shameful enough, white, brown, yellow and black doing so out of blatant ignorance to the submerged histories of their adopted country with its multiple original sins. But that some Germans — in their habitual masochistic factory setting of cock-sucking and cow-towing to American cultural imperialism as an eternal badge of thanks for liberating them from the same Nazis that they themselves helped to power — feel the need to commemorate a third party genocide — especially Germans who are until this day the unrivaled world champion of genocide in the 20th century (1904 the near-annihilation of Herero and Nama in German South West Africa what is today Namibia and the near-annihilation of the European Jews) in all related and relevant metrics (quantitative body count, quality of barbarism, shortness of time-frame), is utterly disgraceful. As Germans, we are indignant when right-wingers commemorate Hitler’s birthday on April 20. And we would never celebrate October 2, the day Commander Lothar von Trotha issued his notorious “Vernichtungsbefehl” (annihilation order) to kill all the Herero and Nama, by having a family feast. But by celebrating third-country Thanksgiving, we are doing exactly the same thing: celebrating genocide.
How is this possible? Like most Americans, we are ignorant of the true meaning of Thanksgiving. And furthermore, the organized mass-murder of Native Americans is geographically and temporally so far removed from German consciousness that it guarantees us what Yaacov Trope once called “psychological distance”, the same coping mechanism at work when romanticizing Mafia figures like Al Capone or Lucky Luciano, or the fictional Sopranos (Maria Konnikowa wrote in the New Yorker about this phenomenon three years ago in an article titled “Why do we admire Mobsters?”). So importing American Thanksgiving seems like yet another harmless imitation of American cultural orthopraxy, when in reality it is the most troubling of them all.
And to those Germans who do know of the history of Thanksgiving and still choose to consciously commemorate it: it is as if they — history’s eternal bad guy — feel a kind of long-overdue relief and subconscious satisfaction in being able to celebrate a holiday commemorating a genocide committed by others than themselves for a change. And if someone like myself ought to try and morally shame them for it, they can always put their hands up in defiance and proclaim: “That wasn’t us, it was the Americans! And if they can celebrate it, why not us?” Like German indifference on Israel’s violent occupation of Palestinian lands, this kind of reckless irresponsibility is one of the many passive-aggressive and counterproductive fallouts of Germany’s singular (because masochistic and selective) way of assuming responsibility for its checkered past.
I asked my good friend B., a socially conscious contemporary with sufficient faculty for empathy, and who — like myself — is a graduate of Area Studies, an academic program once designed in the U.S. to facilitate Cold War one-upmanship and today — depending on the institution — a hotbed of critical and activist thinking through its interdisciplinary approach and mission of giving voice to subaltern knowledges repressed by Eurocentrism, thus challenging the hegemonic narratives the former has engendered, to be a responsible person and at least mention to his German Thanksgiving crowd what they would actually be celebrating, at the risk of being branded a party pooper, buzz-kill or wet blanket, fully aware that this would merely constitute a tilt at proverbial windmills, a miniscule drop of activism in a vast ocean of complacency. But a drop nonetheless.
Hesitant to ask him, as I already know the answer, I haven’t found out if he took that risk. Therefore, in his potential stead, this here article as a modest contribution to raising awareness to the plight of the Subaltern, and an attempt at shaming us for our head-in-the-sand-policies of denial.Original