Let's give thanks we don't yet have Thanksgiving

TODAY IS Thanksgiving Day in the United States. The Pilgrim Fathers were so grateful that their first harvest had been safely gathered they decided to have a holiday in which everyone could give thanks to God by getting into their cars and sitting in a traffic jam.

Given current trends it is quite likely that Thanksgiving Day will be celebrated in this country within the next 20 years. It falls conveniently mid-way between Hallowe'en and Christmas and would fill a yawning gap in the shops' promotional timetable that currently has Christmas stretching right back to early autumn.

American consumerism has always been one step ahead. Instead of spending eight weeks gearing their customers up for buying one turkey, they slot in an extra festival at the end of November so everyone has to buy another one four weeks beforehand. It cannot be long before British shops try this scam on us.

Ten years ago Hallowe'en was not a commercial event in this country until "trick or treating" was imported from the United States. If there is a week in the calendar where there is nothing obvious to flog us, the shops will make something up. Father's Day was invented by an American greetings card company and there was actually a genuine attempt by the same people to launch a "Secretary's Day", when employers could express their thanks to their overworked assistants. This one never really took off, presumably because the bosses kept sending their secretaries out to buy the cards they were going to give them. Since most of the significant days in our calendar were originally Christian festivals it is no wonder that these are the dates that the new religion of consumerism has seized for itself. The resurrection of Christ is celebrated by buying lots and lots of over-packaged chocolate eggs, obviously. The martyrdom of St Valentine is remembered by the doubling of flower prices. The church has no right to complain about the way their holy days have been hijacked by the new religion of shopping, because latching on to the festivals of existing religions was exactly how Christianity got itself established. "Yuletide is just becoming too Christian these days," said the pagans, bemoaning the way the winter sacrifice at Stonehenge was being spoilt by a class of five-year-olds singing Little Donkey.

So just as the winter solstice gave way to a celebration of the birth of Christ, the new religion of shopping has made the whole of December its holy month. The modern cathedrals of the Bluewater Shopping Centre and Lakeside Thurrock are packed with worshippers. "Lo! I bring news of great joy to all mankind. Dixons are doing Pokemon Blue Nintendos at pounds 24.99." The spending frenzy builds to a fervent climax by Christmas Eve as panic sets in because for one day of the year the shops are going to close. But fear not, sales start 9am Boxing Day - and then millions of people go shopping all over again. The real shopping fundamentalists get into their sleeping bags and camp outside the department stores so they can be first to hear the joyful ringing of the tills. They sleep alongside all the people who have been bankrupted by the whole crazy money-go-round.

And that is the problem with the rampant consumerism which has become the hollow substitute for any spiritual depth in our lives. Just like the church before it, consumerism promises a happiness that it cannot deliver. Today in the holy land of consumerism, everyone will over indulge on roast turkey and pumpkin pie. We should just be grateful that for the time being we are spared that one burden on our over-stretched family budgets. So let's give thanks that we don't have Thanksgiving. Great idea, say the shops, we could have a special day when we do this. How about the last Thursday in November - shops are open to midnight.