In the Driftway

In the Driftway

This essay, from the November 25, 1931, issue of The Nation, is a special selection from The Nation Digital Archive. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive–an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.


“It has become a hallowed tradition,” writes Mr. Hoover in his recent proclamation, “for the Chief Magistrate to proclaim annually a national Day of Thanksgiving.” Now the Drifter, as his friends must be aware, is usually suspicious a priori of all traditions, hallowed or otherwise. After a careful reading of the President’s latest Thanksgiving Day observation, the Drifter feels it his sad duty to report certain misgivings about this one. With the third winter of widespread unemployment nearly upon us, in all its ugliness, want and distress, Thanksgiving Day has not, for him at least, a genuine ring. Somehow it sounds ill-suited to the times. The President’s counsel that “our people rest from their daily labors” brings to the Drifter’s mind some ten, million jobless to whom that advice will seem more than slightly ironical. And he wonders how many of that army stopped work on Thanksgiving Day in 1929, not realizing that they would still be resting two years later. Will they be duly appreciative, as the President is, that “the passing adversity which has come upon us” is a “spiritual” blessing?

* * * * *

A LARGE part of our people, the Drifter suspects, will be equally dubious of the wisdom of the following:

Our country has cause for gratitude to the Almighty. We have been widely blessed with abundant harvests . . . Our institutions have served the people. Knowledge has multiplied and our lives are enriched with its application.

In the time of our forefathers this would have made sense. Bountiful crops were just cause in earlier times for gratitude and hearty thanks. For they meant the assurance of food and security through the long winter. But under our topsy-turvy economics abundant harvests assure us nothing. They are a dubious blessing indeed when rich surpluses leave the farmer poor and the destitute hungry. It were better had the harvest been lean. The well-stocked storehouses would not then present a tantalizing mockery of the knowledge that has multiplied.

* * * * *

WHAT the Drifter is working toward is the suspicion that our highly mechanized society has to a large degree outgrown the Thanksgiving Day custom. Abundance today is not the blessing of plenty. Even the farmer–forced to specialize in one crop–sees wheat piled high on his land and lacks necessary food. The Drifter hastens to add, however, that he does not mean that we should abolish the holiday. He is in favor of all holidays, the more the better, and his vote is for this one. But he believes that it should have a more realistic purpose. As a beginning he offers a new name for it–Fact-facing Day. To be sure, it is not quite so optimistic as Thanksgiving Day, but it might prove more fruitful. Instead of offering spiritual consolation to the needy and expressing pious hopes that by another year the Almighty might have matters adjusted to normal, the nation would unite in facing the facts of our adversity. The Drifter believes this might lead to action which would make abundant harvests mean abundance for all. And should that happen, you would see an ardent campaign to change the name of Fact-facing Day back to Thanksgiving.

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